Is the audience ready for neo-realism films?

After the bubbly "Main Hoon Na" it's the dark thriller "Charas" about the murky world of drug trafficking that seeks to make its mark.

But the question is whether the audience is in a mood to make this transition into neo-realistic films.

Another poser is whether the Jimmy Shergil-Uday Chopra-Irfan Khan trio in "Charas" can match up to Shah Rukh Khan's performance in "Main Hoon Na".

Can Irfan, so powerfully projected in Vishal Bhardwaj's "Maqbool", the masterly adaptation of "Macbeth", equal the box-office might of 'King' Khan even if he combines his own histrionic might with his two co-stars?

But the moot question of audience reaction continues to hang, one that isn't easily answerable, not in the light of the terrible box- office performance of multiple-actor films like "Nayee Padosan" and "Fun2shhh", both of which bombed in spite of some decent performance (particularly by newcomer Anuj Sawhney).

"Charas" gets its zonked-out title from a 1978 film of the same name directed by Ramanand Sagar, featuring the then hit-pair Dharmendra and Hema Malini.

The new "Charas" features a semi-hit pair of Jimmy Shergil and Uday Chopra, who worked well together in "Mohabbatein" and "Meri Yaar Ki Shaadi Hai".

Shergil has earlier worked with director Tigmanshu Dhulia in the commendable film on student unrest "Haasil". The film got Dhulia noticed and he hopes to go a step further with "Charas".

Like in "Haasil", "Charas" features Irfan Khan in an arresting negative role. This time he plays a cop gone to the other side.

The role has shades of Marlon Brando in Francis Coppola's "Apolcaypse Now". And much as Shergil and Chopra would like to believe otherwise the real USP of "Charas" is Irfan Khan's cool villainy.

All that glitters is certainly grey in our movies these days. And after watching Suniel Shetty's muted menace in "Main Hoon Na", audiences could well warm up to Irfan's cold steely villainy ... provided the film gets an audience. A huge pre-condition that seems unlikely to be fulfilled.

Jimmy Shergil hopes for a spill-over audience. But, sorry, spill-overs are an anachronism. Nowadays audiences are very specific about what they want to see and when.

It's doubtful that the "Main Hoon Na" euphoria would wane this week. Films desirous of getting into the theatres would do so at their own risk.

Debutant Ashok Pandit's film "Sheen" on the plight of Kashmiri Pandits is also scheduled for this Friday.

Pandit had hoped to come clean with "Sheen". But there's unexpected competition from "Charas".

Both Dhulia and Pandit have honed their talents on the small screen as scriptwriters and serial makers. But they're very different in their approach to filmmaking. This is more than crystallized in their outputs this Friday.

While "Charas" has a whole array of gifted actors, including the criminally neglected Namrata Shirodkar, "Sheen" appears to be rely on the untried and untested.

The title role is played by an ex-employee of the film's producers Sahara Communications, whereas the male lead is model-turned-actor Tarun Arora, who made a disastrous debut in the sleaze-fest "Hawas" last month.

Interestingly, both "Charas" and "Sheen" slot themselves as meaningful mainstreamers. The themes are socially relevant. Both are musicals with a large number of songs.

But the music soundtracks have made nominal impact on the charts. It's unlikely that the songs would attract audiences to watch either of the films this week.

Then, what will? That's the question haunting the two wannashine directors Tigmanshu Dhulia and Ashok Pandit this week. Both have waited for years to make a mark as movie-makers. But is the market conducive to their creativity?

With Farah Khan making an impact with "Main Hoon Na" on one end and a load of biggies around the corner, films like "Charas" and "Sheen" would have to really prove themselves worthy of the audience's attention.

And that is easier said than seen.