Niggles in Tollywood cross-border future

Film overcomes release jitters

By Our Bureau
  • Published 21.02.16
A Hero 420 poster

Feb. 20: An India-Bangladesh joint-venture film that reportedly ran into eleventh-hour jitters in Dhaka has underscored afresh a tussle rooted in distrust that is shadowing a key, emerging pillar of bilateral cooperation.

Hero 420, a film jointly produced by Jaaz Multimedia in Dhaka and Eskay Movies in Calcutta, released in the Bangladesh capital yesterday after approval from the ministry of information there.

But the release followed complaints and criticism of the Indian producers in Dhaka over alleged violation of norms for joint production laid down by the two countries.

The film, starring Riya Sen, Om and Bangladeshi actress Nusraat Faria, was released in India on February 12, a week earlier than that in Bangladesh. The joint production rules between India and Bangladesh involve a condition that the film must be released at the same time in both markets - to avoid piracy disproportionately eating into the earnings of either producer.

The Indian producers have denied facing any hurdle in Dhaka, saying the film could not be released earlier in Bangladesh because halls were not available.

But the complaints in Dhaka are an echo of criticism another joint production, Black, faced last November. In both cases, it is the Bangladesh government and theatre owners in that country who have pressed for the films to be allowed - in the face of protests from sections of the Dhaka film community.

"There are cases in which the joint production rules have been flouted," Bangladesh information minister Hasanul Haq Inu said from Dhaka. "But we want to enhance such collaboration between our countries - not just with Tollywood but also with Bollywood. That's why every time a case has come to me, I've tried to ensure the film is released."

Senior officials at the Indian high commission in Dhaka said they were examining the latest complaints. Former Indian diplomats who have served there said the challenge is not new - and is rooted in deep-seated fears in Bangladesh that India and its films could swamp the local market and kill the domestic industry.

These fears have led to protests against Bollywood films in Bangladesh in the past. It was only in 2010 that Bangladesh lifted a ban on Hindi films being shown at theatres - and the decision drew loud protests. An informal ban by theatre owners - under protests from local artistes - existed till last year.

In fact, the joint production route was scripted precisely to build confidence in the Bangladesh film industry that India wanted to work with - and not against - domestic artistes and producers. For India, films and movie stars have long been key cultural diplomacy ambassadors abroad.

The joint production rules also require a film to be shot roughly equally in both countries, and actors from both nations must receive equal prominence on movie posters.

In the case of Black, the Bangladesh producer Mohammed Kibria took his Calcutta counterparts Dag Media to court after the film was released in India first.

The film was eventually released in Dhaka on December 4, 2015, a week after its scheduled date of release, following a clearance from a panel of experts set up by the Bangladesh information ministry.

"There were similar violations in the case of Hero 420, and the Indian producer had to give an undertaking that they wouldn't make these mistakes again," said Saiful Islam Chowdhury, the president of the Bangladesh Film Exhibitors Association. "The film was released on that condition."

But Himanshu Dhanuka of Eskay Movies, the Indian producer, said: "We did not face any hurdles in releasing Hero 420 in Bangladesh, except that it was supposed to release on February 12 in both countries. But the halls in Bangladesh were booked for Sweetheart, which is a friend's film. Therefore, we waited for a week and released it on February 19, instead."

The teething troubles notwithstanding, many believe joint ventures are the future of the Bengali film industry, throwing open overnight a sprawling captive market.

"Can you imagine the market? We can now think of releasing our films in 400 theatres. We, like the Telugu industry, can think big. Telugu films release in the Malayalam film industry and vice versa. But we as an industry are stuck. It's difficult to release our films even in Bengal if there's a big Bollywood release. The Bangladesh market is huge and if we exchange each other's films, we too can match a Bollywood film budget," said Calcutta-based film director Shiboprosad Mukhopadhyay whose Bela Seshe is set to release in Bangladesh next week.

"I would love to release my next film Praktan (Prosenjit and Rituparna Sengupta's comeback film) in Bangladesh. Both of them are big stars in Bangladesh," Mukhopadhyay added.