Small films, big dreams
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Small films, big dreams

What is so unusual about two films - 88 Antop Hill and MPKDH hitting the screens together, asks Saibal Chatterjee.

india Updated: Jul 09, 2003 19:41 IST

Come Friday the box office will witness an intriguing battle. Facing off against each other are two completely dissimilar films. One - Sooraj Barjatya's feel-good confection Main Prem Ki Diwani Hoon - is the most hyped film of the year. The other, debutant Kushan Nandy's 88 Antop Hill, is a low-budget, no-star cast, frill-less but equally well-promoted thriller.

On the face of it, there probably is nothing particularly exceptional about the simultaneous release of the two films. Really, what is so unusual about chalk and cheese vying for popular acceptance at the same time? But what the positioning of 88 Antop Hill does is reflect the growing sense of confidence among of makers of small, niche, urban films that were hitherto dismissed by Mumbai's self-styled trade experts as unviable.

They - both the makers and the observers - are now veering round to the view that these films have a sizeable audience and no matter how big a monster they are up against on release day, they can achieve their commercial goals without breaking into a sweat.

Pritish Nandy Communications (PNC) and Shringar Films, the producer and distributor respectively of 88 Antop Hill, could easily have postponed the release of their film by a week or two to avoid a clash with a heavyweight box-office entry. Instead, they have chosen to take on the challenge of the Hrithik Roshan-Abhishek Bachchan-Kareena Kapoor starrer without seeking to strike a defensive note. The Kushan Nandy film is hyperbolically being touted as "the biggest mystery film ever".

While this may reflect how sure the men behind 88 Antop Hill are of the quality of their product, they would surely also have been encouraged by the rousing initials that another PNC-produced film, Jhankaar Beats, managed last week in the face of stiff competition from several bigger films that have been doing roaring business at the box office - Andaaz, Bhoot and Chalte Chalte.

Have you heard of an actress named Jasmine D'Souza? She makes her screen debut in 88 Antop Hill. She may not be quite the kind of draw that Rani Mukherjee, Urmila Matondkar, and the scantily clad Andaaz pair, Priyanka Chopra and Lara Dutta, are at the moment, but things could change by the end of the week. The Hindi film audience is in an unusually benevolent mood at the moment and Jasmine's fragrance could waft far and wide if her debut vehicle hits the bull's eye.

Two films from two ends of the Bollywood spectrum hitting the screens on the same day is perhaps also a manifestation of the growing maturity of the market. The ongoing churning process in the Mumbai film industry has reached a stage that allows a strictly multiplex film to happily co-exist with a potential blockbuster.

In fact, 88 Antop Hill could even derive some benefit from the mass excitement that the bigger film naturally arouses - it can gainfully farm the audience overflow generated by the 'House Full' signs that a film such as MPKDH may necessitate in the first couple weeks of its run. Niche films are no longer apologetic about their king-size ambitions - they are as slickly and aggressively promoted as films several times their size in terms of budget and star appeal. And that can only augur well for filmmakers in Mumbai who have unlimited ideas but limited funds. Budgetary constraints aren't a disqualification anymore. It's an opportunity.

The previous wave of niche films, the likes of Let's Talk and Freaky Chakra, suffered a trifle because of the diffidence of their creators. Can I? Should I? Is there space for me in the market? The doubt-laden questions have evaporated as niche films have got bigger in size and scope.

All that is now needed for the picture to be truly complete is the creation of a little room for films that emerge from a zone much further away from the mainstream - the personal but commercially viable auteur-driven Hindi cinema, the kind that men like Govind Nihalani and Ketan Mehta once made with singular success.

First Published: Jun 26, 2003 16:43 IST