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Sunday, March 07, 2021

Mainstream and regional

Boundaries between Bollywood and regional cinema are fast blurring

Written by Priyanka Sinha Jha |
March 9, 2013 3:40:29 am

In a departure,the two most talked about films this year — Vishwaroopam and Balak Palak — were not Hindi films. Vishwaroopam,in Tamil,was embroiled in several controversies,keeping it in the news,and Marathi film Balak Palak’s biggest virtue,before it was presented to an audience,was producer Riteish Deshmukh,who got the film off to a good start with a premiere at a PVR multiplex. In attendance were A-list stars Abhishek Bachchan and Akshay Kumar,both of whom have footprints in regional cinema. AB Corp,under AB junior’s stewardship and Jaya Bachchan’s guidance,produced Vihir,a Marathi film,and more recently Saptapadii,a Gujarati feature,while Kumar’s Grazing Goat Pictures is ready to roll out 72 Miles Ek Prabhat in Marathi and a Punjabi film,Paaji. Likely to join them is John Abraham Entertainment with Bengali and Malayalam films. These developments are just the tip of the iceberg when analysing the regional film industry.

Consumers of mainstream Hindi cinema have often perceived regional films either as arthouse — Satyajit Ray,Ritwik Ghatak,Mrinal Sen,Adoor Gopalakrishnan — or as over-the-top,mindless fare resembling the bad Hindi cinema of the 1980s. But such creative extremes are no longer pertinent. Regional films are moving steadily to middle-of-the-road fare. Sample this: Bikram Singha,the Bengali version of Rowdy Rathore became a runaway hit,suggesting that Bengali films have embraced the entertainment formula. Meanwhile,a Tamil film can now get as international in its subject as Vishwaroopam.

As Bollywood is appropriating films from the south,like Ghajini,Bodyguard and Singham,the film industry there is reaching out for high concept,middle-of-the-road Hindi films like A Wednesday,Delhi Belly and 3 Idiots. This creative exchange is exciting for movie studio bosses. Eyeing the uncharted territory that lies ahead,big players like Disney UTV and Reliance Big Entertainment have been quick to join the fray. Says Siddharth Roy Kapur,MD,Disney UTV,of the sudden attention being lavished on regional films: “While Hindi films give us a significant chunk of India,a considerable part — like Bengal and the south in particular that do not share the commonality of language and culture with Hindi films — remains untapped.” Kapur’s point is pertinent in that the movie business in the south,despite the absence of multiplexes in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu,has been robust,equalling and sometimes surpassing the profits generated by Hindi films. The financial statistics of Rajnikanth films are legendary. Endhiran: The Robot,for instance,ranked higher than 3 Idiots in box office collections. A Mahesh Babu film (Telugu) can notch up a distributor’s share as high as 40 per cent,the same as a Rs 100 crore Hindi film.

The present cross-pollination of ideas and crossover of talent between regional film industries and Bollywood is not exactly new. As far back as the 1950s,standalone producers like L.V. Prasad and S.M.S. Naidu remade their south Indian hits in Hindi with stars like Dilip Kumar,Vyjayanthimala and Meena Kumari. Over time,the trend fizzled out due to the sky-high prices quoted by the stars and because the audience,especially in the cities,was tired of the old formula. So far,Hindi films had worked on the thali concept — a bit of love,humour,action and a happily-ever-after ending. However,post liberalisation,the gap between urbane and affluent audiences and their poorer counterparts on the front benches grew wider.

The present churn originated in the mid-1990s with Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge,which showcased an Indian hero that India had never seen before — the shiny,happy NRI,who could drink and flirt shamelessly but was Indian in his values. Close on its heels came Karan Johar’s Kuch Kuch Hota Hai; modelled on Archie comics and dressed up in Tommy Hilfiger,it was an instant success. Dil Chahta Hai followed,and suddenly young India could not get enough of this uber-cool cinema,though films like Lagaan and Gadar scored too.

The target demographic of Hindi films was in a state of flux. Those in cities rejoiced,while others in mofussil towns grew further away from this new brand of Hindi cinema. The void thus created in the semi-urban areas of north India began to be filled by Bhojpuri and Punjabi films that were still steeped in son-of-the-soil stories. Meanwhile,south Indian films across their urban and semi-urban landscape were rock steady,with heroes who could single-handedly beat 20 villains into a pulp. In fact,the southern states,dominated by single screens,had a filmi template that felt closer to the typical masala Hindi films of yore,getting them an audience outside of their own linguistic territories. Big brother Bollywood and its country cousins have realised there is money to be made in the niches that their cinema isn’t reaching. The result is a proliferation of regional language adaptations and vice versa,the rise of bilingual and trilingual and dubbed or subtitled films.

With talent and ideas from various regions travelling beyond borders,stories are often interchangeable and boundaries between Bollywood and regional cinema are fast blurring. After all,every producer understands the sound of cash registers ringing,no matter what language the film is in.

The writer is Editor,‘Screen’;

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