Why Indra The Tiger is a permanent fixture on Indian television
A blockbuster Telugu film has been a permanent fixture on Indian television for a decade. We find out why
The film opens with death and unrest. A village in Andhra Pradesh is caught in turmoil caused by its two feuding families. They decide to end war with a wedding.
A red wedding: the bride poisons the groom on their first night together; her father murders all the men in his family. Indrasen must take over as head of this unfortunate family: the young schoolboy with a fierce temper is now the village headman.
How many times have you watched Indra The Tiger? For a decade now, the Telugu blockbuster Indra dubbed in Hindi as Indra The Tiger seems to have become a permanent fixture on TV.
It was, we always assumed, a blip. Some sadist schedulers playing a joke on national audiences. Because Indra seemed to be on TV on some channel or the other at any given point in time. Saturday night, Sunday afternoon, you name it, there it was: a Telugu action film we never watched.
So here’s something you may not know: when it was released in 2002, Indra the Tiger grossed more on the box office than any Telegu film before it. "It was about Rs 40-45 crore, almost twice as much as any other hit film usually made," says C Ashwini Dutt, the film’s producer. In the same year in Bollywood, Devdas, the top grosser, made just Rs 34 crore (though figures vary between Rs 24 crore and Rs 34 crore) in comparison.
In Telugu cinema, it resurrected actor Chiranjeevi, whose career had started to wobble by the late 1990s. "He had quite a bit of competition from Junior NTR, the grandson of great NTR," says film journalist Rentala Jayadeva, referring to Telugu cinema legend and former chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, NT Rama Rao and his grandson.
"Factionism is a hit formula in Telugu cinema, particularly with Rayalseema as a backdrop. And Chiranjeevi attempted this formula to catapult his career," he says.
"Rayalseema is an arid area, with high water scarcity. The plot revolved around people praying for more water. And here is Chiranjeevi, for the first time enacting the leader of a faction. He’s all for people and against bloodshed. The film was bound to be a hit."
It has all the masala: the hero with superhero abilities, a cause, lots of action, many, many songs, and a Bollywood actress (Sonali Bendre) for glamour. And it is partly set in Varanasi.
Ladies’ man: Chiranjeevi with Aarthi Agarwal in Indra
It is, if you set your pretentions aside, a rather enjoyable film. And if you don’t, the dubbed version has gems such as these: (the other female lead, Aarthi Agarwal, to Chiranjeevi):
Tumhaari nazrein mujhe bohot pasand aayien.
Greek shilp mein jaise banaaya ye figure pasand aaya.
Teri chaal mein ek style hai.
Aur kya boloon?
Totally teri body mein jo kuch hai, sab mujhe pasand aaya.
"When I was heading Sahara One (in 2010-11)," says TV and film writer Mushtaq Sheikh, "we had these perpetual, evergreen films: whenever you needed ratings, you could close your eyes and screen them. Indra was one of them."
Other films give channels high ratings too: the YRF films, the Karan Johar films, the SRK films. But if you watch a film repeatedly, you will know its scenes by heart.
So, "the time spent by the audience on these movies is diminishing over the years," says Sheikh. "But this logic escapes Indra. This movie is so engaging and so bizarre… it still gives you numbers. How can something break all rules? Movie making is uncertain, but Indra The Tiger is not. It is the answer to everything."The beginning
For years, south Indian movies (mostly Tamil hits) dubbed in Hindi had been successful in theatres. Roja (1992) and Bombay (1995) did very well at the box office.
"But this hadn’t been attempted on TV. We started the trend," says Udayan Shukla, the programming head at Sony Max. "These films work with all kinds of audiences. [National] audiences relate to them – we’ve had a history of south Indian producers making blockbuster Hindi hits in the ’80s: Himmatwala, Sooryavansham…"
Sooryavansham is the Amitabh Bachchan film that could give stiff competition to Indra for being aired the most. The other is Nayak, the one where Anil Kapoor plays an aam addmi chief minister. It was a bizarre film, more so since it came a decade before Arvind Kejriwal appeared on the scene to play it out in real life.
On loop: Sooryavansham is the Amitabh Bachchan film that could give stiff competition to Indra for being aired the most. The other is Nayak, where Anil Kapoor plays an aam addmi chief minister
“We have a large library – of 1,500 films, but only 250-400 films resonate with the audiences,” says Shukla. This arrangement worked out fine when there were three Hindi movie channels, but now there are about a dozen and all play the same films.
It would still work out if you weren’t subjected to them on Saturday evenings when you have absolutely no plans, but, says Mushtaq Sheikh, the best films are reserved for, say, January 26 and Diwali and Holi... you still have a lot of primetime slots to fill. And to push numbers, “you have to show the films that you know will do well,” he says.
We’re surpised when the film is not playing on television.
The strange thing is that both Set Max and Star Gold claimed to have not shown the film since 2011. Yet, we remember watching it after 2011 on the two channels – in the last year too. Twitter is full of jokes about the film being every movie channel’s favourite film, because “Indra the Tiger is no longer a movie. It’s a channel.”
Now though, you will find it playing on Sahara One and Filmy: both, however, declined to comment on the film.
This makes one wonder why the film hasn’t been remade in Hindi. In 2012, there were rumours that Sanjay Leela Bhansali had acquired the rights and was going to make it with Akshay Kumar in the lead. But as it turns out, Bhansali and Kumar were actually working on the remake of the Tamil film Ramana, to be released this year.
Ashwini Dutt, Indra’s producer (he also produced Jaani Dost, the hit 1980s film starring Dharmendra, Jeetendra, Parveen Babi and Sridevi) has been constantly trying to make it in Hindi. “I offered Prabhudeva the direction also,” he says.
“I keep telling dad, it’s high time we made it in Hindi,” says Dutt’s daughter, Swapna. “There have been a lot of calls from Bollywood, but each person wants to make the film on their own, whereas we want to co-produce it. So that’s where it’s got stuck,” she says. “And we need a big hero. I want Salman Khan!”
Is Salman listening?
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From HT Brunch, March 8
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