Comedy is certainly the flavour of the season in Bollywood with every other comic caper making a killing at the turnstiles and dime-a-dozen dream merchants scrambling over one another to board the bandwagon. Among the recent to hit is Dhamaal.
No sooner was David Dhawan's pop-up comedy flick, Partner, declared a hit, another veteran of the genre, Indra Kumar, seems poised to hit a home run with his latest offering Dhamaal, which released Friday.
Initial reports of the film starring Sanjay Dutt, Riteish Deshmukh, Arshad Warsi, Javed Jaffrey and Ashish Chaudhary are pretty encouraging.
Unlike the recently released crass comedy Budha Mar Gaya and many offerings that vend vulgarity in the name of humour, "Dhamaal" is being appreciated by the gentry as a relatively clean, plot-driven comedy.
In a year that has witnessed crumbling of a number of box-office formulae including the embarrassing box-office drubbing awarded to mega-budget Yash Raj Films-productions Ta Ra Rum Pum and Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, the industry has been iffy about what will work.
The films that have worked at the box-office this year have been dramatically unlike the usual Bollywood potboilers.
The first blockbuster was Mani Ratnam's Guru loosely based on the life of Indian industrialist Dhirubhai Ambani. Then came the sleeper hit Bheja Fry that turned Hindi film industry's economics on its head. And Chak De! India that is ruling the marquees now is like nothing ever seen before in Bollywood boulevard.
For the box-office, laughter has indeed proved to be the best medicine and tickling the funny bone has become serious money-spinning formula.
<b1>Partner reportedly made Rs 300 million in its opening week alone. For Dhawan, the king of comedy, who returned to wielding the megaphone after a two-year break adapting Hollywood's Hitch with the perfect twosome of Salman Khan and Govinda, had paid off big time.
The multiplexes and movie theatres have been chock-full of recent comedy releases - Bhagam Bhag, Golmaal, Hey Babyy and Bheja Fry.
The most remarkable success story is that of
- made on a modest budget of just Rs.5.5 million. The film with Vinay Pathak and Rajat Kapoor in the lead grossed more that five times its cost and has others hoping to repeat its success.
"We Indians have a herd mentality. If, for any reason, one particular comedy movie works, everyone else will be eager to cash in. The next thing you know is every director in Bollywood is making a funny movie! Thus, the success of a particular genre plays a big role. Besides, comedy is a great stress-buster," says Bheja Fry producer Sunil Doshi.
Following closely on the heels of Partner was debutant director Sajid Khan's Heyy Babyy with Akshay Kumar, Fardeen Khan, Riteish Deshmukh and Vidya Balan providing comic relief.
Though the film did not put the cash registers on fire, it did do reasonably good business.
"I am not sure if comedy is box-office medicine, but I can honestly tell you that making people laugh is more fruitful than trying to move them," Sajid aptly said in an interview before the film's release.
The month of September has other comic capers in the pipeline.
Priyadarshan, who is credited for rewriting the roles of comedy in Bollywood, will be presenting Dhol and Bhool Bhulaiya and Sanjay Sharma will be bearing his Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro.
All these films have actors who have proven their yen for comedy.
Starting from the veterans like Sanjay Dutt, Akshay, Arshad Warsi and Javed Jaffrey, the newer crop of actors like Riteish, Ashish Chaudhary and Tusshar Kapoor will be seen at their comic best through the month.
Indu Mirani, trade analyst says that the only security blanket in a flailing year is romantic-comedies, action or drama.
"People reject entertainment that doesn't entertain, which literally means making them laugh. Last year's biggest hit was a comedy (Lage Raho Munnabhai)," he argues.
Interestingly, when it comes to comedy, the multiplex viewers are less demanding. They continue to patronise slapstick comedies that were made famous by Dhawan years ago. But when it comes to other genres, audiences are becoming more and more discerning.
<b3>Speaking to a trade weekly, filmmaker Ram Madhwani said: "It's quite a unique paradox. In a way the forerunners of the multiplex boom are now showing to an audience that is missing in action. Mass-produced cinema still sells."
Madhwani had made the offbeat Let's Talk last year and he attributes the comic wave to the producers' business sense rather than any special creative sense.
According to trade observer Taran Adarsh, comedy has gone more slapstick than ever before. But the winds of change blowing over Bollywood have not left this genre untouched.
Same week last year Vidhu Vinod Chopra's Lage Raho Munnabhai had struck a chord with the elite, the yuppie crowd, the common man, hoi polloi... all sections of moviegoers.
Dhamaal with its zero vulgar quotient is also a welcome change.
Dhamaal will have some competition from Heyy Babyy which belongs to the same genre and was released last week. The other release of the last week, Ramgopal Varma Ki Aag will be no competition for the two comic capers.
In fact, the much-hyped film said to be an adaptation of Bollywood's most successful movie Sholay did not even manage a good opening in spite of the presence of actors like Amitabh Bachchan and Ajay Devgan.