Bong Connection fails to attract non-Bengalis
Cinema from West Bengal made a valiant attempt at scripting success by releasing The Bong Connection in several Indian cities but saw its fortunes nosedive at the box office, raising questions about the ability of the eastern film industry to offer successful commercial fare to a larger audience group.
The film, directed by Anjan Dutt and starring Victor Banerjee, Parambrata Chatterjee, Raima Sen and Shayan Munshi, narrates the story of two Bengali boys - one who comes to India from the US in search of his roots and the other who goes to the US thinking the West has more to offer - through a satirical plot.
But the English/Bengali movie, which intended to make audiences laugh at the intrinsic eccentricities of a typical Bengali family, fails to convey the satire to audiences not familiar with how Bengalis react to certain situations and their lingo.
The film ran to empty seats almost all the days in most cities except for Kolkata, where it got good response and rave reviews.
"The film has limited itself by choosing an all Bengali cast and by choosing a title which says that the film is for a certain section of society," said Suleman Mobhani, co-founder of IndiaFm, a top Bollywood trade website.
"The problem with such films are that they get typecast as regional films and then their audience base also becomes very narrow and its appeal is limited to only people who are from that community. With just a particular section of audience watching a film, it can never do well at box office."
The failure of Dutt's film, touted to be Bengal's attempt to create a commercial movie for audiences of all communities, may add to the woes of the region's celluloid industry, which is already just known for dishing out art house cinema or serious films like Raincoat, 15 Park Avenue, Mr and Mrs Iyer and Yatra.
Though there are some brilliant Bengali directors like Rituparno Ghosh, Aparna Sen, Buddhadeb Dasgupta and Goutam Ghose, the overall quality of cinema has seen a downslide over the years.
Bengali cinema, which once boasted of producing talents like Uttam Kumar, Suchitra Sen, Hemanta Mukherjee (Hemant Kumar), Manna Dey, Biswajeet and other leading lights who had proved their mettle even in Bollywood, witnessed a steep fall in the content of scripts from the mid 80s, which worsened in the 90s.
"Mid-80s, post-Uttam Kumar, focus shifted to the new triumvirate of art house cinema," said Derek Bose, a veteran film scholar and the author of Brand Bollywood.
"Only when the parallel filmmakers ran out of steam by the early 90s, commercial wallahs could find their bearings. But sadly, they ended up making poor copies of Bollywood - both stylistically and content-wise," he added.
The blind copying of Bollywood's candyfloss and revenge potboilers incorporating raunchy dance sequences shocked the finer sensibilities of Bengalis.
"My friends would never watch a commercial Bengali film purely because it does not have an essence of Bengali culture in it," said Raima Sen. "The quality of films have to improve tremendously and more films should be made targeting the youth since it is the youth that watches movies at theatres."
The industry, though it churns out hundreds of movies per year, lacks the infrastructure, technology and budget that Bollywood or even other regional language film industries like Tamil or Telugu has.
The masala Bengali movies have practically no audience base among the urban cine buffs but have struck gold among the suburban audience.
Filmmakers say the urban audience, used to rich films of Satyajit Ray or Mrinal Sen, are suffering from a hangover of the past and expect all films to match the standards set by the master directors of yesteryears.
"There is a basic problem in Bengal. The urban audience want all films to have the same standard as a Satyajit Ray or Mrinal Sen film, which is very difficult to replicate," said Anjan Dutt. "Even the new directors want to make films like those made by them and are not developing their individual styles."
"Most Bengali films are made with a limited budget but then good films can be made with Rs.5-6 million.
"But we have to keep in mind that we should not end up just making art house cinema. It should offer healthy entertainment for everyone. If good Bengali films do not start coming up fast, then we are finished."