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Our films score over their films

It was Friday first day, first show all right on November 8. But with a difference — a Bengali film, produced by a Delhi-based management team and distributed by a Columbia Tristar division was hitting the halls amidst a blaze of marketing hype and critical buzz. Saanjhbatir Rupkathara, based on a Joy Goswami novel, was being pushed to “bring people back to theatres to watch good Bengali films” by a hyperactive young bunch sporting the corporate look as the curtains went up in a smart hall with Dolby sound…

Clearly, the times they are a-changin’ in Tollywood. The shabby look is slipping; the down-in-the dumps mood is lifting. Ke hobey Crorepati is fast becoming a signature tune in Tollygunge studios. Bollywood’s annus horribilis is turning out to be Tollywood turnaround 2002.

Take this: of the 100-odd Hindi films released this year, hardly four can claim to be success stories. Of the 30 releases in Bengal, four have hit box-office jackpot. Bollywood has added up its losses to Rs 200 crore and is still counting. Tollywood — so long rooted in the red — boasts a surplus of Rs 15 crore. Bollywood is celebrating its dullest Diwali in a decade, while the last seven weeks of the year in Tollywood is throwing up a mega mix of Devaa, Pratarak and Kurukshetram, with Saanjhbatir... and Subho Mahurat.

“Bengali films are back,” declares Shrikant Mohta, producer-distributor, Shreevenkatesh Films. “Budgets are crossing a crore, stars from outside are keen to work here, the halls are backing us and trade bodies are showing an interest to tie up with the industry,” says the biggest distributor of Hindi and Bengali films here, who is “extremely excited” about his next venture, Rituparno Ghosh’s Chokher Bali, starring Aishwarya Rai, no less.

The interest in Tollywood’s revival ranges from Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to Yash Chopra, Ficci to Columbia Tristar. “Bengal, for us, holds the legacy of the best in Indian cinema. This is the first regional market we have entered and we are already looking at our next venture here,” says Vikramjit Roy, manager, communications, Columbia Tristar. Yash Chopra — as both chairman of the Ficci entertainment wing and the big daddy of Yashraj Films — is eager to play a part in “good Bengali cinema reaching out to a bigger audience”.

Prasenjit, who has starred in at least 10 films this year and is now ready to produce Vande Mataram, is sure the ‘good times’ have just begun, “with the likes of Yash Chopra, Subhash Ghai and Ramgopal Verma looking east, ‘outdoors’ shifting from Digha and Bakkhali to Mauritius and Switzerland, Aishwarya and Raveena keen to work here and the look-and-feel of Bengali films improving dramatically”.

One reason why the wheel has truly turned full circle this year, feels Arijit Dutta of EIMPA, is because of a “good mix of masala and more serious fare”. So, if 2002 has seen Sujit Guha, Haranath Chakraborty and Swapan Saha in “full action”, Mrinal Sen, Aparna Sen, Anjan Das and Buddhadeb Dasgupta have kept the flag of “quality Bengali films” flying high in the international arena.

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