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(Top) Prosenjit shoots for a film; Koneenica and Saswata in Aabar Ashbo Phirey

Highs and lows in topsy-turvy Tollywood

If ever Tollywood tom-tommed its presence, it was in 2004. As several film producers steered the publicity bandwagon, with glossy billboards and carefully-crafted catchlines, the Bengali film industry saw a well-oiled promotional machinery hitting tinsel street. But at the end of the day, it was much the same story of a mixed bag of films, hardly a few hits and scores of misses. Here's looking at the year's highs, lows and special mentions:

Ram Lakshman: The cliched story of two brothers scripted by Anjan Chowdhury, in which the elder turns toughie to raise the younger sibling, turned out to be a typical Prosenjit hit, with Tota Roy Chowdhury playing perfect foil.

Gyanrakol: Director Haranath Chakraborty was successful in tickling the funny bone in this sweet-sour tale of two couples (Prosenjit-Rachana and Jishu-Soumili) bungling their way in and out of a knotty tale of love.

Agni: Swapan Saha's trademark formula worked wonders for this action thriller, with Prosenjit, Rachana, Abhishek Chatterjee and Nilanjanaa.

Paribar: Director Anup Sengupta delivered a tearjerker family drama with generous doses of filial love. The cast comprised Prosenjit, Rachana and Ranjit Mullick.

Coolie: The TLV Prasad-directed film found action hero Mithun Chakraborty sweating it out as a coolie and then climbing the social ladder to teach his rivals a lesson. Kaliyon Ka Chaman girl Meghna Naidu was a big draw.

Aabar Ashbo Phirey: A Rs 3.5-crore budget. Shooting in Saranda and Mumbai, and fancy sets at Indrapuri Studios. Could a Bengali masala film have gone bigger' Yet, Ravi Ojha's reincarnation rant with a patriotic twist tottered and tumbled at the box office. The new lead pair, Saswata Chatterjee and Koneenica Banerjee, couldn't salvage it either.

Hothat Neerar Jonyo: Just when the film's producers had swamped the city streets with arresting teaser ads, the censor board decided to chop off some steamy scenes, adding fuel to fire. But director Subrata Sen's story about a married woman running into her ex-flame failed to ignite audience interest, despite the real-life romance between lead pair Bikram Ghosh and Jaya Seal.

Iti Srikanta: Not even Soha Ali Khan could save Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay from box office failure. Anjan Das' modern take on the Srikanta-Rajlakshmi-Kamallata saga sank under the weight of sketchy characterisation and weak script.

Swami Chhintai: The India-Bangladesh venture failed to click, despite the Bollywood presence of Sharad Kapoor opposite Tollywood queen bee Rituparna Sengupta.

Warish: Kaushik Ganguly's debut feature film about a child being brought up out of wedlock by single mother Churni Ganguly made national news when Reliance Infocomm picked up the promotional tabs. But the film was quickly abandoned by the audience.

(Top) Abhishek, Rachana and Prosenjit on the sets of Agni; Chandana and Jeet at the mahurat of Premi; (above) Koel Mullick as the centre of attention

Special Mention'

Premi: Average showing at the box office but a fresh look and feel. With shades of the Nineties Bollywood blockbuster Saajan, the film was smartly packaged with charming Chandana debuting under Ravi Kinnagi's direction.

Mehul Boner Sereng: Though visible only for a while at Nandan, Shekhar Das' film was highly appreciated for its interesting storyline toeing the rural-urban divide and the resultant conflicts. Was selected for the Indian Panorama at the International Film Festival of India 2004 (along with Iti Srikanta).

Teen Ekke Teen: Moloy Bhattacharya's subtle comedy of three gutsy girls scheming to rob a bank to start a business was released in January but went missing before you could count till three. Barely six months later, the Black Magic film returned to Nandan, registering encouraging footfall.

Shudhu Tumi: First-time directors Sudeshna Roy and Abhijit Guha presented a family entertainer in a different mould, pitting a bubbly Koel against the grim Prosenjit, with Gargi Roy Chowdhury adding a twist in the tale.

Devipaksha: The story of three sisters victimised by circumstances brought out a splendid performance from Satabdi Roy. Rituparna Sengupta, Soumitra Chatterjee, Sandhya Roy and Koel Mullick, too, gave commendable performances under Raja Sen's direction.

Hero of the year...

Prosenjit. With no less than seven releases and the maximum number of hits, it's a no contest. Prosenjit remains Tollywood's Hero No. 1 for yet another year. The prolific actor pulled off in-your-face comedy in Gyanrakol, became family man in Paribar, turned action hero in Agni and Surya, and was a bit of everything in Ram Lakshman.

He also sustained his stint in parallel cinema with Buddhadeb Dasgupta's Swapner Din (due for release) following Rituparno Ghosh's Chokher Bali. And there's no stopping Prosenjit ' he has signed 13 films till October 2005.

Heroine of the year...

Koel Mullick. Number of releases in 2004: four (Devipaksha, Shudhu Tumi, Badshah and Bandhan). Paired opposite: Prosenjit and Jeet. In the making: Probhat Roy's Manik, opposite Jeet. What with Badshah and Bandhan doing well, Koel Mullick is the most visible pretty face of Tollywood today.

After debuting in Haranath Chakraborty's Nater Guru, the 22-year-old got busy writing her B.Sc (hons) exams in psychology. But now, Ranjit Mullick's only daughter has her sights set on ruling tinsel town.

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