Insight Into Bhojpuri Cinema
It has an interesting history and the eloquent narrative not only spells out, but effectively records the ups and downs in its somewhat colourful history in three distinct phases over the past almost five decades. The first phase (1962-68) started with character-actor Nazir Husain’s bold experiment, costing just about Rs 5 lakhs, with Ganga Maiya Tohe Piyari Chadhaibo (apparently in response to an expression to the film maker by the first President of India, Dr Rajendra Prasad). Other notable films of this period were Bidesiya, Laagi Nahin Chhute Ram, and Hamaar Sansar. All of them became landmark cinema because the kind of success they made was unanticipated, even by those who made it. Only 19 films got made during this nescient formative phase.
It was also during this period that Bhojpuri Film Awards were first presented, in 1965, with veterans like Mrinal Sen and Tarun Majumdar constituting the jury. And then it seemed to wither away as suddenly as it had emerged as between 1969-76 only a single film Dher Chalaaki Jin Kara made an unsuccessful bid at the box office before making yet another triumphant return with Dangal (first colour film), marking the beginning of the second phase, like the hero of a typical Hindi action film in 1977. However, most films made between 1995 and 2001 were dismal failures. An estimated 150 films were produced between 1977 and 2001.
“During the years 1986-89, a whopping fifty-one films were released and it was during this time that the more popular movies were made. There is no gap between the second and the third phase, but the third phase marks the advent of a new, confident Bhojpuri cinema. In the five years between 2004 and 2008, over 275 Bhojpuri films have been produced. In 2006 alone, a whopping 76,” notes the author, went in for censor clearance.
Expanding further, “In all, between 1962-2008, at least 475 Bhojpuri films have been released. By now, the figure would have easily crossed 500 for an estimated 3.5 crore Bhojpuri speaking population according to the 2001 Census with veteran S N Tripathi composing music for over 70 of them. Thematically, a majority of Bhojpuri films belong to the broad category of family dramas, with plenty of songs, dance, laughter and tears. Most superhits till the end of the 1980s fall in this category. With time, however, the percentage of action films has grown significantly in the genre.”
Referring to phase 3, Ghosh avers: “Between 1983 and 1992, a total of 98 Bhojpuri films were certified by the censors. But over the following nine years, 1993 to 2001, the number dipped drastically to 33. But there is always a new dawn after a dark night and, therefore 2002 marks the beginning of a new phase
because seven films were released that year the highest since 1992.” The box-office collections of Sasura Bada Paisewala, made on a modest budget of Rs 30 lakhs, raked in more than Rs 9 crores, and came to be called Sholay of Bhojpuri cinema. A confirmation or reconfirmation of the return was the success of Panditji Bataeen Na Biyah Kab Hoee in 2005. Made at a cost of Rs 60 lakhs, it earned more than Rs 6 crores for the producer Mohanji Prasad. For the first time, a Bhojpuri film Kab Hoi Gawna Hamaar featured in the National Film Awards. Statistics reveal the story. In 2004, a total of 21 films were cleared by the censors and in 2005, the number had doubled to 45, it was a staggering 76 the year after.
Avijit Ghosh feels that with the advent of 21st century, the reach and range of Bhojpuri cinema has expanded beyond the previously defined geographical yardsticks. It has moved out of the rural family drama circuit and started to experiment “with the larger world, a phenomenon that has blurred the distinct identity of regional cinema….The changes in the regional political milieu occasionally find reflection in the storylines”. Comparing the situation with mainstream Bollywood cinema which continues to thrive, despite a majority flops, Cinema Bhojpuri (Penguin, Pp. 297. Rs 399) has continued to survive “on a couple of big hits every year”. Out of the 285 releases during 2004-08, more than 200 licked the box-office dust. This is probably because “other avenues of revenue generation” like advertising have helped the makers sustain themselves.
This thus, is broadly the story of Cinema Bhojpuri in the last nearly five decades. In the ensuing chapters the author painfully explores virtues and otherwise. In ‘The Diaspora Within’ there is a detailed account of the range and reach of this cinema now. It also reflects on the “fallout of the anti-north Indian agitation by the MNS in Maharashtra” resulting not only making shooting of Bhojpuri films impossible, but also burning of prints and violence against Biharis in particular.
In the chapter ‘Deciphering Bhojpuri Cinema’, Ghosh outlines factors that according to him are responsible for its revival, one of which being the new sensibilities visible in commercial Hindi cinema. It is, however, a different matter that the very abandoning of those ingredients that has led to “the genre creating its own version of Bollywood even as it resists its influence”. He further argues that “the audience of the new millennium is different from the older audience on which the foundation of the industry was built…Going to the cinema was one of the few recreational avenues for rural women then”.
The heroine in the new millennium Bhojpuri cinema has shed her rural apparel and taken to skirts and jeans. Lyrics and music now panders more to movement and rhythm rather than melody. The “dance tracks with suggestive movements and risqué lyrics” has become the mainstay of music. Incorporating the Marilyn Monroe’s famous skirt-flying sequence in Panditji Bataeen Na Biyab Kab Hoee with the wording Lehnga utha deb remote se resulted in sky-high box office collections, thanks also to hype generated by the media.
Part 2 and 3, aptly titled ‘People and Places’ and ‘The Evolution of Bhojpuri Film Music’ deal with individuals who constitute Bhojpuri cinema—the heroes, the heroines, the directors and the music directors. The substantial last section carries detailed notes, filmography, sources of information etc. that would serve a useful purpose in further forays into different aspects of Bhojpuri cinema.
While summing up, Avijit Ghosh contends: “At a time when regional political parties continue to assert their identity, the rise of Bhojpuri films is only part of the remodeling of Indian cinema itself.” He also argues: “The popularity of Bhojpuri cinema is a complex question because the audience…has changed significantly.” And at its best and worst resembles mainstream cinema elsewhere in the country: flip-flop, flip-flop, you lose but I win, and, therefore, I am the king.
By Suresh Kohli