Mrinal Pande

Saawariya bombed and though financiers are not talking of putting on sackcloth and ashes and calling it a day, what is remarkable is that the film was launched after a long and expensive media blitz in which everyone— parents, friends to clapper boy—gave long, mushy speeches on how much it all meant to them and how so-and-so-ji was such fun/pleasure/honour to work with. The strategy nowadays, we are told, is to ensure 99% of viewership in the first three days, and later pray to the gods (for Bollywoodians, they range from Siddhivinayak to Lord Tirupati to Sheran Wali Mata (Vaishno Devi) in the hills of Jammu) that good old word of mouth takes care of the cash registers. For Saawariya, the viewership is yet to come.

Celebrity programmes on our TV channels have of late taken to over-publicizing films before they hit the multiplexes. Khoya Khoya Chand, Aaja Nachle and Dus Kahaniyan are all in part casualties of the trend. For weeks, all channels ran interviews with their stars, the starry directors, their parents, friends, enemies, along with trailers featuring song-and-dance sequences replete with verbose commentaries. The directors, too, popped up on all channels, telling the audience how this was a take on that star of yesteryears or a spoof of that famous scene/dance sequence or how (wink, wink) that short story profiled the star couple who also share a “relationship" in real life (haw ! you not knowing?). You began to wonder if there is so much available already about these stars and the movies, should one bother paying one-hundred-and-odd rupees to see the whole thing in a cinema after braving horrendous traffic jams, rude-to-nasty parking lot boys, ugly pawing by security and burp over diet drinks that cost an arm and a leg? This is where the expected crowds began to falter and finally vanish.

On entertainment channels and the back of bulletins their cousin news channels sport, the focus is totally on what Hindi filmstars such as Shah Rukh or Aishwarya Rai or Big B or Madhuri Dixit or Soha or some great as yet unrealized promise of Bollywood said to their best friends (in English, of course, only Rakhi Sawant and M.S. Dhoni speak in Hindi, you dolt!) this week or last. Where they like to dine or shop (mostly London, Paris or New York). How they celebrated Id, Diwali, Dhanteras, Karva Chauth, Christmas or whatever. Phew!! After all this, to see them playing coy unmarried lovers or a much-exploited dancing woman from the 1950s and 1960s, India is bound to feel somewhat phony. Somehow, it was easier for those of us who grew up in the pre-TV years, when real lives of stars were being lived away from the glare of pre-launch publicity, to accept that Raj Kapoor was passionately entwined with his leading lady of the day. Today, after a mega dose of visuals on Shah Rukh’s blissful domesticity, and steamy details of Kareena’s love life, audiences find it increasingly difficult to accept the poor bloke as Ashoka, madly in love with a flower child of first century India.

We have been flooded with so many details about the personal lives, loves, devotional predilections et al. of Big B, Small B and Mrs Bs (both big and small), not to forget Shah Rukh and Hrithik and their gyms schedules and injuries, that watching Aishwarya as Jodha or Big B as an ageing Babar, is embarrassingly like watching your own family members suddenly put on greasepaint and begin to act funny. No matter how good they are as actors, it still stretches the imagination to imagine a Tag Heuer-selling Shah Rukh as Ashoka, or a Reid and Taylored Big B as Babar, the Baddy.

The incestuous marriage between the small screen andthe big has led to a situation where we have two kinds ofactors, those whom we want to watch act in cinema, and those who are just fit for Koffee with Karan. What we need badly in the age of dish TV, home theatre and superb quality sound are good old actors in good watchable films that will surprise us with their brilliance and innovation over and over again. We have had it up to here with some spoilt and petulant brats and aged mutton dressed as lamb cracking some warmed-over, undergraduate-level jokes and mouthing bits of pop psychology on the side. Nor do we particularly care for star directors who, instead of offering tempting new roles to actors and giving new writers a break, insist on making the remake of a remake and refuse to go beyond the sons and daughters from starry khandaans. The fact is most of the films and directors who have made a splash at the box office this year are the ones who were relatively unknown, and unseen in gossip columns and Page 3 parties, and many profitable movies such as Khosla Ka Ghosla, Heyy Babyy and Partner started doing the circuits almost as unknowns.

When all is said and done, it is not just the stars but the good old storyline along with the magnetism of a natural born star that still provide real entertainment on screen.

Mrinal Pande likes to take readers behind the reported news in her fortnightly column. She is chief editor ofHindustan.

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