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Bollywood multi-starrers running scared

By Subhash K. Jha, IANS

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The unexpected success of "Murder" seems to have triggered a chain reaction in Bollywood that is not good news for big budget multi-starrers.

While many more small budget erotic thrillers are being planned, there are second thoughts about releasing the biggies.

Barring a few chosen ones like Farha Khan's "Main Hoon Na" - expected to be the third 'M' titled success in a row after "Murder" and "Masti" - Gaurang Doshi's "Deewaar: Let's Bring Our Heroes Home" and Mani Rathnam's "Yuva", other multi-starrers are facing rough weather.

Reason? Box office experts feel there's no interest in routine-looking films with just a cluster of stars.

The first casualty of "Murder" is "Bardaasht". The film was scheduled for this Friday but has been pushed forward by a week due to lack of interest. Leading man Bobby Deol's big brother Sunny isn't sailing in a different boat.

Sunny's film "Lakeer" has been repeatedly postponed for the last two months. The latest release date April 23 was pushed forward at the last minute to May 7. But now "Lakeer" is expected to be pushed ahead even further.

The apparent reason is the lack of viewer interest.

Says Bihar distributor Roshan Singh: "'Murder' and 'Masti' make more sense for the summer mood of audiences than the dull combination of stars in 'Lakeer' or 'Zameer'."

In trade parlance, these are spill-over products, which have lost their utility at the box office and are being tossed around until a good date for release.

While the future of debutant Ahmed Khan's "Lakeer" remains uncertain, long-delayed projects like Kamal's "Zameer" and Dilip Shukla's "Police Force" are likely to be postponed repeatedly this summer in spite of saleable stars like Ajay Devgan and Akshay Kumar.

Distributors and audiences can immediately smell a musty product.

So then, have stars ceased to the minimum-guarantee factor at the box office? "Murder" and its heroine Mallika Sherawat have certainly annihilated the undue value attached to star names. It's now being felt in film circles that major stars are major only when packaged productively.

Ajay, who tempts viewers into theatres in a Mani Ratnam film, may not achieve the same in "Zameer". Suniel Shetty's solo starrer "Ek Hindustani" is a dud being tossed around from Friday to Friday for a year now.

But put in combination with Shah Rukh Khan in "Main Hoon Na " where Suniel plays a grey character, the latter incites great curiosity.

Anil Kapoor on his own no longer generates any audience value. But in combination with Ram Gopal Varma, he's hot in the June release "Jaan-Boojh Kar/Galti Se".

The breezy romantic musical "Uff Kya Jadoo Hai..." is hardly being talked about although it has the prestigious Rajshri banner behind it.

On the other hand, Yash Chopra's production "Hum Tum", with Saif Ali Khan and Rani Mukherjee playing warring lovers, is one of the most talked-about films this season.

So what does the audience want this summer?

"Excitement and thrills, for sure," says ad and feature director Arjun Sablok. "But not in murderous quantities and certainly not in films that use stars as props and invitation cards."


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