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Bollywood's new success mantra

As the industry?s 3rd sequel of the year grosses higher returns than its original, will follow-ups become the hit formula? Vinayak Chakravorty finds out.

india Updated: Sep 24, 2006 19:21 IST

Call it Bollywood's second coming. If 'nothing succeeds like excess' has forever been the bottomline for our profit-obsessed film people, the maxim gets a new-age twist with moviedom’s latest hit mantra: the sequel.

Krrish, a sequel to Koi Mil Gaya, Phir Hera Pheri, which follows Hera Pheri, and Lage Raho Munnabhai, another 'episode’ in the life of the lovable gangster we first met in Munnabhai MBBS, have already opened to huge responses this year, each film scoring higher than the original. And with Yash Chopra touting a box-office monster by way of Dhoom 2 (scheduled to open in November), 2006 should go down as Bollywood’s year of sequels.

They worked because...

Passing phase? Mere gimmick? Look closely and you will find a method to the madness. If these sequels have been bigger, commercially, than the first films, it is because they have been more smartly packaged. Krrish may lack the solid script of its original, Koi Mil Gaya, but the audience was not complaining.

Director Rakesh Roshan made up for that with snazzier special
effects (by Bollywood standards), sleeker cinematography and by cunningly packaging son Hrithik Roshan as a comic book superhero – the protagonist that reigns in present-day Hollywood, the home of the sequel.

Unlike the situation-driven humour of Hera Pheri, Phir Hera Pheri cashed in on random slapstick – the order of the day when it comes to Bollywood ‘comedies’ right now – yet retained as its USP the odd trio of Raju (Akshay Kumar), Shyam (Suniel Shetty) and Babu Bhaiyya (Paresh Rawal) from the original.

While both Krrish and Phir Hera Pheri chose to carry forward the plots of their respective original films, Lage Raho Munnabhai scored by taking a different route. Director Rajkumar Hirani retained the lovable duo of Munna and Circuit but presented them in a whole new world, as if 2003’s Munnabhai MBBS had never existed. Hirani’s explanation makes commercial sense: “I could have never carried forward the story of Munnabhai MBBS. That was a complete film in itself.

So, we decided to retain the two popular characters and present them in a completely new setup – much like Charlie Chaplin did with the Tramp in film after film.” TIMING IS ALL The obvious question: why has sequel mania hit Bollywood only now? Hindi cinema has had its share of blockbusters over the decades, so why is it only now that so many filmmakers are rummaging through past hits, looking for a story that can be explored further?

The answer could lie in what is working in Hollywood at present. Traditionally, our filmmakers have looked to the West for inspiration, and the frequency of sequels from Hollywood studios has been higher in the last five years than ever before. The 2000s seem to be an era when popular American cinema has scored more hits more easily by sim ply revisiting a successful idea. Record-busters such as Spider-Man 2, Shrek 2, Batman Begins, the Harry Potter and the Lord Of The Rings films, and The Matrix and Kill Bill sequels have given studios a clear message: sequels sell. And not many original ideas have matched the gross incomes of these sequels.

Trade analyst Komal Nahta feels that this could be the reason why sequels are happening at this point of time in Bollywood, an industry that gives the impression of randomly lunging at anything that may work given its still unorganised set-up.

“Hollywood may have been at it for ages, but in the past few years sequels have really been bigger than ever before,” feels Nahta. “And whatever is good for Hollywood will sooner or later find its way into our films.” Filmmakers of course have their own explanations for this trend.

While Chopra believes “the time has come for Hindi cinema to explore an interesting story and carry it forward,” he also makes an honest confession at the same time: “The Hindi film market has grown considerably over the past couple of years. And one does not always have a bank of fresh stories to film. In this context, sequels are proving to be a safe bet for filmmakers. They guarantee a head start because the original story idea and set of characters have already been accepted.” In the era of multiplex-driven cinema, when a multicrore mega-venture has to fight it out with half a dozen concurrently running films, Chopra’s logic would make sense.

Roshan’s theory is in line with Chopra’s: “Maybe we are finally making films with story ideas that can indeed be carried forward,” he says. But Hirani dismisses the slew of sequels as coincidence. “I don’t think any sequel is made just because the first film was a hit,” he says. “When I brought back Munna and Circuit in Lage Raho Munnabhai, I was aware of the fact that sequels of major hits have flopped even in Hollywood, where the trend has been a rage for a long time. A film will work only if it can strike a chord with the audience, irrespective of whether it is a first film or a sequel.”

Seasoned Bollywood director Subhash Ghai makes an interesting point, "Sequels did not happen in Bollywood for so long because the masses were not comfortable with the idea. A big reason why they are happening now is television. Thanks to long-running TV serials, Indian audiences have become habituated watching the same set of characters being developed over episodes that at times continue for years. Translated in the cinematic context, that is exactly what sequels do."

Others like crossover director Madhur Bhandarkar take a purely commercial line: “Filmmakers will give to the audience whatever they accept. Sequels are working now, so it is not a surprise that more and more directors are attempting them. The Indian audience is changing, and the cinema they get is bound to change in every possible manner.” This is why even Bhandarkar, who is primarily labelled as ‘arty’, a director for a multiplex audience, would not mind giving sequels a shot.

"A lot of people have suggested that I make a sequel to Chandni Bar," he says. "They tell me they would like to know what happens to Tabu’s character after the end of that film. And even my other films, like Page 3 and Corporate, have had open endings. So, if I wanted, I could extend these stories into full-fledged sequels too. The idea is definitely appealing to me as a filmmaker, but I should have grounds and the logic to move these stories forward."

CHANGING IDIOM

Bhandarkar is not the only one who is open to the idea. Hirani and producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra are al ready getting ready to write a script for Munnabhai 3, and producer Firoz Nadiadwala has signed No Entry director Anees Bazmi for Hera Pheri 3. Ram Gopal Varma plans to launch Sarkar 2 next year and producer Gaurang Doshi reportedly has plans to make Aankhen 2. Even Sunny Deol is out to resurrect the desi Rambo image that shot him to superstardom with Ghayal 16 years ago. There will be a Ghayal 2.