Thursday, 9 pm, Taj Bengal: The night is on a high. Tinseltown is raising a toast to a “strategic alliance”. A big Bollywood producer has joined hands with Bengal’s leading man to produce six films in the next 12 months. The tinkle of glasses, the ripple of laughter, the flickering flashbulbs say it all… Three cheers for Tollywood!
The floodgates of funds are beginning to open up for an industry under a cash crunch for as long as we can remember. Corporate firms are keen; Bollywood producers are buoyant. It’s more than just a flirtation, with investors drawing up long-term plans to cash in on the regional film market.
With “more producers” willing to come in and “different kinds of films” being made, Aparna Sen foresees “a golden phase” for the industry.
The film-maker’s optimism is not without reason. Slated to trundle into tinseltown this year are Sa Re Ga Ma Films from the RPG stable (which has signed Haranath Chakraborty for its debut Tollygunge project), the Delhi-based Planman Group (on its second film after Saanjhbatir Rupkathara) and Ramoji Rao’s Usha Kiron Movies (busy with the groundwork for its next venture after Bombaiyer Bombetey).
For the man behind Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and Lagaan, the money-spinning makers of Baba Keno Chakor and Sasurbari Zindabad are prime targets in Tollywood. Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s Hridayer Katha is the lone non-mainstream project twinkling under the Jhamu Sugandh banner.
“Consistency in commercial success was our sole criterion for selecting film-makers. Prosenjit told me that the industry here is lagging in terms of technical quality and proper marketing. We are here to provide all that,” says Sugandh.
Targeting four to five films a year, Sa Re Ga Ma Films is poised to set up a separate production team in the city to reach out to “film-makers with good commercial value”.
Ripples of the resurgence have touched Hyderabad, too. Usha Kiron Movies is scouring scripts and sounding out directors in a bid to make “wholesome family entertainers for the local market”.
For many, the bottom line is the bottom line and it’s good business sense to hitch a high-gain prospect on a low-entry cost. Far from the mega-budget, mega-flop scenario by the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal box-office tally ’04 reads a reassuring, releases 10, hits three, superhit one.
For others, a foothold in the international festival circuit — to which a clutch of film-makers from Bengal seems to enjoy easy access — is the clincher. National — and international — ambition is driving local moneybags, too. From its Waterloo Street office, Shree Venkatesh Films claims to be mounting its second Aishwarya-starrer Raincoat on “an international scale”. Rituparno Ghosh’s first Hindi film is likely to touch a Rs 7-crore record mark.
The next step forward is to reach out to the non-resident Bengali (from Bangladesh to Boston) audience, points out Prosenjit.
…AND THE BEAUTIFUL
Thursday 5 pm, Tantra. With the rustle of a peach-and-silver georgette sari, film-maker Anjan Das’ glamorous find in Iti Srikanta breezes in. To launch her celluloid career, the stunning Soha Ali Khan has chosen the east coast. “I only had the role in mind while casting Soha, but later I found that who she was helped draw attention to the film,” admits Das.
Beauty matters. And it’s more than just skin-deep. The Aishwaryas and Tabus of the world attract attention, generate curiosity and trigger hype. The more famous the face, the more visibility for the film.
“From a director’s point of view, the first criterion is suitability. But it’s true that one can’t be oblivious to the market, and the demand for faces that sell, nationally and now even internationally,” feels Rituparno. So, the flood of imported faces .
For masala films with local stars, the emphasis is more on glossy look and feel (read: fresh locales, trendy costumes, stylish interiors). In Shree Venkatesh Films’ Premi, the outdoors were all Gangtok, leading lady Chandana got her costumes designed from Mumbai, the wardrobe for Jeet and Jishu Sengupta was picked up from Pantaloons, Westside and Forum. The trendy casuals that Koel Mullick sports in Shudhu Tumi, at the Arunachal Pradesh shooting sites, are also from Pantaloons.
Post post-production, it’s all product packaging. Carefully-crafted ads, smart catchlines, TV promos, vinyl billboards, kiosks, posters, FM phone-ins, contests — name it and you’ll get it.
The marketing watershed was Saanjhbatir Rupkathara, Joy Goswami’s story that hit celluloid jackpot. “Saanjhbati… would possibly have gone unseen had we not promoted it the way we did. We went overboard, while remaining focused on the theme,” says Arindam Chaudhuri of Planman Group. His marketing mantra: Bengal doesn’t lack creativity, but it has to be packaged right to make it saleable.
“I’ve never seen Bengali films being marketed more aggressively,” applauds Aparna.
Take Bombaiyer Bombetey. Feluda’s brand equity was all Usha Kiron Movies needed to cash in on. A mix of teasers and mind games did the trick for Sandip Ray’s comeback.
There’s a long way to go yet (take one look at the shabby studio infrastructure and the paltry post-production facilities). But with eight major Tollywood releases — in Bengali, Hindi and English — lined up for the coming weeks and the sales pitch reaching a crescendo, it doesn’t take a Feluda to spot a Tollywood turnaround.
Make no mistake — yesterday’s shy and shoddy is tomorrow’s bold and beautiful.
• If you were to shut your eyes and conjure up a dream list of stars you would like to see in Tollygunge, chances are you’d start off with Amitabh Bachchan, Madhuri Dixit and then say oh, forget it, let’s get real… But then, this is the dream factory and some dreams do come true. So, in the remaining months of 2004, don’t rub your eyes if you find your dream duo — and others, we’re sure — up close in Calcutta.
All agog for Amitabh
The Biggest B of them all should descend this winter, for a Rituparno Ghosh film exploring the relationship between “a famous father and his son who chooses the same profession”. Sharing screen — and city — space with him will be Madhuri and more.
Mad about Madhuri
Even before that, this October, Madhuri has a tryst to keep with Tollywood, in Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s Hridayer Katha. She plays an actress yearning for a role to realise her potential.
And there was Ash
The most famous crossover face has been Aishwarya Rai, as Binodini in Rituparno’s Chokher Bali and Neeru (right) in his Raincoat, ready for an August release. Others, lest you forgot in the flood, include Sharmila Tagore, Raakhee, Nandita Das, Tabu, Perizaad Zorabian, Ajay Devgan…