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Flops blur Bollywood hopes

Besides Rang De Basanti and 15 Park Avenue, Bollywood hasn't seen a hit for months now, writes Saibal Chatterjee

india Updated: Feb 18, 2006 21:21 IST

As the third month of 2006 draws nigh, Bollywood has spotted some light at the end of the burrow. Sadly, the tunnel is just too long, dank and dark for the distant flash to blow away the gloom.

A single box office hit in eight weeks is a low strike rate by all accounts. In any case, the euphoria that has been generated by the runaway success of Rang De Basanti simply isn’t big enough to offset the debilitating effect of the string of flops that the industry has delivered over the past few weeks.

It is not merely the poor commercial performance of recent releases, however, that is a source of worry. The intrinsic quality and, in some case, the intent of these films continue to be a major concern

Look beyond Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s remarkable film and Bollywood’s cupboard runs almost dry in terms of genuine artistic merit. It has little to show for its efforts in the first few weeks of the year. So far this year, all that the industry has managed to deliver is the usual mix of brazen rip offs, feebly promoted attempts at being different and stylised action flicks, neither of which have found too many takers at the turnstiles.

What the success of RDB has proved yet again is that artistic merit and narrative strength are important elements all right, but they aren’t enough to drive a film into the hearts of the people. That happens when a film is backed up with a fully functional publicity machine. UTV Motion Pictures played its cards right, and RDB has reaped a rich harvest.

15 Park Avenue garnered mild response at the box office. But besides this film and Rang De Basanti, Bollywood hasn't seen a hit for months now.

In contrast, a couple of quality films belonging to a genre far removed from

RDB’s

haven’t quite made the sort of waves that they should have done. In the absence of the right sort of promotional push, Aparna Sen’s 15 Park Avenue and Rajat Kapoor’s Mixed Doubles, neither of which is a typical Bollywood film, have been relegated to the fringes of the multiplex spectrum.

15 Park Avenue released almost a month and a half back, has not only garnered glowing critical notices, it is also continuing to run in a few metropolitan cineplexes a month and a half after its release. A good sign no doubt, but the accolades haven’t quite translated into the kind of mass support that makes the difference between a hit and an honourable also-ran.

Rajat Kapoor’s defiantly offbeat Mixed Doubles, a marital comedy of the kind that has never been seen before in this part of the world, has met with much the same fate as 15 Park Avenue: generally good reviews but a rather lukewarm audience response. It arrived at the multiplexes without much publicity and seems to be paying the price for that gap.

Sanjay Gupta’s Zinda, which, like numerous other recent Hindi films, emerged more from the director’s collection of DVDs picked up on foreign jaunts than from the recesses of his own mind, was preceded by much hype. That paid off for a while, but, despite the presence of Sanjay Dutt and John Abraham in the cast, the film did not quite attain anything more than average hit status.

A similar film released towards the end of the previous calendar year – Apoorva Lakhia’s Ek Ajnabee – failed to make inroads notwithstanding a characteristically virtuoso performance by Amitabh Bachchan. Yet another film of the same genre – Fight Club, produced by and starring Sohail Khan – is now in the theatres. One thing should be quite clear by now: these bare-knuckles, all-male thrillers have limited appeal, especially if they are saddled with derivative scripts.

Talking of copycat narratives can there be anything that can beat Pooja Bhatt’s utterly listless Holiday, a reworking of Dirty Dancing set in Goa. When filmmakers take leave of their senses and dip into the repertoire of someone else’s cinema the result can only be disaster with a capital D. That is precisely what Holiday is.

As is Anant Mahadevan’s equally vacuous Aksar. Although the director hasn’t let on where exactly he has filched the plot from, it is pretty obvious that the film owes its inspiration to a mish-mash of Hollywood B-graders. When will Bollywood’s peddlers of quickies learn to think for themselves?

Is Kalpana Lajmi’s Chingaari original? It seems to address burning topics – sexual exploitation, religious chicanery, and what have you – but it does so in a manner that, in its shrillness and lack of subtlety, is too reminiscent of Daman for its own good. Please, Ms Lajmi, the Durga-like lady with a trident has been done to death in Hindi cinema. Let’s move on.

Here, then, is Bollywood’s progress report for the first two months of 2006: at best, 3 on a scale of 10 – two for RDB and one jointly for 15 Park Avenue and Mixed Doubles. Clearly, the industry needs to do much more to get out of the woods, creatively and commercially. All eyes are on the big boys that are gearing up to hit the track later in the year. Hope, after all, is an antidote to all catastrophes.

First Published: Feb 18, 2006 21:21 IST