The Tribune - Spectrum

, June 30, 2002

Many new releases, but few takers
Asha Singh

Bhansali’s Devdas has sparked a debate about the fate of celluloid translations of famous books
Bhansali’s Devdas has sparked a debate about the fate of celluloid translations of famous books

FILM lovers in India are going through an unprecedented boom with a record 28 new releases having hit the screen in the three months up to July. Among them have been such ‘biggies’ as Hum Kisise Kum Nahin, Devdas, The Legend of Bhagat Singh, Kaante, Na Tum Jaano Na Hum and 23rd March 1931: Shaheed.

"More than two new films have been released every week", says trade analyst Taran Adarsh. "What people in the industry do not understand is that people in India do not have the time or money to watch more than one film a week. Moreover, where are the theatres? A city like Meerut has only 10 theatres!"

Producer-director Satish Kaushik has already paid the price of timing his Badhai Ho Badhai with the release of the Shah Rukh Khan-Madhuri Dixit-Salman Khan multi-starrer, Hum Tumhare Hai Sanam on May 24. His film was completely edged out within a week. David Dhawan’s Hum Kisise Kum Nahin overran Hum Tumhare Hai Sanam.

Now Anupam Kher is getting the jitters for his directorial debut, Om Jai Jagdish is pitted against two hugely budgeted films,Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas and Sanjay Gupta’s Kaante. He is counting upon Anil Kapoor, Fardeen Khan and Abhishek Bachchan clashing with the likes of Amitabh Bachchan, Sanjay Dutt, Shah Rukh Khan, Madhuri Dixit and Aishwarya Rai.


"There is a lot of confusion with everybody shifting about their release dates", says Kher. "Since Mujhe Kuchh Kehna Hai became a hit last year during the summer holidays, every producer is trying to make the most of his film at this time of the year".

Apart from the problem of "too much too soon", the communal tension in Gujarat has also proved to be a dampener. "It is impossible to release a film in the region", says Sanjay Gupta. "As Gujarat contributes 50 per cent of collections from the Mumbai territory, the losses are considerable".

Books and box office

The liberty Sanjay Leela Bhansali has taken at digressing from Sarat Chandra Chatterjee’s Devdas may be an issue with many in the Hindi film industry today. But more than that, it has revived the crucial question: Are audiences still receptive to celluloid translations of literary works?

In the past, some of very outstanding films have been made from novels such as R.K. Narayan’s Guide, Munshi Premchand’s Gaban and Shatranj Ke Khiladi, Jarasandha’s Bandini, Khushwant Singh’s Train to Pakistan and Ruskin Bond’s Flight of Pigeons/Junoon.

Even Shakespeare has shown up in Hindi cinema as Angoor and Do Dooni Chaar (based on Comedy of Errors) while A.J. Cronin’s Judas Tree was made into Mausam. Sarat Chandra Chatterjee’s Parineeta andSwami were also made into films bearing the same titles.

But how well do such films works at the box-office?

According to scriptwriter Javed Akhtar, mainstream cinema has to provide the "ingredients to suit every taste", which a literary work often fails at. "Moreover, literature is rooted in certain cultures, ethos and ambience of a certain region, which again may not work well with our audiences", he says.

Concurs Dev Benegal, who is adapting Kiran Nagarkar’s Ravan and Eddie for the screen: "Literature reflects a social milieu and Bollywood does its best to escape from reality. So as a filmmaker, I need to find the right kind of cinematic equivalent to a book. That is a tough call!"

Author Mahashweta Devi distinguishes between the "language of literature and language of cinema and having seen her books Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa, Rudaali and Paapi Gudiya being made into films, she says that "the experience has not been very pleasing".

Govind Nihalani’s explanation to this is that it is hard for a director to share the same sensibilities of the author while making a film. "But then, the advantage is that the director has a readymade script of substance, well-etched characters and does not have to work too hard on creating a hype".

Thin is in

Over the ages, for every well-endowed Mumtaz, there was a slim Waheeda Rahman; for every buxom Neetu Singh, there was a svelte Zeenat Aman; and for every robust Sridevi, there was a trim and tapered Madhuri Dixit.

Today, be it Kareena Kapoor or Shilpa Shetty, Sonali Bendre or Raveena Tandon, Urmila Matondkar or Bipasha Basu, all top heroines are sporting a body type. Fuller figures have made way for a tall, toned down and trimmer physique.

The reason for this trend, many say, is the crossover of models like Sushmita Sen, Aishwarya Rai, Bipasha Basu, Priyanka Chopra and Diya Mirza into films. That they have made it big has obviously inspired even fledglings like Kareena Kapoor and Esha Deol to burn fat.

"Gone are the days when directors and producers used to comment on the heroine being unfed", observes Taran Adarsh, the editor of a film trade magazine. "Times have changed. The new generation of heroines are all thin and toned".

Concurs Komal Nahata, another trade pundit: "It is fashionable to be thin on screen. Television has given us access to international programming, where figures are pretty, but not plump. It is this awareness that has made our actress very figure conscious".

Shilpa Shetty describes it as being fitness conscious: "Even if I’m watching television, I’ll suddenly want to do crunches. We all take time out to visit the gym at least four times a week, regardless to our shooting schedules. Once you start, it takes over!"

Oddly enough, film stars outside Bollywood continue to remain plump and buxom. So the joke going around it that whenever a little bit of weight to be shown, southern imports like Rambha (remember Judwaa?) and Ramya (Bade Miyan, Chhote Miyan) are brought in.

Script doctor

Bollywood has made another import from Hollywood. And this time, the credit goes to former fashion photographer, Alan Mans, who is starting a "script doctoring institute" in Mumbai this October for the benefit of filmmakers anxious to get the basics right.

"Most Hindi films fail at the scriptwriting stage", explains the young entrepreneur who has worked with script doctors in the USA. "That’s where I intend to step in. I have seen how organised scriptwriting can change the fate of a film for the better".

So any director, after getting his script written, can send it to the institute where a panel of experts will pencil out the weak points. It will then be rewritten and returned to the production house. After this, the institute will work on the storyboard.

It will make a comic book of the film, complete with dialogues and caricatures. Once that is done to the last detail, the production house will have to give its approval before shooting can begin. No changes in the script will be entertained after this stage.

"I haven’t finalised the panel yet, but I will certainly approach renowned critics and writers", says Mans. Apart from the scripts, we will keep a bank of good stories and screenplays. We will rework stories of writers who have not been able to market them, provided they are good".

Veteran scriptwriter and lyricist, Javed Akhtar says that the need for such an institute is long overdue: "We tend to be very conservative whenever something new is introduced. It is high time that a sense of discipline sets into filmmaking. And that discipline can come only from the right script".

Director Govind Nihalani, however, feels that more than a doctoring institute, scriptwriting needs to be taught. ‘Doctoring comes later", he argues.

"Even in Hollywood, more than script doctoring institutes, individual experts are asked for their opinion and that is what matters ultimately."


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