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Hate Story 4: Can erotic thrillers guarantee success in Bollywood?

Vikram Bhatt started experimenting with Kasoor (2001) and aced the formula with Raaz (2002). He devised a formula that was to rule the box office for the next decade: Melodious music, titillating scenes and unapologetic approach during promotions.

bollywood Updated: Mar 08, 2018 12:56 IST
Rohit Vats
Rohit Vats
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Hate Story 4,Urvashi Rautela,Vishal pandya
Urvashi Rautela plays the lead in Hate Story 4.

The turn of the millennium saw Bollywood filmmakers try their hands at a relatively new genre: erotic thrillers. Mahesh and Mukesh Bhatt’s Vishesh Films was among the first production houses to exploit the genre in a big way.

Though films like Aastha and Kama Sutra: A Tale Of Love were made in the ‘90s, but they weren’t ‘erotic thrillers’. They were about exploring the other side of human nature, the desire to understand a person’s physical needs.

The Bhatts changed the narrative.

Vikram Bhatt started experimenting with Kasoor (2001) and aced the formula with Raaz (2002). He devised a formula that was to rule the box office for the next decade: Melodious music, titillating scenes and unapologetic approach during promotions.

Before him, filmmakers were shy of advertising their products in a big way. The Bhatts changed that and showed the world how fruitful can these films be at the box office.

They, and a few others, kept striking god with films like Jism, Julie, Murder, Ragini MMS and Hate Story.

Some of them went on to become established franchise like Murder, Ragini MMS and Hate Story.

According to boxofficeindia.com, Murder (2004) started only with 215 screens and ended with a haul of Rs 15 crore at the box office. It was unthinkable before that. The film made Emraan Hashmi and Mallika Sherawat scintillating stars. It was at number 12 in the list of most successful films that year. Compared to Veer Zaara’s collection of approximately Rs 42 crore, it wasn’t a small feat.

The moment sustained and after eight years, Hate Story (2012) released in 1100 screens and earned more than Rs 12 crore. It was more than anybody could have asked for. It made its presence felt among films like Gangs Of Wasseypur, Kahaani, Vicky Donor, Barfi and Ek Tha Tiger.

It was clear that such films have a fan base of their own. So, what was working for them? Was it the so called ‘bold’ content? Director Vishal Pandya, who has directed Wajah Tum Ho and Hate Story 2, 3 and 4 says, “We don’t go overboard to stuff erotic scenes in our films. There are films which have far more such scenes. I don’t hide anything from the audiences.”

He further says, “People hide behind the term ‘script’s need’. I don’t do it. I am telling this from the beginning that my film would have kissing scenes. There are films that don’t show anything in their trailers, but ‘un filmon se sab hota hai.’ I am honest than that.”

The new-age filmmakers are willing to take chances. Pandya says, “We can’t explain everything in the trailer. I make commercial films and I am fine with the ‘erotic’ tag. I tell you what’s the problem. Why filmmakers shy away from the ‘erotica’ tag? They are worried what other actors, particularly the bigger names, will think about them and whether they will work with them in future? In the back of their minds, filmmakers think that these actors would not go to the theatres to watch the film, so they wouldn’t know.”

Zareen Khan and Karan Singh Grover in a still from Hate Story 3.

Horrex or horror-sex is another stream of erotic thrillers. Films like 1920, Ragini MMS and Alone fall in this genre. Most of them break even or become profitable at the end of their theatre run. Karan Kundraa-starrer 1921 made more than Anurag Kashyap’s Mukkabaaz and Saif Ali Khan’s Kaalakaandi.

Kundraa describes the changing dynamics. He says, “From international content to titillating content, Indians are exposed to all sorts of films now. Even porn is easily available, so promoting a film around ‘sex’ is probably not a good idea.”

He adds, “1921 was as clean a film as it was possible. It’s not just the erotic part that’s carrying such films. It had great music and was a franchise film. When we did promo on air, it started trending at number 1 immediately. People have too much information, so only horrex or erotica is not going to work.”

He cites the example of Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety which has turned out to be a phenomenal box office success. “Look at Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety, it’s doing wonders. Even my film worked because of word of mouth. At the end of the day, it has to be a good film. 1921 proved it because Monday was better than Friday. It did so well in Pakistan as well,” says Kundraa.

Karan Kundraa and Zareen Khan in a still from 1921.

But titillation can take a film only up to a certain point. The absence of a good script means the film will not sell well. And then there is the Censor Board. Vishal Pandya says, “People don’t know that there is a limit to what we can show. There are rules and regulations imposed by the Censor Board. Filmmakers are not allowed to show things beyond those guidelines.”

Does that mean the market is only concerned about a well-packaged product? Urvashi Rautela, who is playing the central character in Hate Story 4, sounds hopeful about the film. She says, “It’s a performance oriented role, and it’s my first female-centric film. Hate Story is a successful franchise. I think people love watching powerful girls. It’s an out and out commercial film. It has got all the elements: Good music, dance, good characters.”

Will the franchise be lucky for the makers one more time?

Interact with Rohit Vats at Twitter/@nawabjha

First Published: Mar 08, 2018 08:38 IST