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Is Bollywood creatively bankrupt?

Nobody really knows how it started. But most filmmakers attribute it to the success of Dhoom, which released in 2004, and Dhoom 2, which followed two years later. These are the films that began the trend of sequels and franchises in the Hindi film industry.

bollywood Updated: May 29, 2012 16:17 IST
Tavishi Paitandy Rastogi

Nobody really knows how it started. But most filmmakers attribute it to the success of Dhoom, which released in 2004, and Dhoom 2, which followed two years later. These are the films that began the trend of sequels and franchises in the Hindi film industry.

Lage Raho Munnabhai (after Munnabhai MBBS) and Golmaal Returns (after Golmaal) followed quickly, then came the remake of Don.

Today, in 2011, nearly 75 sequels and franchise films are in the pipeline, including Dhoom 3, Golmaal 4, Once Upon a Time in Mumbai 2 (or should that be Twice Upon a Time in Mumbai?), Dostana 2 – the list is too long to go into here.

The idea isn’t new. Hollywood’s been doing this for four decades or more – think James Bond flicks and movies like Indiana Jones, Back to the Future, Rocky and so on that date back to the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties (The Bond film Dr No released in 1962). But since our filmmakers have just discovered the concept now, typically there is a buzz about these movies.

‘Bollywood runs out of ideas!’ proclaim media headlines.
‘No way!’ protest filmmakers.

We bring you the debate.

Kareena Kapoor and Ajay Devgn from the still of Golmaal Returns

Isn’t making a part 2 or 3 or 4 of a film a most uncreative thing to do?
Seriously, how different can a sequel get? The premise, the characters, the genre, the tone and tenor of the film are already set. There’s no room for new ideas or imaginative thinking. And where’s the story-telling? Sequels and franchises seem suspiciously like lazy filmmaking.

The case against Bollywood
It’s the easiest way to make money.

With a hit name or brand already in hand, a sequel or franchise is not tough to sell. Just as brands work with food and fashion, they work with films as well. Now, with the industry working on new, corporatised ideas of box office success, when just the first weekend of a film’s release decides its fate, a movie that is released with a ‘tag’ is anyway a winner.

Bollywood defends itself
“It works very well in Hollywood. So why not here?”

“We are very shameless,” laughs Komal Nahta, editor of the trade magazine Film Information. “As an industry we have never had any qualms about copying the West. So obviously, the feeling is that if something works there, it should also work here.”

John Abraham in Dostana

Most filmmakers agree with Nahta. “We have a ‘me too’ psyche,” says Sanjay Gadhvi, director of the two

Dhooms

. “But unfortunately, we don’t have the technique and tempo to properly do things their way. Can we really deny brilliant Hollywood series like

Spiderman, Superman, Jaws

or

The Godfather

?"



If Bollywood has been slow in picking up the idea of franchises from the West, it’s because Bollywood has been functioning like Hollywood only for a few years now. “Change is a slow process,” says director Milan Luthria who made

Once Upon a Time in Mumbai

and who’s beginning to work on its sequel. “Sequels and franchises hit Bollywood a few years ago and are only beginning to peak now.”



“A sequel or franchise is hugely lucrative”


Let’s not be squeamish here. Films are not only art and story-telling. Films need to make money too. For any filmmaker, the biggest concern is revenue.



“A franchise or a sequel is generally assured money,” says Gadhvi. “So it makes obvious business sense to go with a product with guaranteed returns.”



The

Dhoom

movies constitute Bollywood’s biggest franchise so far. When

Dhoom 2

released, its market share was double that of the original

Dhoom

.



Something like that is bound to make filmmakers sit up, take notice, and contemplate the possible new patterns of the industry. “Stakes are generally very high on most movies now,” says Luthria. “So production houses are not very keen on taking too many risks. And a sequel or a franchise brand has the power to get almost 60 per cent of invested cash back.”



Doing good business is never a bad idea, agrees Vikas Behl, COO, UTV Spotboy. “A sequel or a franchise comes with the advantage of familiarity,” he says. “Because it has already crossed the barrier of awareness in a cluttered market, it becomes easier for the producer to market it and thus the costs are much lower.”



Golmaal

seems to be the perfect case in point. “The first did business of about Rs 14-15 crore,” says Nahta. “The second made an all-India distributor share of nearly Rs 20-25 crore. And the third, having tasted success the first two occasions, did a roaring business of Rs 50 crore. This was a benchmark of sorts.”



Naturally, filmmakers want to cash in on their brands. “And why should that be bad?” asks Rohit Shetty, director of the

Golmaal

franchise. “If I have created a brand, why should I be apologetic about making money on it? You reap what you sow, right?”



“Tried and tested is like a guarantee”


Emraan Hashmi and Ajay Devgn in Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai

From the viewer’s perspective, say filmmakers, a sequel or franchise is pretty much a guarantee that the film they’re spending hard cash on is a film they will like.



“It’s very simple. If I know what product I am buying, I will pick it up without thinking about it,” says Vijay Acharya, writer of

Dhoom

and

Dhoom 2

, and director of

Dhoom 3

. “It’s like picking up the latest edition in a series of comics. You may not like the latest edition of the series, but if you like the series overall, you will still buy the next edition. Familiarity with a product always works.”



