Filmmaking has been all about trendsetting and following trends. Sounds nice. But, when the same thing is said in Hindi, it is called Bhed Chaal, not so complementary a term.
Writers have always been a least acknowledged and paid community in films. That was true till things changed with writers Salim Javed and K.A. Narayan. Even their names were written in big fonts on film posters. Suddenly, these writers had become a drawing power. But, that phase was an aberration. It did not last for long. Films like Deewaar, Zanjeer, Sholay (by Salim Javed), Jewel Thief, Johny Mera Naam, Geeta Mera Naam (by K.A. Narayan), Hum Aapke Hain Koun..!, Company, The Dirty Picture, and the early Delhi-based love stories were trendsetters.
Since Zanjeer, an angry cop had become saleable as had brothers at the crossroads after Deewaar. Sholay was imitated on a smaller scale by B-Grade filmmakers but then, Sholay itself, had its inspiration in Raj Khosla's classic hit, Mera Gaon Mera Desh.
Things were simpler earlier as each production house had its own trademark films. Like, B.R. Chopra's banner was known to make films to initially depict the post-independence leap that the country needed to take but, BR Films also took risks with making films on premarital or extra marital love stories like Dhool Ka Phool, Gumraah and Humraaz much before such stories were accepted. The banner also excelled in making suspense thrillers and court dramas like Kanoon, Ittefaq, Dhund and Insaaf Ka Tarazu, while also making low-budget comedies with Chhoti si Baat and Pati Patni Aur Woh. And, not to forget, the evergreen B.R. film ever, Waqt, which brought back the trend of lost and found formula.
The earlier lost and found formula was seen in Shakti Samanta's China Town starring Shammi Kapoor. The film went on to inspire the Amitabh Bachchan starrer Don much later. Lost and found twins was a by-product. Ram Aur Shyam was followed by a line-up of such films like Seeta Aur Geeta, Angoor, Dhoom 3, Judwaa and its sequel, ChaalBaaz, Kishen Kanhaiya.
Rajshri Pictures, which was launched on August 15, 1947, specialised in family oriented dramas, emphasises always being on great, melodious music. The company had the knack for identifying emerging talent that helped it make films with limited budget. The films like Dosti, Geet Gaata Chal, Piya Ka Ghar, Uphaar, Maine Pyar KIya, VIvah, Saaransh, Chitchor, Ankhiyon Ke Jharokhon Se, Dulhan Wahin Jo Piya Man Bhaaye. But the company entered the big league with Hum Aap Ke Hain Koun ..! as Sooraj Barjatya, after his glory with Maine Pyar Kiya, decided to go bigger.
Another trendsetter was Manoj Kumar. He stuck mainly to films about nationalism and Indian values. His Upkar can easily be termed as a brilliant work.
The banner of Uttam Chitra and Rupam Chitra had an ace of spades as the banner's partner with producer N.C. Sippy as well it director. He was much respected and when it came to acting in his films, superstars to newcomers thought it a privilege. Thanks to him, the company gave some evergreen hits in Anand, Gol Maal, Guddi, Bawarchi, Chupke Chupke, Khubsoorat and such. The menu was pure and simple entertainment with a touch of real life philosophy blended.
There was another banner which believed in making mainly family entertainers. That was N.N. Sippy's production house which believed in providing a varied fare through films like Who Kaun Thi, Gumnaam, Chor Machaye Shor, Kalicharan, Ghar and many more but a different genre always. These and multiple others were trendsetters because they did not follow a trend. They did not stick to a single genre.
That time there used to be Bhed Chaal; smaller producers aping the successes of big hits.
However, now, a successful trend is religiously followed. Something works, almost all the filmmakers want to do the same. On this count, three themes are being blindly followed: films with a social issue, nationalism or biopics. Every second filmmaker is making one of these three.
