December 26, 2010 3:53:32 pm
This year,style south met operation north. Rajini conquered Mylapore and Mumbai. And Dabangg was bang on in Chennai. Across the LoC that divides film industries in the north and south,crossovers are taking place. But can Hindi-Tamil be bhai-bhai? And can Bollywood learn a thing or two from its southern counterpart?
Dabangg is just like one of our masala Tamil films. Er,really? I encounter this sentiment more than once during my two days in Chennai where I have gone looking for our cinema,their cinema and where the twain intersect. The main elements in Dabangg,the biggest Bollywood hit this year,have instant resonances for a Tamil-speaking audience. Cop coasting purely on attitude,breaking off during a fight scene to dance to a ringtone. Colourful villains getting pulped. Curvaceous heroine as coy arm candy. In a big-budget mainstream masala film,the hero can do anything. Impossible is nothing. Given such outpouring of crossover love,its no surprise that Dabangg did excellent business in the south.
What may come as a surprise is that of the hefty Rs 300 crore that producers Sun Pictures made from Rajinikanths Enthiran,a significant component came from north Indian screens with Hindi dub Robot. This is the year when day-date releases of south Indian films quickened in north Indian multiplexes,to the point that there is similar excitement when Kamal Haasans latest Manmadhan Ambu releases in Mumbai and Chennai. And Delhi and Pune. And Aurangabad and Bangalore. This is the year when you could enjoy Suriyas impressive calisthenics in Singham the same time as your counterparts in the south; you could also see him in his first Hindi movie avatar in Rakta Charitra II. This is also the year when Vikram increased his profile with Mani Ratnams Raavan and Raavanan where he played two diametrically opposite roles with felicity.
In two languages: Tamil and Hindi.
All this moving and shaking leads one to ask whether the borders between the north and the south,so long steadfastly held in place by differences in language and cultures and,yes,odious colour prejudices,are getting more porous. Will there be more traffic between the film industries of the two parts of the country,now that social media networks lead the way into unknown territories,chattering about new films,new stars,forcing mainstream media to follow where it would never have ventured before? Rajinikanths birthday a couple of weeks ago got the kind of carpet coverage on national networks reserved only for an Amitabh Bachchan or a Shah Rukh Khan,interspersed with interviews with the birthday boy,and an unending stream of Rajini jokes.
There is undoubted optimism amongst all sectors about more conversations between the industries,leading to more commerce. A film always needs a bigger market,and producers are the happiest when they feel that they may be able to extend the life of their film in various forms language dubs,subtitled prints for theatre and satellite TV,DVDs for home theatre circuits. Ive always made my films with a pan-Indian sensibility, says Gautham Menon,one of the more successful directors in Chennai,who is about to start remaking his breezy hit romance Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa in Hindi. Menon,an old hand at remakes (his Minnale was turned into Rehna Hai Tere Dil Mein; his cop thriller Kaaka Kaaka is getting a Hindi reboot next year,with John Abraham in the lead),and whose current film is being co-produced by Fox,feels that more collaboration can only be good. The entry of new players can release us from the stranglehold of the two or three powerful distribution giants in the state,freeing us to take our films forward.
Business-wise,it makes eminent sense for more films to fill more screens. Swaroop Reddy,director,Sathyam Cinemas,is confident that the walls are coming down,and it started with Sivaji,the Rajinikanth film which took the north by storm three years ago,and now weve reached a point where a Band Baaja Baaraat will get as much of an opening as an Easan (young director G Sasikumars much-waited film after his much-feted Subramaniapuram). But isnt Band Baaja Baaraat such an intensely north Indian,specific-to-Delhi,film? Here people are more open to films from other parts of the country. If a film is good,they will go and see it, says Reddy,who distributes 90 per cent of the Hindi content in Chennai. It all depends on how you promote and market the film.