Familiarity is really the key, says actor Shreyas Talpade who has worked in all the

Golmaals

since the first. “It’s like going back to the cinema hall to catch up with the guy you met once and thoroughly enjoyed being with,” he says.



Couldn’t familiarity breed contempt too? There is a risk of that, says Shetty. But anyone with a franchise works to make sure it doesn’t happen. “We take a break of a year or two an come back only when the audience starts asking for more

Golmaal

,” he explains. “Then we can safely say that we are catering to the demand.”



“A captive audience is a great advantage”


With a sequel or franchise, filmmakers know there is an audience. While a first film is always a risk since you never know how the audience will react, a sequel to a successful film has an audience almost before the film is shot.



“That’s a big, big factor,” says director Sanjay Gupta. “If you are assured of your audience, half your problems are sorted. They are aware of the kind of film they are going to watch. They are aware of the genre, feel, and so on. They have seen similar stuff earlier, were hooked, and now want to see the next of the same.”



Primarily, the audience feels connected to characters, for example,

Munnabhai

and

Don

. “People love these characters,” says Ritesh Sidhwani, producer of

Don.

“The audience comes to see what the character does. They loved everything about Munnabhai – his

jadoo ki jhappis

and his Gandhi

giri

. And

Don

is a star. Sure, he’s evil, but people want to see him that way. So every time these guys come back on screen, the audience returns to see them.”



“You can’t ever repeat a storyline”


Would you pay good money to watch the same story over and over again?



Chances are, no. And filmmakers know that. “Yes, we may have the same premise or repeat a few characters, but the storyline is different,” says Vijay Acharya.



Take for instance, he says,

Dhoom

. The franchise is about cops-and-robbers films that are sleekly set in the 2000s.



“But those are the only similarities,” says Acharya. “My first film was more of a light-hearted chor-police drama.

Dhoom 2

focused more on the love story of two unconventional people.

Dhoom 3

too is different, I hope.”



“It’s hugely creative. It has to be”


Take a film like

Golmaal

that has a certain look, feel and idea. Now fit a brand new film into this template.



Remember: A couple of years has passed since the last

Golmaal

released. Your audience for that film has grown older, it’s changed. The world has changed too.



So how do you get that audience to return to theatres for a new

Golmaal

, as well as attract new viewers to your film and franchise?


“How does one work in a fixed mould? That needs to be answered by all critics,” says Shetty. “This makes filmmaking hugely creative, because what you make can’t be a cut-and-fit kind of job. A film needs to make perfect sense. It has to have all ingredients in place and in proportion and be a great entertainer. Only then is it a success.”



Even though the audience comes back for the characters, those characters need to be there for a reason.



“Every character or situation needs to be justified,” says Sanjay Gupta who’s always refused to make a sequel to his superhit film,

Kaante

. “How can I do that?” he asks. “Every character in the film dies. This isn’t a soap opera that they can come back from the dead. You can’t cash in on a cult film like that. You have to make sure that a sequel is just as believable as the original film. That is creativity.”



“You have to live up to expectations”


And that is frightening indeed. “It is scary,” says director Tarun Mansukhani who is currently writing

Dostana 2

. “As a first-time director, I really had nothing to lose. But with

Dostana 2

, the ballgame has changed. I cannot afford to make mistakes. There are huge expectations to meet.”



The success of the first film and the decision to make the second or the third is a double-edged sword. “The cult-ish success of one film can weigh very heavily on the filmmaker. It almost becomes obligatory to deliver the second time round,” says Gadhvi.



If you don’t deliver, it’s instant death for your franchise. Your business is over and done. “Part 2 has to supersede part 1 or the franchise is finished,” says Shetty. “After three films, only I know how difficult it is to keep taking this risk. I cannot afford to go wrong. The benchmarks are far higher today than they were when I first did

Golmaal

: risks, money, reputation, expectations… everything.”



Verdict


“It’s far tougher to make a part 2 of a film than an original,” says film journalist and critic Anupama Chopra.



And in fact, adds Komal Nahta, it’s not as though every film coming out of the film industry is a sequel or franchise.



“In an industry that produces nearly 150 movies a year, barely 10 are sequels or a part of franchises,” he points out. “The other works are brand new.”



Kareena Kapoor in Yeh Mera Dil from Don

Remaking It


With remakes of some of the most iconic films of the Seventies and Eighties, such as

Satte Pe Satta, Agneepath

and

Qurbani

coming up, the industry is divided on the issue of creativity.



Ritesh Sidhwani who remade Amitabh Bachchan’s cult film

Don

says that the very fact that one is touching an original superhit to make it more contemporary is a big deal.



“Remaking is not about bettering an idea. It is about presenting exactly the same thing but with some new flavour,” he says. “And that new flavour has to be just as palatable as the previous one. So while you maintain originality, your creativity is in reworking it and yet generating the same levels of excitement about the film,” he says. Soham Shah, who is remaking

Satte Pe Satta

, vehemently agrees.



But Vijay Acharya, writer and director of the

Dhoom

series, maintains that doing a remake means that you’ve hit rock bottom in terms of effort and creativity. “Doing a remake is an open admission that, ‘boss, I don’t have anything of my own,’” he says.



- From HT Brunch, May 15

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