Suddenly, Tollywood's bitten into a bit of Bollywood. From foreign outdoors to exotic indoors, designer d'cor to burgeoning budgets, the Tollygunge mainstream is finally going the way of all things west.
With the look good factor becoming directly proportional to the feel good factor, the need to smarten up its act is not lost on today's Tollywood. And the starting point, of course, is where they go to shoot and how they deck up the sets.
The sparkling three-ft-deep swimming pool in Shankar Roy's Criminal, built at Indrapuri Studios with provision for underwater photography, has been the talk of tinsel town over the past few weeks. As Prosenjit lolls on a glass-capsule-like rotating bed in stylised blue light filtering, Tollywood dives into the deep end of designer look.
The den of don Prosenjit ' Criminal, you see ' has been created by set designer Kousik Sarkar. 'I watch HBO and Star Movies for ideas and the latest trends. If I have to copy, then it better be from the original, instead of Hindi films,' says Sarkar, who has hitched up the hideout for Rs 3.5-4 lakh.
Only a few weeks ago, Haranath Chakraborty had spread out a swanky room on the same floor for Sangram, which sees Prosenjit sporting six different looks. On an adjacent floor, Sarkar has done up a grand Rajasthani haveli (owned by Ranjit Mullick in the film) with export-quality furniture, carpets, chandelier and some 30 oil paintings.
'Earlier, the films had a budget of around Rs 20 lakh. Now, the market has expanded and we are competing with Hindi films. So, we are pumping in as much as Rs 1 crore for a single project. If the investment on sets, including indoors and outdoors, was Rs 1.5 lakh earlier, the costs are around Rs 20-25 lakh now,' says producer Ashok Dhanuka, who had his last film (Aakrosh, with Jeet and Rituparna Sengupta) shot almost entirely in Hyderabad.
The swimming pools and Rajasthani havelis, chandeliers adding glitter to a wedding scene or bedrooms with stylish d'cor, are a few of the new-age things the Tollygunge para is slowly waking up to. The novelty value sees a steady trickle of neighbours sneaking in through the iron gates for a glimpse of the new-found grandeur in rundown tinsel town.
'The look is very important. Isn't Bandhan on a par with Hindi films' asks Srikant Mohta of Shree Venkatesh, turning to the film's Singapore-based promos in his Waterloo Street office. The effort to go beyond the borders is reaping benefits with crowds at Mitra cinema in Hatibagan jostling to catch Jeet and Koel frolic by the Singapore sea.
Clearly, Digha won't do any more. If it's sea beaches we need, let's serenade in Singapore. 'We have not only shot some songs but an entire sequence at Santosa Island and Harbour Front. Some scenes were also shot in Hyderabad,' adds Mohta, who has taken Bandhan as far as any Bengali masala film has gone. Last time around, Shree Venkatesh had taken the Premi cast and crew to Gangtok, in Bhutan, for azure blue sky and crispy snowflakes.
All outdoor sequences of Shudhu Tumi were canned in Arunachal Pradesh, from Dirang Valley to Tawang (famous for the Shah Rukh-Madhuri-starrer Koyla) and the snow-caked slopes of Silla where Prosenjit pranced with Gargi Roy Chowdhury.
Sikkim is fast turning out to be the most favoured destination, with just about everyone from Satarupa Sanyal (Kalo Cheetah) to Probhat Roy (Manik) and Biresh Chatterjee (Tobu Bhalobashi) settling for this picturesque hill state.
Closer home, there's the greens of north Bengal, a respite from the uninspiring shrubs on the city's fringes, in Ravi Ojha's Aabar Ashbo Phirey and Swapan Saha's Janmadata.
'If our films have to sell, we have to give a quality comparable with Hindi films. I also shot the outdoors in Saranda in Orissa, and Film City and Esselworld in Mumbai. The production cost automatically went up by a crore,' says Ojha. That the film came a cropper at the box-office is another story.
Box-office boom or bust, one thing is certain. The dull pink walls and plastic flowers have made way for a smart set. Take Shudhu Tumi, for instance. First-time directors Sudeshna Roy and Abhijit Guha have given a chic look to this Prosenjit-Koel Mullick-starrer with wrought-iron furniture, colour coordinated rooms and matching upholstery. The hero's mother flaunts a room with antique furniture for an old-world feel, while the heroine's corner is done up with terracotta accessories.
The yet-to-be-released Janmadata, produced by Jhamu Sughand and Prosenjit's Ideas at a cost of Rs 1 crore, promises to add more zing to the in-thing syndrome. 'We designed the indoors on proper colour combinations, using accessories like lamps and shades, and got the curtains of the TV serial Sahib Biwi Gulam recycled,' says Sudeshna Roy, who is also production designer for Janmadata.
'The look is definitely changing because you can see the audiences returning to Bengali commercial films. If there's a good product, people will come and see it. Several films are being shot in Hyderabad, Visakhapatnam and Chennai. Apart from showing interesting locales, such a schedule has the other advantage of getting artistes to work for long hours. You can shoot for 15 to 20 days non-stop as the actors don't have other assignments once out of town,' says actor Jeet.