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How real is reel life?

By Priyanka Khanna, IANS

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While the emotional strip-and-search has constituted to spiralling TRP ratings of many a news channel recently, films inspired by news headlines have had a mixed fate on the Bollywood Boulevard.

Nonetheless, more and more filmmakers are climbing the reality bandwagon.

Even as shooting for a film on Bihar's Rs.9 billion ($200 million) fodder scam, in which Railway Minister Lalu Prasad is one of the main accused, began this week, another filmmaker has announced plans to capture on celluloid the headline-grabbing emotional drama of Gudiya, Mohammed Arif and Taufiq.

Television news channels drew much flak for "cannibalising" the entire incident in which a pregnant Gudiya was asked to abandon her child from her second husband, Taufiq, and return to her first husband, Mohammed Arif, after it was revealed that he was a prisoner of war in Pakistan and not a traitor as initially believed.

Filmmaker Prabhakar Shukla is showing an interest in the story, and actress Divya Dutta, who already has films like Pamela Rooks's "A Train To Pakistan" and Mahesh Manjrekar's "Pran Jaye Par Chawl Na Jaye" under her belt, is all set to play the role of Gudiya.

But social activists are apprehensive about the colour the cinematic depiction might take.

Women activists, "appalled" by the media coverage of the incident, have protested the growing instances of "trial by the press".

Criticising the media's "self-appointed role" as "resolvers of conflict", the activists said headlines like "Kiski Gudiya? (Whom does Guidya belong to?)" reinforce a "regressive" image of women as property.

Zee News might have turned all other channels green with envy for being the first to air the debate, but it certainly did not win any points with the activists who believe that the promos for the programme -- which declared that it was the channel's "duty to the nation" to resolve the issue -- was "distasteful".

On several occasions, cinema has been accused of turning real life crimes into cheap thrills -- whether it is the rape of a physically challenged minor on a train or the story of a civil servant committing suicide after his wife was repeatedly raped by a political goon.

Bollywood has heavily relied on the potential of reality-based films. The hijacking of an Indian Airlines flight, Indo-Pak rivalry, the rape of a Dalit woman to punish her son for marrying an "upper-class girl" or the blinding of jail inmates in Bihar -- all have been fodder for Hindi films.

More and more mainstream filmmakers are swerving slightly off the beaten path of fantasy to steal slices of life. While films based on the murder of journalist Shivani Bhatnagar, the tandoor murder case and the murder of Lucknow poetess Madhumita Shukla have been announced but haven't seen the light of the day, others like "Gangaajal," "Dhoop" and "Dev" have raked in much acclaim.

The question is not just whether reality-based cinema has the potential to win over audiences, but also how far away from social context can cinema move without becoming a subversion rather than a mirror of society.

Filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma says, "I'm increasingly convinced that the cinematic experience has become the equivalent of gladiatorial fights in the Roman arena. Audiences just want to be stimulated and excited while watching a film. It's inconsequential to them whether the film is reality-based or a fantasy. They just want their money's worth."

But Kalpana Lajmi, who burnt her fingers badly with her reality-based film "Kyon", feels audiences need to be weaned away from subverted cinema.

On the other hand Prakash Jha, whose "Gangaajal" triggered off a debate on reality on celluloid, feels cinema must be a mirror of social reality.

"No harm in borrowing from newspapers. But the film shouldn't become pedantic and dry," opines "Dhoop" director Ashwani Chowdhary.

Reality TV came visiting Bollywood in an unexpected way, with television channel Star News unveiling the shady face of popular Bollywood actresses and models behind Mumbai's prostitution racket.

The channel's hidden cameras reportedly exposed a high profile flesh trade racket that involved some of Mumbai's most glamorous actresses and models.


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