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Finding a toehold

Saibal Chatterjee looks at what lies in store for four low-budget productions releasing in August.

india Updated: Jul 25, 2003 20:52 IST

In a crowded, glitz-driven marketplace, small and off-mainstream Hindi films do not always have a smooth run. But come August as many as four low-budget productions made over the last year will be released in the space of as many weeks. But do they really stand a chance of achieving success as they square up for a contest with numerous prospective Bollywood blockbusters?

"They do," asserts Sunil Mutreja of Channel Nine Entertainment, which is releasing Anwar Jamal's Swaraaj - The Little Republic and Priya Ruth Paul's The Perfect Husband in August. "The multiplexes have space for all kinds of films." Neither of the two films on Mutreja's distribution slate could be described as mass-oriented fare.

The other two films that make up the unusual August quartet of low-budget releases are Nagesh Kukonoor's long-awaited 3 Deewarein and K.P. Sasi's Ek Alag Mausam. The non-conformism of these films extends to the filmmakers themselves- none of them is based in Mumbai. Jamal lives in Delhi and Paul in Chandigarh, while Kukunoor and Sasi operate out of Hyderabad and Bangalore respectively.

The biggest and perhaps the most viable of the four small films that will be in the theatres next month is the Rs 2.5-crore 3 Deewarein, starring Naseeruddin Shah, Jackie Shroff, Juhi Chawla and Kukunoor. Cast in the mould of a straightforward thriller, 3 Deewarein is set primarily in a jail that a documentary filmmaker chooses as the subject of her next project.

Once she is there, she interacts with three death row criminals - played by Shah, Shroff and Kukunoor. Each of these characters has a past - and so does the documentary filmmaker herself - and secrets tumble out of the closet as the thriller reaches its climax.

Kukunoor's new film was originally scheduled for release late last year. "It got delayed because the producers (Metalight) wanted to prepare for a full-scale international release by unveiling 3 Deewarein in various film festivals," says the writer-director.

What are its prospects? 3 Deewarein is a competently made film that has some fine acting, especially by Naseeruddin Shah, and it has a reasonably gripping storyline, with murders, prison brawls, sodomy, marital oppression and the theme of vengeance thrown in to liven up the flow of the drama. 3 Deewarein is scheduled for release on August 1.

The Rs 40-lakh Swaraaj, on the other hand, is a steadfastly low-key but more moving tale of four backward class women who fight to bring water to their male-dominated village. The film, which has spent the last six months travelling to over 20 international film festivals, is set for nationwide release by mid-August. A trailer of the film, which has been produced by a Delhi NGO, Institute of Social Sciences, has just been made in Chennai and the promos are expected to hit TV channels next week.

Swaraaj is set for release at PVR Anupam in Delhi, Fame Adlabs in Mumbai, Satyam in Chennai and Nandan in Kolkata, among other theatres of the country, the kind that would have been completely out of bounds for a supposedly unentertaining film like Swaraaj until a few years ago. The scenario has obviously changed.

"My film is anything but drab," says Jamal. "It hasn't been made in the dull style that one generally associates with activist films. Swaraaj has pace, particularly in cinematic terms." The music of the film has been composed by the fusion band, Indian Ocean, and the theme number, Jhini, could well emerge as the USP of Swaraaj.

The Perfect Husband, featuring Neha Dubey and Rajeshwari Sachdev, will seek a different trajectory. It is an exploration of the clash between tradition attitudes to marriage and the pressures of contemporary realities. Like Swaraaj, the film had its world premiere at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, held in a desert town off Los Angeles, and has since been screened at several other high-profile events. On its home run, it is expected to go down well with urban audiences.

Ek Alag Mausam, made by Action Aid, is however targeted at both urban and rural Indian audiences. Starring Anupam Kher, Nandita Das and Renuka Shahane, it deals with the plight of HIV positive people. But it articulates its concerns through what is essentially a love story. As Jerry Almeida of Action Aid says, the idea is to tackle a serious issue in an entertaining manner without downplaying its essential gravity.

As small Hindi and Hinglish films discover and master the tricks of the market, Indian audiences could hope to witness many more months like August in the years ahead.