When it comes to social issues, Vicky Donor takes the lead. It was the most unusual theme for Indian cinema which was superbly penned and executed and had just about the perfect casting, what with Annu Kapoor emerging at his best. Hindi Medium was one such film too. And, so was Hichki. A star doing such a film helps, and this was proved by the two films Toilet Ek Prem Katha and Padman. Akshay as the protagonist helped these two films.
There were lost and found films earlier. But, the biggest ones to revive the trend during the 70s were the two biggest filmmakers of the time giving us Yaadon Ki Baaraat (Nasir Hussain), Amar Akbar Anthony (Manmohan Desai) and Johny Mera Naam. The lost and found became fodder for small producers and there was a variety of the formula, the most popular being childhood lovers lost and reunited. Somehow, they managed to recognise each other.
And, the Mumbai Underworld! That seemed to be the favourite subject of every action film maker. Ram Gopal Varma's movie, Company, set the ball rolling for a Bhed Chaal. Not that the film was a great success. The film worked mainly in the Bombay circuit where the audience could identify with the theme. But, the era of 'Media Hits' had set in. The media could make hits out of flops.
The era of each banner with its own brand of filmmaking is on a pause to a great extent. But, always in dearth of ideas, the filmmakers took to making films on the Mumbai Underworld. They found a readymade story in a book written on the underworld by a local journalist which had its stories and facts all wrong. The stories in the book were mainly of local area dons of whom the people had never heard. And, whichever filmmaker thought that a gully goon can be glorified through a film was bound to lose big bucks!
Just about every film made on the Mumbai underworld like Black Friday, Shootout At Lokhandwala, Shootout At Wadala, Once Upon A Time In Mumbai, failed miserably. There was also a phase, when newbies in filmmaking, having landed from Uttar Pradesh or Bihar, took to telling their local Bahubali stories. These were a line-up of disasters. Who in the rest of India cares about a local Uttar Pradesh-Bihar local don?
The Bhed Chaal continued with makers taking to sequels. In most cases, this looked like an excuse to use the title and brand equity of a successful first film since the so-called sequel had nothing related to the original. Now, makers are after biopics on national or sports heroes. Protagonists for such themes are dug out of the blue.
Nationalism, and biopics are in. It is reported that the producers' associations like IMPPA, Guild and others are flooded with applications to register the film titles (which is mandatory) for films on patriotism and nationalism post Pulwama and the Surgical Strike 2.
A biopic works when the story is about a winner. Now, we have some heroes. The ones in the pipeline are: The one on the T Series founder, Gulshan Kumar titled, Mugal, one on Saina Nehwal, 1983 on India's first ODI World Cup victory. Then with Super 30, not all of them the audience can identify! There is also one being made on the PM Narendra Modi, on Sania Mirza, astronaut Rakesh Sharma, Batla House encounter, on Kargil, warrior Tanaji, and God kows how many more!
There are even biopics being made on the never heard of local characters. Alas! And, don't be surprised if an enterprising producer is already camping outside the home of IAF Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthamaan, who landed up in the Pakistani territory after destroying an enemy F 16 and was captured, to seek rights to make a film on him soon as he returns!
Sans good writers, the era of Bhed Chaal is back! How I wish, producers would work more towards talent hunting new writers rather follow a Bhed Chaal!
@ The Box Office
*Director Indra Kumar's Total Dhamaal boasted of a great star cast. As it happens, the stars are not saleable except when working with certain directors. The film was top heavy compared to the budget of about Rs 125 crore. The film will need to do a business of close to Rs 300 crore to recover. Though the collections have been decent at about Rs 90 crore for its opening week, it will have to really do very well in the second week as well.
*Gully Boy has done fair in its second week adding Rs 24.4 crore and taking its two week total to approximately Rs 125 crore.
*Uri: The Surgical Strike continues to hold strong by adding about Rs seven crore taking its seven-week tally to Rs 233 crore.
(Vinod Mirani is a veteran film writer and box office analyst)