First Day First Show
One can tom-tom about a great idea for a story, can even manage to hoodwink a producer or corporate house to support the venture, but ultimately it is the paying public that decides the film and its first time director’s fate, especially. No matter what the expectations, connections, or the star cast. The latest casualty seems to be Desi Boyz, directed by David Dhawan’s son Rahul with a sellable cast. It was instantly declared a washout in terms of form, content and repetitious style, though it was not such a bad beginning for a feel-good, sleek, upmarket with all old trying-and-tested clichés cleverly woven into the film which might have taken a better shape with some of the younger heroes. Although a No Show in filmy jargon, it won’t be his last. Just as the saying goes that every thinking human being has at least one book inside him which is drawn out of either observed or lived experience bordering on the autobiographical. The same stands for film making, especially with regard to the debut film, more so in the contemporary context when Indian cinema per se and Hindi cinema in particular is undergoing a metamorphosis of sorts. While a great many of them churn out a hit in their first outings, they invariably fail to live up to the promise. There is something about debut films that retain their freshness even decades later.
Many consider 1988 to be the benchmark year with regard to young cinema when two divergent debut films went on to create box office history, Mansoor Khan’s Qayamat se Qayamat Tak and Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay. What was remarkable about these two, and the many others that continue to make box office history like Sooraj Barjatya’s Maine Pyaar Kiya (89), Aditya Chopra’s Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (95), Farhan Akhtar’s Dil Chahta Hai, Nikhil Advani’s, Kal Ho Na Ho (01), Shimit Amin’s Ab Tak Chappan, Vishal Bhardwaj’s Maqbool (04), Saket Chaudhry’s Pyaar ke Side Effect, Dibakar Banerjee’s Khosla ka Ghosla (06), Vikramaditya Motwane’s Udaan, Neeraj Pandey’s A Wednesday, Anusha Rizvi’s Peepli Live, Maneesh Sharma’s Band Baaja Baraat, Abhishek Chaubey’s Ishqiya, Subhash Kapoor’s Phas Gaye Re Obama (10) to name some at random, was the freshness of approach, and return to themes that would appeal to the in-generation rather than double-chin, fleshly heroes in their mid-fifties playing college students and romancing with teenage heroines. Unfortunately, not many have been able to live out the promise with their second and successive films. Many just faded away. The best and worst example is that of Aditya Chopra. Both Mohabbtein (00) and Rab De Bana Di Jodi (08) were no match with the earlier ones.
Then there is the other category of debut directors who did not at all get a second chance when the first outing did not work the box office magic. Many others lost the battle with two or three more chances. Siddharth Anand is one such example who failed to return the magic of Salaam Namaste (05) with any of the three other opportunities he got with Ta Ra Rum Pum (07), Bachna Ai Haseeno (8), Anjaana Anjaani (10), the last two with the current favourite Ranbir Kapoor. Like Siddharth, Dibakar Banerjee too has not been short of assignments but then he has had better luck with Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye (08), and Love Sex and Dhokha (10). He is currently making a political thriller called Shanghai which deals with politicians and their lust for money and power. Notwithstanding success or failure, the number of debutant directors is on the rise. Many of these have shown a qualitative understanding of the medium, making gripping narratives with strong characters even if they are ‘personal’. Sadly, some of them, like Saket Chaudhry, has failed to find a backer.
An unfortunate trend has been the use of cuss words and slang perpetuated by Yash Chopra Films beginning with Luv Ka The End (11) and Mujhse Fraaandship Karoge (forthcoming), intended to be yet another romantic comedy “against the backdrop of social networking” with a liberal use of ‘F’ word, a sort of an updating of its earlier rather serene Hritik Roshan, Kareena Kapoor, Rani Mukherjee starrer Mujhse Dosti Karogi. A liberal use of these first came out loudly in successive Vishal Bharadwaj films like Maqbool (03), Omkara (06), Kaminey (09), Ishqiya (10) Saat Khoon Maaf (11) and then it became a trend or devise. Those following suit included Tere Bin Laden, Khatta Meetha (10), and more recently Yeh Saali Zindagi (11). Sadly, even otherwise socially conscious filmmakers like Aamir Khan not only fell prey but openly defended the trend with Abhimay Deo directed Delhi Belly.
Then there are others like Imtiaz Ali with three successive hits, one better than the other: Jab We Met (06), Love Aaj Kal (09) and now Rockstar (11) all pulsating love stories; Nagesh Kukunoor’s Hyderbad Blues (98), Rockford (99), Bombay Calling (01), 3 Dewarein (03), Hyderbad Blues 2 (04), Iqbal (05), Dor (06), Bombay to Bangkok (08), 8 x 11 Tasveer (09), Ashhyien (10) and Mor (11) may not have been blockbusters, yet he has been following his call and doing the kind of films that are at least patronised by a niche audience; and Onir who has made My Brother…Nikhil (05). Bas Ek Pal (06), Sorry Bhai (08), and Now I Am (11) despite all having failed to woo the audience, have been advocating meaningful entertainment, and low-budget films. Together with actor Sanjay Suri he has started Anticlock Films, a production company that will concentrate on promoting young directors. Ashwini Malik’s Kill Chhabra and Bikas Ranjan Mishra’s Chauranga—almost all dealing with burning social issues will be the company’s forthcoming productions.
Now taking a clue from Kukunoor three other successful young directors, Anurag Kashyap, Vikramaditya Motwane and Vikas Bahl with Madhu Mantena as a financial adviser have formed a company called Phantom to back up films with young directors who come out with new ideas, “India’s first directors company” which will not only make films on their own but also encourage new talent in the field of acting, direction, music direction and other technical aspects of film making, vowing to stand by creative freedom. Ambitious! But one does not reach anywhere without that. The company’s maiden venture will be Lootera with Ranveer Singh and Sonakshi Sinha to be directed by Motwane, to be followed by Kashyap’s Gangs of Vasaipur with rank newcomers.
With these and others waiting in the wings for lady luck to smile on their endevaour there is at least a hope of Hindi cinema turning the corner.
By Suresh Kohli