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No laughing matter this

Sources in the Punjabi film industry reveal there were no less than 38 films that released this year. While that should translate into growth, it is on the contrary a reason to mourn the impending fall of an industry that is losing its grip on means to move the masses.

chandigarh Updated: Dec 30, 2013 10:58 IST
Navleen Kaur Lakhi
Navleen Kaur Lakhi
Hindustan Times

Sources in the Punjabi film industry reveal there were no less than 38 films that released this year. While that should translate into growth, it is on the contrary a reason to mourn the impending fall of an industry that is losing its grip on means to move the masses.

An excited Punjabi population, it is apparent, has grown tired of all the ‘Jatts’ trying to woo their ‘Juliets’ while veteran comedians keep the banter alive with their life-saving jokes.

No wonder not even comedy films — filmmakers’ favourite genre — are able to sustain for more than two weeks at cinema houses.

Punjab has a bounty of rich literature, poetry, language and culture that ought to be the film industry’s strength. However, apart from using the latest software, there is little that the industry can boast of in terms of bettering the quality of cinema. To help filmmakers understand where they went wrong, we list out 13 reasons where they faltered.

Overdose of comedy:

Has the bubble of Punjabi cinema’s rising success finally burst? It seems so. Apart from a handful of films, most releases this year fell in the genre of comedy.

However, many would agree that the comedy was mindless. From Best of Luck to Jatts in Golmaal, Naughty Jatts, Tu Mera 22 Main Tera 22, Daddy Cool Munde Fool and Rangeeley, unreal situations carried the films to their illogical end.

Affirms JS Cheema, producer of cult Punjabi film Chann Pardesi (1981), saying, “Not one, but numerous films flopped in a row this year. I once met a senior Bollywood actor who suggested a Punjabi film be made on a famous Gujarati novel.

When I asked her why, she said it was because the novel had ample double meaning words. Today, a similar misconception is nurtured by most that anything loud would be loved by Punjabis, which is absolutely wrong.” Film director Anurag Singh, who has given two of Punjabi cinema’s biggest hits — Jatt & Juliet and Jatt & Juliet 2 — echoes Cheema’s thoughts.

“When similar films with the same cast are made, they end up being boring. A film has to keep the audience gripped, else they start picking at its other faults,” he says.

Lost plots:

Comedian-actor Rana Ranbir is seriously worried about the path that the Punjabi film industry has taken. He shares his concern, saying, "I see a major lack in sincerity in filmmakers when I watch this year’s releases.

A film doing or not doing business is not the only concern; what matters is that they are not even worth appreciating. Cinema is not a joke. If filmmakers think formulae work, they better realise that it is a strong subject that would work and nothing else.”

It is almost catastrophic that a majority of the films this year had the hero running after the heroine and indulging in idiosyncratic acts. Apart from films such as Sikander (about student politics), Sadda Haq (about the struggle of a man for justice), Punjab Bolda (had reference to historical events), Nabar and Stupid 7, all other films were romantic-comedies.

No parallel cinema:

It is safe to say that filmmakers were mostly jumping on the bandwagon of Punjabi films’ increasing viewership and an increase in the number of multiplexes when they made these rom-coms.

In this rat race to mint money, factors such as art, passion and experentalism evidently took a backseat. In such a scenario, there is no parallel cinema to talk of in the Punjabi film industry, while on the other hand, Bollywood has been high on experimentalism this year.

Sadly, the few off-beat films that did get made, such as Kudessan and Surkhaab, made it only to film festivals and not local cinema houses. Gaurav Trehan, lyricist and director of Hashar, agrees, saying, “Filmmakers seem to have taken the audience for granted, forgetting that people love a good story more than anything else. These Punjabi films cater to the same audience that watches Ram-Leela, Chennai Express and even The Lunchbox.”

Stress on quantity:

The making of 38 films (that made it to the cinemas) and many other still under production in a year is no mean feat. What is more astounding is that most did not even do average business.

Manish Sahni, distributor and owner of Omjee Cine World, that distributed films such as Sadda Haq, Singh Vs Kaur, Lucky Di Unlucky Story, Naughty Jatts, Haani and RSVP, says there was more supply than demand. “A business works on the basis of demand and supply.

In this age of multiplexes when the audience has multiple options, supply this year was more than the demand. Why would a viewer spend Rs 200 every week on a bad film?” he asks, adding, “There is a difference between a film and a product. Jatt & Juliet and Carry on Jatta, which most consider a benchmark, were films. All other films were only products.”

Weak cast:

No matter how many films are made, there are only a handful of actors who are cast every time. This is because Punjabi films haven’t seen a strong male or female actor emerge in the last three years.

Apart from successful ones such as Neeru Bajwa, Gippy Grewal, Diljit Dosanjh and Surveen Chawla, it is next to impossible to recall names of strong artists. Truth be told, Punjabi films are still rallying on singers-turned-actors.

Says Rajeev Sharma, director of National Award winning film Nabar, “The protagonist of my film was Hardeep Gill, a theatre artist in his 40s. Theatre has a huge bank of actors who are raw and unexplored and who our industry should focus on.”

Mostly debutant directors:

If casting strong leads is tough, finding seasoned film directors is even tougher in Punjabi cinema. While veterans such as Manmohan Singh did not come up with anything in 2013, those from the younger lot, such as Anurag Singh and Smeep Kang saw huge success.

