Big ideas, small budget
By: Kshama Rao
October 6, 2002
When somebody asked producer Viveck Vaswani why he put his money into Everybody Says I’m Fine, he said, “Because my audience told me to. For years now, we have been feeding them with Coolie No 17. They have been gracious enough to accept Coolie No 18. But if we go on to give them Coolie No 19, they are going to stop watching our films.”
Get the point?
Recently, when film star Govinda asked his nephew Krishna if the latter’s debut film Yeh Kaisi Mohabbat was backed by a bigwig producer-director team, Krishna told him that while the producer was a new company, the director was another debutant Dinkar Kapur. That bit of information was enough for mamaji to show the red signal to his bhanja saying, “Pataa nahin kaun log hain, picture kaise banegi?” But Krishna didn’t take his uncle too seriously and promptly went ahead to sign the film. His logic: “I believe in the story which I think is the biggest asset of the film. Now that it’s releasing soon, it makes me glad I did the film.”
Moral of the story: If the script is good, it will definitely shape into a film, and no, it may not even require a star to flag off the project; a fresher will do just fine.
As Viveck Vaswani puts it, “Today’s audience is a discerning lot. They are exposed to world cinema since foreign films comes into their drawing rooms. They are not willing to pay for something unpalatable to their sensibilities.”
Small films are big mantra in today’s film world.
If statistics impress you more than opinion, chew on this. While 95 per cent of the films have flopped so far this year, among the ones that have hit bull’s eye is Vikram Bhatt’s Raaz with the relatively new Dino Morea and Bipasha Basu. Then there was also the moderately successful 16 December which again, barring Danny Denzongpa and Gulshan Grover, had models-turned-actors Milind Soman and Dipannita Sharma starring in it.
Little wonder then, that inspired by these ‘small’ successes, a film is announced every week these days, by more often than not, a new company, with new faces and a start-to-finish schedule.
The current scenario in the Hindi film industry is fast becoming this: no more tried and tested formulae (though there are a few still latching on to safe propositions), budgets that come in only two sizes — small and medium (large and extra-large are reserved only for big ‘losers’ or winners!) and a set-up that’s start-to-finish — that way one can make sure there are no drastic changes in Salman Khan’s hairline and Manisha Koirala’s waistline.
The industry seems to have finally woken up to the one simple fact that the audience is intelligent and would like to be treated likewise. Else, the verdict will always read: ‘Another one bites the dust’.
So there are films as varied as the gangster flick Chhal, Kaante (a biggie without any love stories and conventional heroines), Arjun Sajnani’s Agni Varsha in which everybody including the Big B are attired in ‘Mahabharata’ clothes, the recently released, Pooja Bhatt’s maiden production Sur, about a music guru and his disciple, Jackie Shroff’s two productions Sandhya, a thriller and Boom, Kaizad Gustad’s wacko look at the fashion industry and the underworld.
Raveena Tandon’s first production is a courtroom drama starring her and Vinod Khanna, Vishal Bharadwaj’s Makdee is a children’s film which has Shabana Azmi playing a witch.
The rest of the line-up is something like this: the much-awaited Paanch by Anurag Kashyap, Kushan Nandy’s murder mystery 88 Antop Hill, the Hansal Mehta-directed Dil Chahta Hai-meets-American Pie Yeh Kya Ho Raha Hai, Rajat Rawail’s whodunnit Saazish and Deepak Tijori’s debut production and his directorial venture called Oops! about background dancers. Tijori says, “The budget is about Rs three to four crore. But for that amount I have two negatives, I am making the film in Hinglish for our market and in English for the one overseas. So that’s not bad.”
Oh, and let’s not forget, first-timer Rajesh Sheth’s small effort, Yathharth, which has a crematorium as a backdrop. Good, bad or ugly — it doesn’t matter, as long as the ticket-payers are getting to see something that’s strictly not off the beaten track.
Earlier while films with offbeat/ unusual subjects were few and far between and mostly aimed at the festival circuit, today they are made for the commercial market and even promoted for a theatrical release.
Shravan Shroff of Shringar Films echoes Vaswani’s sentiment on a change in audience expectation. Shroff says, “Today’s audience is exposed to international cinema of world-class quality. A new generation of people is watching today’s movies, which have to experiment with newer things. The tastes of the audience are changing rapidly. Just as people have switched from using MTNL lines to mobile phones, they are constantly looking at newer ideas and want change.”
Shroff continues, “That’s also the reason why foreign films work here today because they experiment with their subjects. The tried and tested does not work and it can’t go on working.
As for the start-to-finish projects, it’s the only organised way to function as it ensures that everybody involved in the film is fully charged and motivated.
Their interest levels are maintained, the budget is not affected and the film is completed in record time. That’s the way they work in the south. So a film with a good, innovative story with a tight budget shot in a definite time span is what every filmmaker should aim at.”
Another reason why producers have no choice but to back unusual stories is, as Trade Guide editor Taran Adarsh puts it, “The lifeline of any film is a solid script. Today, the audience is so discerning that they only want to see something strong but within commercial parameters. Whether a film is good or bad is decided by word of mouth and the feeling is so strong, that if the audience doesn’t like a particular film, they reject it on the first day itself. Word spreads like fire. If the film is bad, they may end up watching it on VCD than venture into theatres. So it’s become imperative that filmmakers give viewers something they have not seen before rather than bear huge losses.”
Sheth’s debut film Yathharth starring Raghuvir Yadav, Milind Gunaji and Shraddha Nigam deals with a story of a girl who rejoices in people’s death only because her father works in a crematorium and earns money when he carries out the last rites of the dead. Says Sheth, “You and I wouldn’t be talking to each other had I made a regular, typical film. If the story of this girl can touch you and me, then in all likelihood there is an audience out there who too would relate to it. Today, there is nothing like commercial cinema and art cinema. Everything boils down to good, sensible cinema. If the film has something worthwhile to offer, the audience, even if it is niche, will definitely accept it.”
The good news is that multiplexes that will soon dot every city and centre, cater to this niche audience. This, as Shravan puts it, “...helps the cause of such films that usually go in for a limited release.” Adds Anil Chopra of Studio Systems, organiser of Cinema India, an Indian Cinema Exhibition Industry Convention to be held later next month, “A couple of years and India will be completely revolutionised by the multiplex system. And that will lead to more and more filmmakers attempting different, sensible cinema. They have to, if they have to compete with foreign films. You can’t continue showing a boy and girl staring at each other on the bus-stop when today they go straight to bed!”
Actor-director Rahul Bose whose first film Everybody Says I’m Fine released recently has the last word, “It’s all about creating a space for the ‘other’ — be it cinema or any other art form. As long as we carve a place for the other cinema, different stories will be told, different films will be made.”
The changed scenario? A few stars have begun to realise the merits of a film that not only gives them a chance to try out something different but is also made fast and released soon. What is increasingly being seen is that most stars these days talk of doing only those projects that excite them.
Bollywood could well be on the verge of something more exciting because time is money and money is precious — a lesson it is learning fast.
Foreign films work here today because they experiment with their subjects.’
— Shravan Shroff of Shringar Films
Everything boils down to good, sensible cinema and if the film has something worthwhile to offer, then the audience, even if it is niche, will definitely accept it.’
— First-time director Rajesh Sheth of Yathharth
Within a budget of about Rs four crore, I have two negatives, a film in Hinglish for our own market and the same film in English for the overseas market.’
— Deepak Tijori
As long as we carve a place for the other cinema, different stories will be told, different films will be made.’
— Rahul Bose, director of Everybody Says I’m Fine