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Are socially relevant films passe?

By Subhash K. Jha, IANS

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The disastrous performance of films based on social issues that hit the headlines have put a question mark on ventures foraying into the topical zone.

The most recent example was "Insaaf", based on the rape of a civil servant's wife in Bihar, an incident that had shocked the country two years ago. The issue had also rocked parliament.

Earlier this year, "Jaago" focussed on the real-life gang rape of a nine-year old girl on a local train in Mumbai.

Both the films were thundering flops. So the question that looms is whether topical films are doomed to die at the box-office.

"Certainly not," says Ashok Pandit whose film "Sheen" focuses on the plight of Kashmiri pandits who have been rendered homelessness by the militancy in the valley.

"Every character and event in 'Sheen' is based on my own experiences. A film's outcome depends entirely on the director's intentions. And that shows up in every frame of a work," asserts Pandit.

But has reality become a disincentive at the box-office?

The only reality-based film that clicked recently was Prakash Jha's "Gangaajal". But even this film had to rely on superfluous sensationalism to get the audience in.

The entire uproar over the villain's name, Sadhu Yadav, which was alleged to allude to Bihar Chief Minister Rabri Devi's brother, was unnecessary and added no value to the film.

What it did was to create a curiosity about the film. But that curiosity couldn't really take the film as far as Ajay Devgan could.

"If "Gangaajal" clicked it wasn't because of its topicality, but because of Ajay Devgan," says a young filmmaker.

"Headlines do not make a film. Films like Jagmohan Mundhra's "Bawander" and Raj Kumar Santoshi's "Lajja", which were based on topical subjects couldn't attract a sizeable audience."

Are the days of starkly real films over?

Govind Nihalani and Mani Rathnam are ready with their reality-based films "Dev" and "Yuva", respectively.

While one is set in a communal riot the other is a modern-day comment on youthful (y)earnings. Both are dramatic takes on newspaper headlines.

The films that are in deep trouble are those which grab a fistful of reality and turn it into an occasion for sensationalism.

Films like "Bawander", "Jaago" and "Insaaf" have tackled real-life rape incidents with the sensitivity of a sledgehammer on the cork of a bottle of baby lotion. At the end of the reality romp we're left with just a feeling of disgust.

In the coming months Manish Jha's "Matrubhoomi", with its stark theme of female foeticide and sexual exploitation is expected to take Hindi cinema's reality quotient back to the level of art.

In the meanwhile, there's the next true-life incident to be cannibalised.


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