Mumbai: It worked for Singh is Kinng, but didn’t for Maan Gaye Mughall-e-Azam.
Not the cast nor plot, not timing nor distribution.
It’s the extra letter.
Numerologists have played a role for some time as consultants to Bollywood actors, directors and film-makers who leave nothing to fate and readily add, subtract or rearrange the letters of movie names—or their own—if the alignment somehow casts good fortunes. Now, with Bollywood becoming more organized as a sector, it only makes sense that numerologists are following suit.
At least two of the top practitioners are looking to set up schools to perpetuate numerology and capitalize on the popularity of the claimed science, fanned by a combination of superstition, desperation and the relentless pursuit of success at the box office.
Sanjay B. Jumaani, the reigning king of numbers who engineered the spelling of Singh is Kinng, which set a Bollywood record this month by grossing $15 million (Rs65 crore) in its opening weekend, is planning to set up a teaching institution in the next year as a way of ensuring continuity of the science.
“We are planning to start teaching," said Jumaani, who was also behind the spellings of the names of actors Kirron Kher and Emraan Hashmi. “Through writing a book, we plan to initialize first, later set an institution."
He added: “It will be aimed at the masses, so each one can afford to gain from it."
Niraj Mancchanda, the numerologist behind Krrish and Heyy Babyy, also plans to start a school of numerology. “I would love to teach," he says. “There are no schools, and training currently all depends on personal experience."
As a subject, there are fewer numerology courses, many online or affiliated with Vedic institutes, than, say, astrology, which boasts even degree programmes globally.
With numerologists charging around Rs25 lakh for a film with an all-star cast—and the top names able to command even higher sums—the prospects of a career in India are rosy.
Largely self-taught, and in an unregulated industry, numerologists have proliferated since the field gained prominence in the mid-1990s with the celebrity-astrologer and numerologist Sunita Menon, who spearheaded Ekta Kapoor’s affiliation with the letter “K". Her popular serials, thus, have been dubbed Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, Kahaani Ghar Ghar Kii, Kkusum and Kasauti Zindagi Kay.
Then, director Rakesh Roshan’s success in 2000 with Kaho Naa Pyaar Hai, which starred his son Hrithik Roshan and Amisha Patel, after he had adopted Jumaani’s suggestion of spelling Naa with two a’s, prompted the film fraternity to beat a path to the numerologist’s door. (Of course, the movie’s catchy soundtrack and the younger Roshan’s looks, didn’t hurt, naa?)
The danger of an unregulated industry is that “charlatans float around disguised as numerologists," says Anupam V. Kapil, the author of Numerology Made Easy, whose followers include actor Kareena Kapoor.
“There is a superstitious numerology which has become popular in India," says Kapil. “That trend has started with bizarre spelling changes. This is not numerology; this is hardcore superstition. Numerology means having the right phonetical name."
The popularity of occult sciences and mysticism is rooted in people wanting “a quick fix", says Sunita Menon, who has practised astrology for 14 years.
“With the high stress levels today and the rat race, performance is important."
Menon, who has also advised Karan Johar, the filmmaker who also had a “K" obsession with titles but recently “gave numerology the boot", says that the growing popularity of numerology is a reflection of its success and resonance with young people.
Vipul Amrutlal Shah, producer of Singh is Kinng, who was also behind Namastey London and Waqt: A Race Against Time, both of which were box office hits and whose titles were numerologically sound (only a “y" added to “Namastey"), conceded he has no scientific proof for the efficacy of numerology.
“I think we are in a very high-risk business," says Shah. “So every science that we feel will bring energy to the film, we can do."
Working on his latest film London Dreams, Shah warns there is no substitute for a good film and aggressive marketing: “Numerology is not a shortcut to less work. You have to get all forces to work for you."
Sanjay Chhel, director of Maan Gaye Mughall-e-Azam, which opened lukewarmly last weekend despite his consulting the numerologist Bhavikk Sangghvi, said he had never traditionally been a believer—but a friend convinced him to try it.
He added: “It didn’t work for the film, so I don’t think it works."
However, Sangghvi, who claims to have a success rate “of about 80%" so long as his guidance is followed, describes Maan Gaye Mughall-e-Azam as “very average".
He maintains that while he cannot promise a film success at the box office, he is able to “reduce losses".
Besides Chhel and Johar, other recent detractors include the actor Vivek Oberoi, who changed his name back after a brief stint as Viveik failed to resuscitate a flagging film career.
For her part, Ekta Kapoor remains a believer, releasing her film C Kkompany, on Friday. And to promote it, she and her brother Tusshar appeared on the hit reality television show, Bigg Boss 2.