Cerebral vs base instinct at the cinemas this week
In no recent week have there been two films as contrasting as this week's "Dev" and "Girlfriend", one a profound film on communal riots by Govind Nihalani and the other on lesbianism by Karan Razdan.
By Subhash K. Jha, IANS
The two films are as dissimilar in mood as the actors who play the title roles -- Amitabh Bachchan plays Dev while Isha Koppiker is cast as the Girlfriend in the film on lesbianism.
Karan Razdan, whose previous film "Hawas" got itself a reasonably large opening, is hopeful about "Girlfriend" bringing sexual mores out of the closet. But sex, as any box office analyst would agree, is overrated. It isn't such a huge selling factor at the box.
Says an exhibitor from Bihar: "Students and single men would perhaps want to see what goodies Karan Razdan has in store for them this time after 'Hawas'. But family audiences, which constitute the core of a successful film, would stay away. At best, Girlfriend would be a three-day success in smaller centres."
The central attractions of "Girlfriend" are the lovemaking sequences between Isha Koppiker and Amrita Arora. Though not as explicit as Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das's celebrated lovemaking sequence in Deepa Mehta's "Fire", the prospect of watching two mainstream actresses (albeit small players in the big celluloid ocean) should provide the titillating subtext for this week's 'small' release.
All eyes are clearly focussed this week on Govind Nihalani's big socially relevant film. Not since Mani Ratnam's "Bombay" have we had an epic film with communal riots as the backdrop.
While most films this season stress the de-stress factor, "Dev" isn't an easy-viewing affair. The stars haven't been used for their star value. Amitabh helms the cast as a cop whose sense of duty gets polarised by the sudden eruption of riots. Om Puri is his ideologically opposed ally in a battle that goes beyond the minuscule wars fought in other 'action' films.
How does one classify "Dev"? Distributors have picked up Nihalani's new film more eagerly than anything he has done in the past, thanks mainly to the astonishing star blend of Amitabh, Kareena Kapoor and Fardeen Khan.
Fortunately, "Dev" doesn't sell itself to the audience as a mammoth star-studded musical. The stars and the music score serve as characters in the proceedings, and that's how Nihalani has sold his film to the public.
So, most would flock to see "Dev" not to see the stars per se, but to see how Nihalani has changed their images.
In a bizarre way, both releases this week are prone to get audiences interested through unconventional routes.
While "Dev" opts for a distinctly profound approach, "Girlfriend" takes a more base one. "Dev" is food for the mind and soul, "Girlfriend" is clearly not. Instead, its take-the-money-and-run approach typifies the fly-by-night brand of filmmakers desperate to get a hit at any cost.
But does the sex formula work any longer?
After, or even before, "Murder" there weren't any successful sex films. Are filmmakers overselling the sleaze factor to the audience?
We'll know this Friday when Karan Razdan gets sex so far out of the closet that it would be difficult to find the way back in.
No matter what its outcome at the box office, the producers of "Girlfriend" must be applauded for daring to take on a film as high profile as "Dev". In no other country in the world would two such disparate artistes and their visions be allowed so much leeway to have their say.
"Dev" is crucial to many careers.
Govind Nihalani's last two films, the commercially designed "Thakshak" and the experimental play-on-film "Deham", were both box office failures. This brilliant director needs to consolidate his position as a master of massy storytelling -- a reputation he acquired in his other cop film "Ardh Satya" 30 years ago.
While the Big B has several important films lined up for release (two of them in the next two weeks) Kareena and Fardeen won't be seen in a better film this year. In an atmosphere of abject commercialism, Fardeen looks upon "Dev" as the film that would bring him praise as an artiste.