First things first. Just as we live in many Indias, our movies too reside in many spaces, each a planet away from the other. At one end are the passionate visionaries engaged in projecting cinema as an art form, an agent of change unspooling truth at 24 frames per second. At the other, the flashy Showmen, shrewdly hawking their wares dressed in gorgeous fantasies designed to mesmerize the insatiable star-struck mass’s body, heart, mind & soul! In between are the moderates, consciously distancing themselves from both, hard close-ups of the human condition and weird, mentally-challenged vistas of Jannat, to present entertainment that is intelligently played out and yet emotionally accessible to one & all.
While all three exist, an interesting annual feature repeats itself every year with predictable results. Each National Award function religiously, on cue, generates excitement and celebrates the small films – regional, non-starry, small budget, non-formulaic, employing new actors – declaring these award-winning entries as landmark path-breaking efforts that will change the face of Indian cinema. Nothing of the sort has even remotely ever happened and they are all ritually forgotten within a week after the NA function is over! Why? Largely because of Bollywood’s invincible vice-grip over public imagination, money and market. Shocking as it may seem, it’s a proven fact that while the truly gifted film makers from regional cinema continue to struggle for funds and for whom Rs.5 crores is indeed a mega-budget, comes news of an item song (touted as the most expensive number ever filmed in Bollywood) in an Akshay-Sonakshi film entitled Boss estimated to have swallowed a budget of Rs.6 crores! A dance number – Party All Night – it featured rapper Yo Yo Honey Singh along with Akki, Sona & Prabhudeva. 600 foreign models too were said to have been hired to sex-up the visual backdrop in this sizzling item song choreographed by the immensely popular creator of Dhinka Chika Character Dheeta & Desi Beats, Sumit Dutt.
Point is not everyone is privileged to have such a super-rich Boss who can splurge 6 cores on just one dance, right? Where do they go? What do they do? Whom do they approach? Film Critic Joy Chatterjee believes that its “yet another sign of Bollywood’s flagrant misuse of precious resources that could have been put to so much better use in the hands of more talented, focused, professionally-driven and socially responsible film-makers with a conscience. For one corny, titillating, number specifically designed to invite hormonal rush from the repressed, starved audience, you blow up Rs. 6 crores? Amazing, Boss!” Bolly junkie Aman Sehgal disagrees. The 20 year old college student from Mumbai is thrilled and can’t wait till October to grab the movie, first day, first show! “Man, this one promises to be a solid Item Bomb! Akki & Sona have sizzled earlier, but now with all the super-glam props & dazzling dramabaazi, this Party All Night number is set to be a chartbuster and a sure-fire number one Party favourite, dekhna? “ As for the lack of conscience & wastage of resources in a scenario where other talented directors can make an entire, great film on that budget, he is openly disdainful. “Tell the kill-joy blokes to stop doing the NGO routine and get real! These are hard core commercial guys putting out mass entertainment for people to enjoy & consume and hopefully ensure profitable ROI. This is not social work or arty, soul-strip cinema and nor do these guys pretend to offer anything beyond bharpoor manoranjan with flamboyant Akki & a slim Sona in a sequined little black dress, rocking it, big time! Today’s Bollywood is a fiercely competitive market where Item songs are regular features in almost every movie, so if these guys want to raise the bar and spend big bucks to showcase a truly extraordinary item number that will zonk you – I say cheers to that!
Film Director Leena (Shabd) Yadav brings her own take to the subject. “Its Bollywood’s new found arrogance in action! It had to happen! Yadav says that the good old days of good actors, good performances, silver & golden jubilees are over. So are polite hand-clapping and the generosity of the audience to give time to actors to recover from flops.” We live in a frenetic Rs.100 crore club zone where the Industry is freaking out with budgets, collections, star-fees as main draws. Ever remember seeing full page ads, hoarding or posters screaming weekend collections of releases, five years ago? In this scheme of things, this Rs.6 crore item number is yet another sharp marketing extension to turn-on the public to expect a real dhamaka of an item show. They are likely to say that the overall collection of 3 Projects made in this Rs.6 crore budget in ten weeks will not match one-tenth of what the collection of one big film will fetch in one day! As for artistic value & critical acclaim, today’s Rs.100 crore-club-walas don’t remotely care for that route. Its ROI, full-on and everything else, swiftly directed to the deep freeze!” Beautiful, Bengali TV & film actress Indrani Haldar appears shocked. “Rs.6 crores for an item number, to me, is crazy wastage because there is no guaranteed ROI, is there? Frankly, I have no clue about the people behind this but, as an actor I can’t really see any spectacular (or assured) revenue-generating spin that this expensive item-bomb promises to explode … but I guess, in these days of dazzling glamour & blinding showmanship, with each movie trying to outdo the next in terms of eyeball-grabbing, this is where its heading for!” Eminent actress & dancer Mamata Shankar agrees. The daughter of the legendary Uday Shanker believes “its nothing more than a gimmick to attract attention in these media-savvy times! I think its both criminally wasteful and in very bad taste, and once again goes to show how some camps are determined to transform cinema into nothing more than a business where money kills magic. Sad and shameful!” Respected veteran director Shyam Benegal wraps up the debate in style. “There will always be risk-takers going for the big hit and hoping it connects with the audience. Remember 50 years ago, K. Asif spending a bomb to create the Sheesh Mahal in Mughal-e-Azam? The guys behind this Rs.6crore spend, surely must know what they are doing and believe it will add special value to their entertainment package to expedite the ROI through repeat viewing & huge footfalls. As long as its not sheer indulgence or the desire to show-off, its acceptable as a part of today’s marketing pitch. Catering to the lowest common denominator in an uncomplicated manner is the key to success in this scenario and my good luck to the entire team of people behind this Rs.6 crore freakout!”
Now that Rs.100 crore club is passé and Rs.6 crore Item bomb exploded … what next? Watch this space, guys!