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Bollywood rebels go the whole hog

The industry is ripping ideas blatantly, writes Saibal Chatterjee.

india Updated: Apr 19, 2006 19:08 IST

Original ideas aren’t easy to come by in Bollywood. That is how it has been for the past quarter century or so. Many of the top guns of the Mumbai movie industry these days seems to be remaking a Hindi hit of yore. Playing safe is clearly the name of the game.

Mercifully, not everybody is afraid of pushing the envelope. The newer crop of directors is gutsy enough to think out of the box and come up with themes and treatments that are daring and cinematically unique. As a result, the biggest banes of Bollywood, predictable plot lines and conventional constructs, are no longer quite as glaring as they used to be once upon a time.   

The rebels are pushing ahead with vim and vigour. Vishal Bhardwaj, who adapted William Shakespeare’s Macbeth a couple of years ago for the wonderfully inventive Maqbool, is now giving finishing touches to yet another screen reworking of a classic Shakespeare tragedy, Othello.

What is particularly heartening is the fact that Bhardwaj’s second shot at Shakespeare, unlike the first one, is a mainstream film. Names like Ajay Devgan, Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor figure in the cast of Omkara. If that isn’t proof of the increasing clout of filmmakers of Bhardwaj’s ilk, what is?  

A still from Vishal Bhardwaj's Maqbool. The film was an adapted William Shakespeare's Macbeth. Bhardwaj is reworking another Shakespearean tragedy, Othello.

Onir, who made his directorial debut last year with the low-budget sensitive AIDS drama,

My Brother Nikhil

, is now developing a film that will reinterpret

Hamlet

for Hindi movie audiences. Hrithik Roshan, no less, is at the top of the director’s wish list of actors who could play the title role.

Sujoy Ghosh, who hit the bull’s eye in 2003 with Jhankaar Beats but fell short with Home Delivery last year, is planning a children’s film woven around two popular Arabian Nights tales, Aladdin and 40 Thieves. It will be anything but a small film, laden as it is likely to be with state-of-the-art special effects. India’s answer to HarryPotter

Anurag Kashyap, maker of the unreleased but critically acclaimed Paanch and Black Friday, is 80 per cent through with a new film, Gulaal, a political drama set in the turbulent future in north India. Gulaal has the financial backing of Bollywood producer Jhamu Sugandh.

Homi Adajania, following the triumph of the English-language niche film, Being Cyrus, is now toying with the idea of mounting a far more ambitious period film in Hindi based on a real-life story set at the turn of the last century.

Although none of these upcoming films can be classified as typical Mumbai movies, these cinematic experiments are happening within the ambit of mainstream Bollywood. The very fact that such celluloid essays are being crafted with greater regularity is evidence of the rapidly changing creative and commercial climate in India’s movie capital.

The expanding range of the themes that Mumbai filmmakers are daring to tackle these days stems largely from the growing importance of content as the driving force.

With content-driven films like Lagaan, Devdas, Black, Parineeta and Rang De Basanti, to name the most notable, achieving blockbuster status in recent times, Bollywood producers and moneybags have begun to see substantial percentage in unconventional cinema that does not cost the earth to make but has the potential of breaking into the mainstream.

On a recent television news show, UTV’s Ronnie Screwvala, the producer of Rang De Basanti, admitted that in the wake of the runaway box office success of the Rakeysh Mehra film, his production company has decided to scrap the scripts that it has on its anvil and review its future options. He has seen the writing on the wall.

Bollywood is indeed poised on the threshold of a revolution. While slapstick comedies, mushy melodramas and rip-offs of Hollywood thrillers will continue to be the Bollywood staple in the foreseeable future, a new kind of popular cinema is gradually gaining ground in Mumbai.

Relatively low budget films unfettered by the established conventions of Bollywood movies are increasingly hitting the big time. From Saratchandra to Shakespeare, from contemporary exposes to sweeping period dramas – contemporary Mumbai cinema is on the constant move.