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Sex sells, stars don't!

By Subhash K Jha, IANS

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The box office outcome of two films of last week was "revealing" in more ways than one.

While the cheesecake devourers chomped on "Julie" to their heart's content, the mainstream state-of-the-art thriller "Asambhav" collapsed completely at the box office.

How does one explain this bizarre turn of events?

And if henceforth the 'sexy' film gets a better opening than the star-studded film, do we look at a scenario where the star system is finally collapsing?

"Julie" director Deepak Shivdasani disagrees. "I don't think the star system can ever end. My last film 'Yeh Raaste Hain Pyar Ke' starred Ajay Devgan, Madhuri Dixit and Preity Zinta. I wanted to make a huge star-cast film. But no one was willing to work with me after the failure of 'Yeh Raaste...'.

"Out of sheer helplessness I turned to a small bold subject and cast Neha Dhupia, who, we might add, was on the verge of packing her bags to leave after her disastrous debut in the so-called big film 'Qayamat'."

Both the director and his leading actress came to "Julie" on the rebound. Both have unconsciously proved a point. Sex sells.

Shivadasni, however, doesn't think "Julie" clicked for the sex. "It's a moving story about a girl's fall from grace. And the best part is women are loving it."

He is not too far off the mark. There has been a remarkable change in the audiences' profile after the weekend.

Women have warmed up to the poignancy of the prostitute's tale in "Julie".

Dhupia's two love-making sequences with Yash Tonk and Sanjay Kapur, which actually sold the film to drooling distributors, is now being seen as an integral and inoffensive part of the tale.

As the relieved Shivdasani and his producer smile, if not laugh, all the way to the bank, and as Dhupia - who was a disaster in her earlier big-budgeted debut - becomes the 'Next Hot Thing' after Mallika Sherawat (who, in turn, had taken over from where Bipasha Basu had left off) a larger question looms over the industry.

Can audiences be lured with the lurid? Does the industry need to make sex a conventional ingredient in the box office package?

"No," says a leading man with a conservative across-the-board clean image.

"You're missing the point. Sex by itself cannot work beyond a point. 'Julie' has worked not because of the sex and nudity, but because of the basic plot. Big films with stars are flopping because they're jaded and uninspiring. It doesn't mean I should take off my clothes and get into bed with Mallika Sherawat and Neha Dhupia. I'm sure even these actresses would be looking for a different image in their other films."

Most of the big stars in Bollywood are wary of the sex bait.

Says Akshay Kumar, "Although I am doing a very bold film called 'Aetraaz', my fans are conservative. My new film 'Mujhse Shaadi Karogi?' is meant for the entire family. That's the kind of film I'd like to do."

With stars failing to deliver at the box office more and more filmmakers are revising their priorities to suit the changing economics of filmmaking.

Why pay stars in crores when you can get newcomers for a fraction and buffer the product with sex?

Deepak Shivdasani frankly admits that an established heroine would have thought several times before doing the bold scenes that Neha Dhupia did.

Unintentionally the sexy films are giving to the film industry the very thing that these films were made to escape from: a new breed of stars.

After "Murder" and now "Julie".

Mallika Sherawat and Neha Dhupia have joined the august company of stars in Bollywood.


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