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Bhojpuri cinema

Ab hamar film flop hui

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Move over Bhojiwood, Bollywood is back. With Hindi films like 'Dabangg 2' using Bhojpuri staples such as innuendo-laden numbers and rustic humour to grab the eyeballs of the masses, Bhojpuri cinema is in decline.

Not many Bollywood heroes know the size of their enemy's underwear. Chulbul Pandey, however, has no qualms about announcing it. In Dabangg 2, the cheeky cop introduces the villain Bacha Bhaiyya as someone who uses Lifebuoy soap, brushes with Dabur Laal Dant Manjan and wears the Young India brand of briefs measuring 90 cms. Immediately after, Pandey starts grooving to a song that is a staple at weddings in Bihar, perhaps safe in the knowledge that he has now effectively reminded the rickshaw-wallah in Mumbai of home.

For all practical purposes, Dabangg 2 is a Bhojpuri film. Set in Kanpur, it boasts characters named Chowbey and Sharma, its hero is an under-educated man with a rustic sense of humour and its item songs contain rudimentary English words. Naturally, owners of single-screen theatres in Mumbai tend to use the words 'Bhojpuri-inspired' to describe it.

The term has been around for almost two years now. It applies to the series of Bollywood films since the original Dabangg, that bear the trademarks of Bhojpuri cinema - loud characters, item songs, prolonged action sequences, innuendo-laden dialogue and the theme of revenge. In fact, in Khiladi 786, as an insider points out, even though Akshay Kumar's character belongs to Punjab, a song refers to him as "Khiladi Bhaiyya" to ensure accessibility to the cow belt. But "what you call Bhojpuri cinema is actually Hindustani cinema, " clarifies Aditya Chowksi, distribution head, Arbaaz Khan Productions, adding that "song, dance, drama and action has always been in the DNA of the common Indian".

While Bollywood's rediscovery of this DNA may certainly be helping Hindi films hit the Rs 100-crore mark, it is slowly but surely eating into the business of Bhojpuri cinema. Tushar Kulkarni, COO of a company that liaises with distributors to provide legal content to video theatres in Mumbai, constantly finds the former lamenting the lack of "recovery" from Bhojpuri films. Even big films featuring prominent heroes such as Ravi Kishen that used to fetch Rs 40 to 60 lakh in Mumbai till two years ago now manage a mere Rs 15 to 16 lakh, say distributors.

The decline began somewhere around the release of Wanted and Ghajini in 2010. Before that, Hindi cinema had taken almost a decade-long vacation from the masses. In this phase, it doled out a series of what Pradeep Singh, owner of single screen theatre Ratan, likes to call "gentle" films. These catered primarily to an "urban, multiplex or NRI audience", creating a gaping vacuum of mass films. So, for their dose of '80s style action, comedy and black-andwhite characters, the masses, including migrant workers, turned to Bhojpuri cinema.

Suddenly, though, films such as Wanted and Dabangg, turned the tables. They promised all of the above, along with better production values and Salman Khan. Now, single-screen theatres that showed Bhojpuri movies through the year started screening such mass-oriented Hindi films as Son of Sardaar as they promised almost twice the revenue. At Ratan cinema in Bhiwandi, which chiefly screens Bhojpuri films, for instance, Dabangg 2 has garnered a revenue of Rs 7. 8 lakh so far. Here, a Bhojpuri film makes a maximum of Rs 2 to 3 lakh per week. "The audience is not getting as much masala in Bhojpuri films as in Hindi, " says Pradeep Singh.

Recently, the big Diwali release Rickshawala I Love You featuring Nirahua suffered a loss of almost Rs 6 lakh in Mumbai and had to be hastily replaced by Son of Sardaar. "Since the mass audience comprises Class III and IV workers who cannot afford to watch more than two movies a month, they prefer watching Hindi movies to Bhojpuri films, " says producer, director and distributor Sunil Boobna.
Besides Bollywood, the thinning of the migrant population in cities such as Mumbai is also contributing to the depletion. "As a result of Bihar's development, many of the migrants have gone back home from Mumbai and Punjab. So the audience turnout in theatres is lower, " says distributor Atul Patel. In addition, Bhojpuri films once used to make Rs 50 lakh by way of satellite rights, he says. "But now, even that figure has dropped as low as Rs 10 lakh, " adds Patel.

This can be blamed on the inability of Bhojpuri films to offer something novel. Despite their suggestive songs and dialogue, Bhojpuri cinema used to be loaded with meaning and family values. But now, "they are refusing to emerge from the rut of cheap comedy and mindless action, " feels Sunil Boobna. "If you have seen four or five, you have seen them all, " he says.

What this decline could eventually mean is a reduction in the number of Bhojpuri films. The production cost has gone up. Heroes such as Dinesh Lal Yadav charge around Rs 40 to 50 lakh per film. But producers, who used to spend Rs 1. 5 crore in the hope of recovering Rs 25 to Rs 30 lakh, are now wary as they are making losses to that tune. The concern prompts a metaphor from veteran Bhojpuri film director Aslam Sheikh. "Hindi cinema has become a giant storm that can wash the Bhojpuri industry away, " he says.

NEW ITEMS, OLD MOVIE
An interesting parallel trend in the Bhojpuri industry is a growth in "remixing" - the industry term for recycling old Bhojpuri movies by giving them a new title, a new poster and inserting a few modern item songs.

Recently, the audience at a video theatre in Mumbai were driven to use colourful language, ten minutes into watching a film called Gola Barood, when they realised that it was merely a rehash of the film titled Vidhata starring Ravi Kishen and Dinesh Lal Yadav, that had released years ago. All Pradip Singh, the filmmaker, had to do was shell out Rs 16 lakh on the item songs performed by Mona Lisa and other actresses and the editing and he made almost "double" in return.

As opposed to making a film that would cost at least Rs 2 crore, the investment here is negligible and the recovery is promising. So, quite a few Bhojpuri filmmakers are going down this route. "But it won't last, " predicts a director. "Most of the viewers have seen all Bhojpuri releases. They can't be fooled for long. "

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