Con banega crorepati

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By Tricking people for fun and money - that's what con films were all about in 2005. But the trend, says Aparna Harish, is far from over
  • Published 8.01.06

Boy meets girl. They fall in love and cheat people happily ever after. Not quite the average love story, you’d think. But Bollywood is thriving on it. Mumbai’s Hindi film industry has discovered a new formula ? and it’s called Con Banega Crorepati.

If a theme ruled 2005 in Bollywood, it was that of lovable scoundrels. One of the top grossers of the year ? Bunty aur Babli ? was about the shenanigans of two young con masters. Debutante director Suparn Verma’s Ek Khiladi Ek Haseena told the story of a boy who cheats a girl, and how she retaliates. Two more films of last year ? Rohan Sippy’s Bluffmaster and Vivek Agnihotri’s Chocolate ? were all about conning.

It’s not a coincidence. The writer of Bunty aur Babli, Jaideep Sahni, believes that more and more filmmakers are steering clear of what he calls ‘formula’ movies. The director of Chocolate, Vivek Agnihotri, agrees, but adds that the films are also a reflection of what is happening in society. “The retail, information technology and telecom booms have resulted in prosperity for many. But the booms have also unknowingly fuelled the aspiration levels of youth who want to achieve the impossible,” he says.

So if Bunty aur Babli showcases the tale of two individuals from small towns who want to make it big in the city, Chocolate is the story of five friends who manage to pull off a heist on a UK-based bank. Ek Khiladi, Ek Haseena is the story of a man who uses tricks to avenge his friend’s death and Bluffmaster deals with a conman engaged to a girl who is unaware of his profession.

“In con films, you are trying to con the audience and the audience knows it. It is anticipating it, trying to outguess you, and it is our job to still try to pull the wool over its eyes convincingly,” says Sridhar Raghavan, writer of Bluffmaster. “The audience is a few steps ahead of you. But if you end up conning it, you’ve succeeded somewhat!”

But con as the central theme of a Hindi film is not really new. Dhoom, a 2004 film, dealt with the subject, as did Hera Pheri in 2002. Decades ago, there were Vijay Anand’s Jewel Thief and Ramesh Sippy’s Shaan ? films which were as popular as the I.S. Johar-Mehmood series of con flicks.

But, as Agnihotri stresses, there is a major difference between the con films of yore and the current lot. “The earlier films categorically stated that conning was bad. But that’s not the case today. Now the con guys just walk away with the loot,” he says. A reflection of the times, no doubt.

A lot of research goes into the subject. Raghavan, for instance, almost became a conman for six months to get to know about the fine art of cheating. “I talked to cops, read books like The Big Con, researched websites such as Crimes of Persuasion, read about street conning in Barcelona and Madrid and even Mumbai’s Colaba Causeway, and slowly got hooked. It was a crazy, weird and yet a non-violent and honourable world,” he says.

Verma watched films, browsed the Net and got involved in magic shows. Just like magicians play tricks with viewers’ eyes, he wanted to write a script that would keep the audience riveted to the plot. And it was no mean task for directors either. Says Sippy, who made a romantic film before Bluffmaster: “The biggest challenge was perhaps how to portray a conman who was confident and brazen when it came to his work, but also emotional.”

Clearly, the trend has caught on ? as the financial successes of the con films indicate. Bunty aur Babli has raked in more than Rs 60 crore and is now one of the top contenders for all awards this year. Chocolate and Ek Khiladi, Ek Haseena, with budgets of Rs 5 crore and Rs 3 crore respectively, recovered the money within the first four weeks of the release of the films. Bluffmaster, which was released on December 16, managed to pull in 90 per cent of the audience in the opening week.

So what makes a con film tick? “The cons, no doubt about it,” says Raghavan. “They have to be clever and yet entertain. And the ending,” he says, holding that the challenge was to write a script that integrated suspense with emotion. For Verma, the plot, the technique and the actors are the main pillars of a con movie.

Most filmmakers agree that con films would be made ? and thrive ? as long as conning exists in the word. Real life continues to hold its sway over cinema, just as the silver screen influences people. Recently, two conmen ? reportedly inspired by Bunty aur Babli ? were arrested in Delhi for trying to extort Rs 50 lakh from the owner of a leading chain of schools.

Filmmakers, however, maintain that con films cannot be held responsible for crime. “A hundred odd things can inspire people to commit crimes. A con film at the end of the day is looked at as an entertaining film,” Sahni says. He advocates the use of self-censorship while watching such movies to help viewers distinguish between what is right and what is wrong.

The final parting shot, though, comes from Sippy. “There is a bit of grey in all of us,” he says. “As actors and directors, we are always fooling people through themes and we are also cheating each other. This quality alone would always inspire filmmakers to make con films.”

No doubt about it, the genre of con films is going to flourish. Already, plans are afoot for Dhoom 2 and Phir Hera Pheri in 2006. Clearly, con is in the air.