Lull before storm at Indian box-office

By Priyanka Khanna, IANS
3/22/2004 12:00:00 AM
 A lull has descended on the Indian box-office with the India-Pakistan cricket series hogging the limelight. But this could well be a much-needed calm before a storm caused by the line-up of releases in the months ahead. 

The biggest and the mightiest are slated to go on the marquees, including a Shah Rukh Khan true-blue masala movie "Main Hoon Na," a vintage Mani Ratnam entertainer -- "Yuva" -- and the return of wholesome entertainment bigwigs like Yash Chopra, with an untitled love-triangle in the backdrop of Indo-Pakistan relations, and Subhash Ghai with "Kisna".

Giving a tough fight to the slew of A-list films will be the likes of Sanjay Leela Bhansali ("Black"), Ashutosh Gowariker ("Swades") and Farhan Akhtar ("Lakshya"), who represent the new face of Bollywood and are under pressure to prove themselves.

"The faith in the big boys of Bollywood is so high that the cricket series, the college and school examinations, the impending general election and even the strike by cinema hall owners is having no dampening effect on spirits," said producer-distributor-exhibitor Balkrishna Shroff of Shringar Films.

Instead of fretting over the divided attention of audiences, several Bollywood distributors-producers perceive the distractions as well timed.

"Every year, attendance at cinema halls drops in the months of February, March and April due to college and school examinations. We should count our blessings that the cricket series coincides with the examinations," said filmmaker Indra Kumar, whose latest venture "Masti", starring Ajay Devgan, Vivek Oberoi, Aftab Shivdasani, Ritesh Deshmukh, Genelia D'Souza and Lara Dutta, is ready for release.

Some like Vishal Anand of Fun Republic, however, are not so upbeat and rue that cricket and politics have spoiled Bollywood's party.

Trade observers said with release dates of big-budget films getting pushed back, a surfeit of releases in May would not be good for business.

Shroff agreed, as those producers who were forced by recent events to push back their big-budget bonanzas by a month or two could hit the markets in a rush in May. That, he shuddered, would definitely not be good for business.

As things standMain Hoon Na Wallpapers choreographer Farha Khan's directorial debut "Main Hoon Na", a 1980s styled potboiler with Shah Rukh, Sushmita Sen and Zayed, is slated for release April 30.

It will be followed closely by Gaurang Doshi's cross-border action thriller "Deewar - Let's Bring Home Our Heroes" May 14 and Mani Ratnam's Ajay Devgan,Abhishek Bachchan,Vivek Oberoi,Rani MukherjeeKareena Kapoor,Esha Deol starrer "Yuva" May 21.

The latter half of 2004 promises more action with cop dramas "Aan - Men In Action" and "Garv - Pride & Honour" readying for the marquees.

All the woes of the industry will be forgotten and the lean patch of January-February could be forgiven if any one of these films hits the jackpot.

Moviemakers have been indulging in truly mould-breaking films since the beginning of 2004, be it Kareena Kapoor's streetwalker act in "Chameli", critically acclaimed "Maqbool", starkly realistic "Ab Tak Chhappan", sci-fi "Rudraksh", the tacky "Jaago" or the anti-racism "I - Proud to be an Indian."

But only Raj Kumar Santoshi's "Khakee" met with some box-office success.

Hiral Kanakia of Cineline Cinemas told a trade weekly that even Academy Award winners like "Cold Mountain" and "Lord Of The Rings - The Return Of The King" received a lukewarm response from Indian viewers.

For the time being, multiplexes like Cineline are again contemplating screening the India-Pakistan cricket series on the big screen, hoping to pack in crowds like they did with the screening of football's World Cup.


Even as the Indian cricket team's fortunes are oscillating in Pakistan, the Hindi film industry is eyeing big bucks to be made across the border with the bilateral relations at an all time high.

A series of deliberations were held with a 20-member film delegation from Pakistan to explore more possibilities of free flow of film and television-related content and intermingling between artists from across the border.

The delegation attended Indian entertainment industry's annual convention - "FRAMES 2004".

Pakistani actor-filmmaker Javed Sheikh, producers Mubasher Lucman and exhibitors Riyaz Malik and Muhammad Ali Tipu and super-star Shaan, who also directed a film "Guns and Roses", were part of the delegation.

Trade observer Taran Adarsh said a new territory in the form of Pakistan would mean Indian producers' revenue could increase by 40 to 50 percent, film piracy in Pakistan would come under check and Pakistani talents would be more accessible.

The Lahore film industry, on the other hand, would gain a big territory in India that could increase their producers' revenue by 200 percent.

Also, Pakistani filmmakers would gain access to vast overseas territories, best of equipment, technical know-how and post-production facilities.


The increasing camaraderie between India and Pakistan would mean Bollywood filmmakers would have to rewrite their scripts. Bollywood has a clutch of mega-budget films riding on anti-Pakistan sentiments, though the recently released J.P. Dutta film "L.O.C. - Line of Control" was a dud at the box-office.

Filmmaker Anil Sharma, who continues to hope to repeat the success of "Gadar - Ek Prem Katha" even after "The Hero" flopped, is already halfway through his war epic "Ab Tumhare Hawale Watan Saathiyon."

Hopefully, Farhan Akhtar (of "Dil Chahta Hai" fame), who is making yet another war film titled "Lakshya", will avoid the clich?s.

Recently, Tanuja Chandra announced intentions to make an "anti-war" film about a girl's bravery (Aishwarya Rai has been reportedly roped in) during the 1971 India-Pakistan conflict. She would do well to take a cue from veteran filmmaker Yash Chopra, who is also making a love triangle in the backdrop of bilateral relations.


More good news for Indian female directors came with the announcement that acclaimed filmmaker Gurinder Chadha has been signed by "The Lord Of The Rings" distributor New Line to direct romantic comedy "Nine Wives".

Chadha, who is giving finishing touches to "Bride and Prejudice" starring Aishwarya Rai and Michael Handerson, had shot to international recognition when her $6 million film "Bend It Like Beckham" grossed $80 million worldwide last year.