However, all other first-timers disappointed majorly. Says JS Cheema, “Most of the directors who made their debut this year were either former Punjabi video directors or assistant directors-turned-film directors. All of them were half-baked and not fully-trained.” The results, thereby, are for everyone to see. From Rajdeep Singh (of Young Malang), Nidhi Sharma (Pooja Kiven Aa), Sahil Kohli (Love Yoou Soniye) to Vicky J (You-n- Me), none left a mark.

Producers with no background in films:

If anyone is wondering where the large amount of money pumped into Punjabi films comes from, the answer is real estate.

It is a point worth noting that most production houses backing Punjabi films have had no real brush with cinema. Confirms Vineet Joshi from Trivani Media, which handled the promotion of almost 10 Punjabi films this year, “Most films this year were produced by people with a background in real estate. Those from within the industry wouldn’t have spent the same amount.

But then, bigger budgets mean better technical quality.” Apart from handling the finances, a producer’s role extends to the film’s creative input as well. Though Joshi says that a film made on a budget exceeding Rs 2 crore has lesser chances of recovering its money, Rana Ranbir makes a valid point when he says that films can’t be made with money only. “There is a thing called vision, which most producers and directors lacked,” he adds.

The Bollywood brigade’s dry run:

From Minissha Lamba to Neha Dhupia, Ashmit Patel, Aarti Chabbari, and Preeti Jhangiani; most Bollywood actors who couldn’t make it big in Mumbai tried their luck in Punjab, owing to the hype surrounding Punjabi cinema’s rise.

Nevertheless, they failed miserably at the box office. Film director Manmohan Singh can’t see why these actors thought they would work here.

“Why would the audience want to see flop names of the Hindi film industry in lead roles in Punjabi films, when they have already stopped seeing them in Bollywood?” he asks incredulously.

Promotional overindulgence:
When nothing else works, filmmakers resort to promoting their films to unprecedented extent in the hope that first day collections will help them recover their costs. The promotions, meanwhile, are no small affair.

From tie-ups with media organisations, elaborate music launches, press conferences marking the film’s launch, revelation of the cast and later interaction with the lead actors closer to the date of the release to finally paid premiers, it all leaves people saturated with information and waning interest in watching the real thing.

Unimpressive music score: Punjabi music being a big hit in Bollywood, the music score in Punjab films’ couldn’t earn much appreciation. Apart from music directors such as Jatinder Shah, who gave music to Jatt & Juliet 2, and Jaidev, who gave music to Sadi Love Story that had Bollywood playback singer Kunal Ganjawala sing the title track, there were few other songs that remained with listeners long after the film was seen.

“There was a time when each song of my film would be popular. But, how many songs got appreciated this year?” Manmohan Singh asks.

Veteran comedians only SOLID BANK:
What very few have realised is that the main actors of every Punjabi film this year were Jaswinder Bhalla, Rana Ranbir, Binnu Dhillon, Karamjit Anmol and BN Sharma — comedians who kept the humour bone tickling. Despite their talent, there is only so much they can offer and only so much monotony that the audience can take.

Filmmakers, it seems, were too lazy to introduce new concepts, storylines or dispense knowledge and preferred to bank upon the funny men, which was clearly so much easier. Manmohan Singh reiterates the point, saying, “After a period of time, one realises that almost every film is the same. The same jokes, the same humour, there’s nothing else.”

Most new actors failed: of the few novel factors of Punjabi films this year was debutant actors, all of who bombed. No wonder then, that most films didn’t last for more than week in cinema halls.

Tejinder Singh, owner of Events and Beyonds, a company that offers film funding solutions and handles public relations of Punjab films, reveals, “There are many films that didn’t even get openings.

Others like Risky Munde, Love Yoou Soniye, Just U & Me, Punjab Bolda, Sajjan and Haye Oye Rabba Ishq Na Hove didn’t last for more than a week.” While Gitaz Bindrakhia, Preet Bhullar, Ihana Dhillon, Anisha Pooja and Niharika Kareer were launched ambitiously, their performances, amongst others’, sank without a whimper.

Misleading financial figures:

Last but not the least is the heart-rending information that the so-called profits being made by Punjabi films might not be painting the true picture. Tired of the false figures of profits made by Punjabi films put up online, film director Gurbir Singh Grewal has started putting the record straight on a group called Society for Punjabi Cinema, Theatre and TV, which can be seen on social networking sites.

“I have started sharing the real collection figures of films after compiling the data received from publications such as Complete Cinema and Film Trade Guide.

When I compare that data with the information available on other sites, there is a huge difference. A dozen producers get ruined when they put money into films in the hope that they would receive huge profits. Even if one producer faces losses, the industry does get affected,” he says.

Sippy Grewal, owner of Sippy Grewal Productions, confesses that many films only did average business.

“I think only those films that starred Diljit Dosanjh and Gippy Grewal were the ones that recovered their money.

Only a few of our films, like Singh Vs Kaur, (made on a budget of Rs 4.30 crore and which made Rs 14 crore), Lucky Di Unlucky Story (made on a budget of Rs 5.2 crore and made Rs 16 crore) and Best of Luck were hits. I think Punjab doesn’t have brilliant directors and lacks good stars,” he sums it up.

First Published: Dec 30, 2013 10:35 IST