The digital media has been hit by a ‘hurricane’ from ‘sarcasm’ to ‘nationalism’ or debate on ‘creativity’. Be it the mainstream media, internet trolls or a layman, everyone is struck by the Baahubali phenomenon. There has been a debate doing the rounds about how Baahubali 2 has been an eye opener for Bollywood. Irrespective of whether the SS Rajamouli directed blockbuster would be a game changer for Hindi cinema or not, but the magnum opus has a lot to teach to the Indian film industry inclusive of regional cinema.
The Telugu cult classic co-produced by Karan Johar has garnered Rs. 1200 crore worldwide, setting a benchmark case-study for trade analysts. However, the movie is an alarming signal for regional filmmakers, rather than just Bollywood. It is a reality check for commerce-driven content writers and film directors, especially in Bhojpuri cinema.
The Bhojpuri film industry is an estimated Rs. 2000 crore market. Even superstars like Priyanka Chopra have been bitten by the Bhojpuri bug to don the producer’s hat for Bam Bam Bol Raha Hai Kashi. In spite of having the National Award-winning Quantico star handling the production, the regional flick is completely out of place, over-the-top soft porn filled with raunchy music videos and love sequences which objectify the female lead. Although Chopra herself is a hardcore feminist and is quite vocal about gender issues, even her presence couldn’t help the pathetic creative destruction of regional art.
In the 1963 Kundan Kumar directorial Ganga Maiyya Tohe Piyari Chadhaibo, the audience experienced Bhojpuri film craft for the first time. Based on the issue of widow remarriage, the film was made at the behest of India’s first President Dr. Rajendra Prasad who believed in the potential of a Bhojpuri-speaking population as the target audience for culturally driven entertainers. In the initial phase, Bhojpuri films were either a portrayed on India’s traditional norms and customs or parallel cinema. Ganga Kinare Mera Gaon released in 1984 was well received by the audiences for the decent portrayal of female characters as opposed to the obscenity in present Bhojpuri films.
Since 2004 when actor-turned-politician Manoj Tiwari took over as the Amitabh Bachchan of Bhojpuri films, there has been a dearth of powerful scripts. Baahubali 2 has broken the myth and misconception regarding the audience’s reservations toward regional filmmakers and actors. As far as there is a well-presented visual experience, there is no boundary for artists. SS Rajamouli’s magnum opus that inspired author Anand Neelakantan’s recent novel ‘The Rise of Sivagami’ is loosely inspired by the story of “Durgesh-Nandini” from celebrated Hindi fiction-comic Chandamama.
The Prabhas-Anushka Shetty film has proved that in the modern technological age, it’s easier to tell a story with unique animation and art direction. India’s answer to Lord of the Rings & Game of Thrones that borrowed characters from Hindu mythology are a milestone. The USP of Baahubali apart from its visual effects, costume design and massive sets is its authentic portrayal of ancient customs and traditions. Something that has been missing both in Bollywood as well as Bhojpuri films.
The Bhojpuri filmmakers have been so driven towards copying the Bombay Film Industry that the narrative from their film has completely vanished. Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand form a major cluster of Bhojpuri moviegoers. There is a rich heritage of mythology, tradition, culture, empires and civilizations in ancient places like Kashi, Prayag, Mathura, Vrindavan, Chitrakut, Ayodhya, Bodh-Gaya, Nalanda and Magadha. Unfortunately, not a single filmmaker from the UP-Bihar belt has attempted a large-scale cultural narrative for the youth audience that has a taste for creativity and innovation. The Bhojpuri speaking population accounts for 150 million in India. If a well-crafted script with authentic display of North Indian culture is presented before the audience, then it would be possible to recreate the magic of Baahubali. The fantasy conveyed in regional folklore or fables has far more thrilling impact if wisely interpreted through cinematic lens than any sci-fi movie.
From ancient civilization to freedom struggle or social and industrial revolution, cities such as Varanasi, Allahabad, Lucknow, Kanpur, Champaran, Patna and Jamshedpur have an account of all historical events. Filming a motion picture on such backdrops with a diverse cast and crew could be a game changer in the history of world cinema.
The success of Baahubali is in an eye-opener for Bhojpuri film industry in the real sense that lies far behind other regional movies both in terms of content and production value. The juggling with mediocrity while cashing on single-screen front-benchers has led to the deterioration of cinematic content in Bhojpuri movies. A region that has been the origin of extraordinary talents in diverse fields has the worst contribution to Indian film industry in terms of quality and content. The reluctance and ignorance on part of Bhojpuri filmmakers has made a mockery of regional film artists.
It’s high time the Bhojpuri film audience is taken seriously by film-directors and scriptwriters. Only if Bhojpuri film producers selected more challenging projects with unique scripts instead of ordinary entertainers. Bollywood has to certain extent at least attempted to unravel the nuances of UP-Bihar culture in movies like Tanu Weds Manu and Raanjhana. If Bhojpuri cinema is genuinely made with similar dedication and commitment, then there would be favorable prospects for budding regional filmmakers as well.