This kind of traffic between territories is certainly notable,even though there always have been brave new entrants trying to conquer new worlds. Kamal Haasan is one of the original breakers-into-Bollywood whose humungous hit Ek Duje Ke Liye is still a benchmark. He appeared unstoppable,and then suddenly the roles dried up,causing him to return to the south. Rajinikanth made an appearance in a couple of Bollywood movies too,but he was always going to play second fiddle to Amitabh Bachchan in Hum,and Sridevi in Chaalbaaz. Such Andhra heroes as Nagarjuna and Venkatesh tried their luck,but retreated to their bastions. The leading ladies from the south,on the other hand,have always had much more of a rousing welcome: from Vyjayanthimala to Sridevi to Deepika Padukone,theres always been a south Indian siren serenading slavering viewers. But the women are always ancillary to the hero and do not generally make or break films: it is always the male leads who do that,and they had been shown their place.
Now,though,the chances of crossing over are higher than ever before. The new crop of south stars trying to get recognition in the north are going to experience a more fragile,less sure place. Put baldly,Bollywood has lost the ability to make films that have a pan-Indian appeal. Its NRI fixation led to screenplays creating faux nostalgia via designer desi beats which simply did not exist. How many zardosi trousseaux could even the most I-love-my-India viewer handle?
Whereas,a small waiting-to-release film like Aranya Kaandam,a zippy noir-ish thriller,the first of its kind in Tamil,will find willing takers everywhere,even in the north. It resurrects Jackie Shroff in the movies as a menacing don. It has,surprise,Shroff speaking fairly good Tamil. It has smart-mouthed goons,and arcs of blood,all very Tarantino. And it has a femme fatale,with a sting in her lovely tail. Will you do a Hindi dub,I ask producer SPB Charan (son of well-known singer SP Balasubrahmanyam) whos back from a film festival in the US where the film received an ovation and an award. If I can find more audiences,I will. I might just release it in the north,build up a profile,and then bring it down south.
That sounds radical,but the time has come for drastic measures. The Hindi film industry is in a jam at this point,struggling with the paucity of good content. This is something that the south cinema,particularly a spate of recent Tamil films,has shown in abundance. Even at the risk of exoticising current Tamil cinema,there is no doubt that much of the startlingly original stories have been surfacing in films made in and around Chennai. A wave of out-of-the-box rural films which used no established stars,and a strong streak of realism,resulted in such films as Subramaniapuram,Pasanga and Angadi Theru. Theyve been critically and commercially accepted,while the big-budget masala films have been routinely finding their audiences,all at the same time. Ashish Saksena,COO (south and west),BIG Cinemas,whos been tracking films on both sides of the Vindhyas for a long time,says,They (filmmakers in the south) know exactly who their audiences are,and they are making movies for all kinds of people. In Bollywood,thats gone missing.
Dubbing is certainly a way to broaden the base of films. Not everyone,though,is as excited. Pramod Arora,group president and CEO,PVR Ltd,hasnt had too much luck with dubs,though he agrees that the audience base of non-Hindi,south Indian language products,has grown in traditional north Indian markets. He attributes that to changing demographics because of migration within the county,rather than a new-found attraction for dubbed movies. We are still far from a time where we can run a Hindi dub of a south Indian film with enough commercial viability,even though getting prints is now so much easier with digital technology, he says. Techies from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are moving to Delhi and Mumbai and prefer watching original content in their language,where the lip sync is always a problem.
But even sceptics like Arora agree that the time has come to think of aggressively pushing crossovers between the industries. When I hear film people discuss crossover possibilities between Hollywood and Bollywood,I think why arent we talking to Kollywood? With Hindi cinema floundering,there is a pressing need for people to be moving away from their corners,isolated by obsolete preferences governing language and looks. Rajini is a kind of a triumphant holdover from the past, says film-buff and writer Mukul Kesavan,but he is the only one. The Indian male hero is now transformed,conforming to the global post-liberalisation aesthetic of what is acceptable. Hes well muscled. Hes buff. You needed a certain kind of mindset to go see a Sivaji Ganesan film,which would be home to the extraordinary excess common to south Indian cinema. But a Vikram,or a Suriya,now thats a name thats so anonymously pan-Indian.
More than anything else,it is the enchantment of a story well told,the seductions of a good film,that propel audiences into theatres. In the future,those stories may well be rewarding multi-lingual,cross-cultural sagas,the richer for having mined talent and technical prowess across boundaries.
Suriya and Vivek weve already got. Salman and Vikram?
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