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Bollywood meets the real world

Bollywood has suddenly started finding its muses from real-life. Now, directors pick up real tales to tell.

india Updated: Jul 31, 2003 18:26 IST
Saibal Chatterjee
Saibal Chatterjee

Two recent announcements made by two diametrically opposite individuals have caught the attention of Bollywood observers. On the one hand, a little-known debutant, Sameer Hanchade has articulated his plans to make Ghapla, a composite film on the string of stock market scams that have rocked India in the past decade.

On the other, veteran producer-director Mehul Kumar has plunged headlong into the production of a quickie, Jaago, based on a real-life incident - the rape of a 12-year-old girl on a Mumbai local train.

Reality bites or just stray instances of adventurism? No matter what they are, the two unrelated announcements are interesting, even perhaps intriguing, because the Mumbai film industry has never been known to be fond of true stories. Bollywood filmmakers avoid real-life incidents like the plague because stories from the actual world do not lend themselves to their escapist, kitschy, song-and-dance storytelling format.

The occasional hard-hitting true story that has been told on the Indian silver screen has come from the stables of people who exist outside the veil of the mainstream Mumbai industry. Shekhar Kapur made Bandit Queen, based on Mala Sen's book on the life of Phoolan Devi, Mani Ratnam presented somewhat romanticized versions of the true stories of underworld don Varadarajan Mudaliar (Nayakan) and the Mumbai riots of 1992-93 (Bombay) and, more recently, Ramgopal Varma captured the well-documented rivalry between gangsters Dawood Ibrahim and Chhota Rajan in the skilfully mounted Company.

So, is a wind of change sweeping across the industry? Anurag Kashyap, who burst on the Bollywood scene with the script of the gritty Satya, has now made the stark Paanch, which re-enacts the grisly Abhyankar murders that shook Pune some years ago. His film is finally ready for release after a protracted battle with the Central Board of Film Certification. In the largest democracy of the world, all the muck and vulgarity that passes for screen entertainment is perfectly in order; any attempts to project reality is abhorred by the powers that be. Remember the fate that befell the political satire Kissa Kursi Ka during the Emergency?

The question, therefore, is: will the makers of Ghapla and Jaago be allowed to speak the truth, and nothing but the truth, with impunity? Hanchade's intentions are unambiguous. The first-time director has been quoted as saying "I want to humanise the market scams but seeing them from the perspective of the investors who lost all their money."

No problem there, but his plan to turn the spotlight on the men in the muddle, Harshad Mehta and Ketan Parekh, could be an open invitation to trouble. "I feel Mehta and Parekh never got the chance to tell their side of the story," Hanchade told a television channel recently.

While Hanchade's researched exploration of the world of high finance a la Oliver Stone's Wall Street could send the censors into a bit of a flap, Jaago is likely to be on safer ground - it promises to be a far more generalised swipe at the desensitisation that grips people who live in big cities.

Mehul Kumar's film features Sanjay Kapoor and Raveena Tandon in the roles of the girl's parents, while Manoj Bajpai plays a policeman. Jaago is, therefore, far closer to Bollywood's mainstream than its theme would suggest.

Mehul Kumar has, however, promised that Jaago will be a song less film. But will he be allowed to keep his word? As Yash Chopra and Ramgopal Varma have discovered in the past, it is difficult to keep songs out of the equation even if a film revolves around a subject drawn from the real world.

Chopra's Deewar, inspired from the life of dockyard worker-turned-mafia don Haji Mastan, was originally supposed to be a song less film, as was Varma's Satya, a realistic depiction of Mumbai's criminal underbelly. But both films had to cave in to the demands of the market and throw in a full complement of songs. Mehul Kumar will need more than just noble intentions to stand by his no-songs, no-frills script!

First Published: Jul 31, 2003 12:39 IST