The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bollywood skips blockbuster fireworks in ‘worst’ year

Mumbai, Nov. 4: The festival of lights has not lit up Bollywood this year.

The film industry, tired of an indifferent box office, did not bother to line up fireworks for Diwali in the shape of big films, a time-honoured custom.

While previous Diwalis saw releases of big films from the stables of Yash Chopra, Karan Johar or Suraj Barjatiya, this year a depressed Bollywood only had four smaller affairs on offer — Jeena Sirf Merre Liye, Annarth, Wah! Tera Kya Kehna and Leela — none of which is big news.

“This year has been the worst for the film industry in 85 years,” says trade analyst Taran Adarsh. “In 10 months, the industry has accumulated a loss of around Rs 125 crore,” he says.

There have been only two hits this year, Mukesh Bhatt’s Raaz and Devdas. But Devdas too, is a qualified success, as some industry people feel that for a Rs 50-crore film, the profit margin should have been much handsomer.

Only the small-budget horror film, Raaz, has been a runaway hit, says industry-watcher Rauf Ahmed. “Otherwise there have been some moderate successes like the Amisha Patel-Bobby Deol-Akshaye Khanna thriller Humraaz,” he says. Ahmed also feels this has been the worst year for the industry in recent times at least, but blames it on the quality of films. “Never in the history of Indian cinema have so many bad films been made. The audience has lost faith in the industry,” he adds.

The big films released this year have been bad news. The David Dhawan film Hum Kissise Kum Nahin, starring Amitabh Bachchan, Ajay Devgan, Sanjay Dutt and Aishwarya Rai, the Hrithik Roshan-Kareena Kapoor-Rani Mukherjee flick Mujhse Dosti Karoge, or the two Bhagat Singh films, one starring Devgan and the other with Bobby Deol, failed to woo audiences.

Alleged links with the underworld have also taken their toll. Kaante, starring Sanjay Dutt, a film the industry was waiting for, has been held up because of the alleged connection with the D-company of Dutt, director Sanjay Gupta and Mahesh Manjrekar, the director who makes an appearance in the film. “Kaante should release this year, however. There are a handful of other big films due too, like Karz, Rishtey or Talaash,” says Adarsh.

“It is true that there has been no big release this Diwali. But I see it as a sensible strategy. With big films flopping, it’s logical for producers not to go haywire and put up big releases just because it’s expected,” says actor-turned filmmaker Deepak Tijori.

With almost nothing working, many are looking at the small-budget films with an NRI accent, like Bend It Like Beckham or American Desi, as the only ray of hope, says Ahmed. And the sweet smell of success of last year’s Monsoon Wedding is still lingering at the box office.

Encouraged by their success and the low risk factor, many filmmakers are jumping into the small-budget “Hinglish” films.

Says Tijori, who is making Oops!, a film in English and “Hinglish” versions on the life of background dancers forced to become male strippers: “People are tired of seeing actors who live in Dharavi being transported to Switzerland to dance. With audiences opening up in foreign countries, all this has become embarrassing.”

The failure of conventional films and the success of new ones have brought in a major shift, says Tijori. “The script has become the new hero,” he says. Films like Kaizad Gustad’s Boom (with model and Salman Rushdie’s girlfriend Padma Lakshmi), Jhankar Beats, a low-budget musical, and Nagesh Kukunoor’s next film, Three Walls, have not only become a trend, but hold hope for the future, too, he adds.

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