Seriously yours, Bollywood
Known for churning out escapist cinema, the gargantuan Hindi film industry is increasingly panning its camera towards scourges of modern times to deliver social messages in entertaining formats.
By Priyanka Khanna, IANS
After shedding its image as cinema for the masses and successfully attracting metro moviegoers to swank multiplexes, the Mumbai-based Hindi film trade is now dabbling in themes that touch the lives of urban audiences in particular, and going beyond candyfloss romances, NRI dramas or Hollywood-inspired thrillers and chillers.
For the first time ever, popular Bollywood stars will feature in a steady stream of films dealing with issues like HIV/AIDS, increasing materialism and sexual harassment at the work place.
The new phase seems to be here to stay, unlike previous sporadic attempts when popular stars would venture into art house productions to embellish their portfolios and establish themselves as actors.
"Phir Milenge", starring box-office darling Salman Khan along with Abhishek Bachchan and Shilpa Shetty and directed by actress-turned-filmmaker Revathy, which is slated for release Friday will be the first mainstream Hindi film to deal with the sensitive issue of HIV/AIDS.
The film is a love story between a singer (Salman) and an advertising professional (Shilpa). Abhishek plays a lawyer in the film. Revathy and Salman had worked together more than a decade ago in a film called "Love".
When no leading star was willing to be part of a film based on AIDS, Salman stepped in for old times sake and is said to have done the film, supported by UNAIDS, for free.
India has the second-largest concentration of HIV positive people, after sub-Saharan Africa, with an estimated 5.1 million cases. The potential of using cinema as a medium for creating social awareness is huge and it is hoped that the Salman-starrer will spread the message and at the same time stress the point for society to provide care and acceptance to HIV positive people.
Salman will not be the only major attraction of the film. Abhishek is also riding high on the popularity charts after raking in good reviews for his role in Mani Ratnam's "Yuva", in which he essayed a ruthless and materialistic youth.
"The multiplex audience is so huge and fickle that Bollywood will need to continuously invent and reinvent itself to keep them from taking to Hindi-dubbed Hollywood flicks," said a trade observer.
Already, another film based on HIV/AIDS has been launched. "My Brother Nikhil" has Sanjay Suri playing the lead while Juhi Chawla will be another star attraction.
It is hoped that a long-forgotten film based on the same subject, "Ek Alag Mausam", which starred critically acclaimed female actor Nandita Das, would get a new lease of life. The film was financed by an NGO and has been gathering dust for want of distributor interest.
Bollywood films with social messages have not done well on the marquees. However, films with all-star casts and high-emotional content may change all that.
To promote "Phir Milenge" and support the cause of victims of HIV/AIDS, Salman walked the ramp in a charity show called "Walk of Life" at Mumbai. The actor and many other movers and shakers shared the ramp with AIDS infected children.
Another big-budget film that will tackle an issue plaguing modern India on a mega canvas is "Aetraaz" that is slated for release soon. The film is a courtroom drama in which a wife fights an intense battle for her husband who is accused of sexual harassment by his female boss a-la "Indecent Exposure."
The male lead is Akshay Kumar, while Kareena Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra are the leading ladies of this Abbas-Mustan production.