Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Bluechip badshahs bet bucks on Bhojpuri films

In the commercial capital Mumbai, rocked by controversies over regional languages, corporate houses are giving a twist to the tale — they are pumping big money into the production of Bhojpuri films.
Vikramjit Roy, an official of Mumbai Mantra, the entertainment arm of Mahindra and Mahindra confirmed, “Yes, we are producing Bhojpuri films. The company has joined hands with Yashi Films to co-produce such films.” Their joint venture Hum Hain Bahubali (directed by Prakash Jha’s assistant Anil Ajitabh) is in for an unprecedented 150-theatre release on October 2. In the wake of this development, other players, including Reliance Entertainment, are also rumoured to be mulling over the prospect of backing films targeted at the Bhojpuri heartland.
One thing is clear: Bhojpuri films are no longer the poor country cousins of Hindi cinema. “We expect our first project to take Bhojpuri cinema to new levels of excellence. With Hum Hain Bahubali, we also anticipate a significant rise in the audience base of these films,” says Andrey Purushottam, CEO, Mumbai Mantra.

And does that mean Bhojpuri films will finally make it to multiplexes too? “Once a film is sold to the distributor, the ball is in his court. But yes, we are promising good production and entertainment value to make our projects a worthy proposition,” says Roy.

Those associated with the Bhojpuri film industry say it is the investment-return ratio that makes these films attractive to corporate financiers. “The average cost of each of the 25 to 30 films made in a year is Rs 60 lakh to 1 crore. A hit would earn a cool Rs 1 crore-plus,” says Prabhunath Rai, national president of Akhil Bharatiya Bhojpuri Samaj, adding that the international audience for Bhojpuri films is on the rise. “There is a demand for clean Bhojpuri films from NRIs who want to introduce their children to the language and culture,” says Rai.

Corporate investment has given rise to more than hope of better revenue collections. Said a representative (requesting anonimity) of Mahua TV, “the present-day fare is so steeped in vulgarity that it is impossible to telecast the content without censoring it heavily.”

Even if one removes corporate equity from the equation, trends are changing in the world of Bhojpuri cinema and projects are becoming increasingly ambitious, with budgets exceeding the Rs 1-crore mark. It is no longer unheard of for these films to be shot in glamorous locales, far from the Indian countryside, in Europe, Australia, Mauritius and South Africa, where Hindi star-wannabe-turned-Bhojpuri superstar Ravi Kissen is shooting at present.

“The hero still mouths fiery lines in the language of the labourer toiling in the fields or those scorching their backs at construction sites in the big city. But he has grown out of his dhoti-kurta-gamchha garb. He flaunts his Versace or Armani designer clothes and sends texts to his lady love,” explains the actor, adding that though the format is as fresh as your latest ring tone, the basic themes have not changed much over the years. “It is still the underdog fighting to get his land back from the moneylender or the poor guy doing everything to win the consent of his beloved’s rich baapu,” says Kissen.

But another superstar in the industry, Manoj Tiwari, is not quite as enthusiastic about the interest shown by the corporate sector. “They are profit-driven and do not do anything without an ulterior motive,” says Tiwari. “If they want to make investments to improve Bhojpuri cinema, they should produce clean family films and spend a decent amount on their promotion, so that the films can be exhibited in multiplexes too.”

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