A feast from the East
The sun is shining on Bhojpuri films. With many of them doing better business than Hindi films, things were never better. ZIYA US SALAM
Scene from "Damadji".
For 25 days in a month young Rani Chatterji is not home in Mumbai. She is busy shooting in places seldom heard of in the film circles - Hathras, Mathura, Gonda, Etah. She has given us "Sasura Bada Paisewala", the Bhojpuri film that not only did better business than films like "Black" and "Page 3" but also set Bhojpuri as the flavour of the season. Even as "Damadji", her latest film opposite Manoj Tiwari `Mridul' hits the theatres across India this Friday, Rani is busy wrapping up "Chaila Babu" with Ayub Khan in Vrindavan. She has been away from home for two weeks, and is unlikely to be there for at least another 10 days. When this XII standard pass-out from Mumbai is not shooting for the latest Bhojpuri film where she reigns like her namesake in Hindi cinema, she is busy celebrating. Celebrating the golden jubilee of "Sasura... " in Hajipur where she has become a household name.
But hold on. Rani Chatterji is no Bengali. Nor is she Rani. She is actually Sabiha Sheikh, a Mumbai girl who was christened Rani by one of her directors, just to gain access to a place where it would have otherwise been denied. And the media found it convenient to add Chatterji to her name - you see, that makes her closer to Rani Mukerji!
The similarity in names - even if hers is adopted - is not the only reason why Rani is enjoying her run. From Bihar to Mumbai, from Madhya Pradesh to Punjab, her film "Sasura... " has smashed all box office records. Vouches the film's Delhi distributor, Jogendra Mahajan, "This film was made for only about Rs.40 lakhs and has done a business of over Rs.2 crores." He is not exaggerating. At a time when Hindi films are increasingly dubbed as a hit after a two-week run, "Sasura... " completed its golden jubilee in Kanpur, Lucknow and Lakhimpur.
Scene from "Panditji".
Closer to Delhi, Satyam cinema in Loni played the film to houseful shows for three months, while halls like Alka in Noida, Moti, Aakash and others attracted so much crowd that the film became not just a hit but a trendsetter - it opened the floodgates for other Bhojpuri films like "Daroga Babu I Love You", "Ganga Ke Paar Saiyan Hamaar", "Saachi Peeratiya Hamar", "Bandhan Tootey Na", "Humta Ho Gayi Na Tohar", and "Panditji, Batai Na Biyah Kab Hoi".
Rani or Sabiha is not the only one making hay while the sun shines on this new sunshine industry. Her co-star Tiwari, a singer in a Gorakhpur restaurant until "Sasura... " struck gold, has just signed a film with liquor baron Vijay Mallya. With hits like "Daroga... " under his belt and "Dharti Putra" with Tinu Verma lined up, Tiwari, the Amitabh Bachchan of Bhojpuri cinema, has little chance of going back to his humble origins. And the man whose appearance on the silver screen at a press show in New Delhi elicited the response, "Are ee to hamar bitua hai", has struck a chord with the audiences with his simplicity.
Big B as well
Joining Tiwari and company in their success run are Ravi Kissen, a failed Hindi film hero who has just given the biggest hit of his career, "Panditji... ", Indra Kumar and Khan, besides a host of character artistes. Mushtaq Khan, Upasna Singh, Himani Shivpuri, Razzak Khan, Yunus Pervez are all there. As is, hold your breath, Amitabh Bachchan. The superstar is slated to act opposite his "Baghban" co-star Hema Malini in "Ganga". And amidst reports that Abhishek Bachchan is also being roped in, Ajay Devgan has already signed for a special appearance in "Dharti Kahe Pukaar Ke". The girls are not to be left behind. Rati Agnihotri is busy shooting for Mohanji Prasad's "Maa Baap Ko Mat Bhuliye" while Juhi Chawla takes time out for "Dulhaniya Chalal Sasural". Just like Hrishitaa Bhatt, Rinku Ghosh...
And Nagma, out of work down South, out of demand in Mumbai, has got a lifeline with the super hit "Panditji... ". Says Prasad, who produced the film, "Stars are ready to act in Bhojpuri films because they are wrapped up quickly. There is a start-to-finish schedule and they get paid faster."
Scene from "Sasura".
While most Bhojpuri films have been made on a shoestring budget of up to Rs.40 lakhs - hardly sufficient to sign any leading Bollywood star - things are changing. Popular singer Udit Narayan shot his home production "Kab Hoi Na Gawna Hamar" in Mauritius and even used a helicopter for a sequence! Now, there are reports of films being shot in London too! Meanwhile, Ukrainian actress Tanya has just completed "Firangi Dulhaniya".
Even as Hindi films flounder at the box office, the vistas have got wider for Bhojpuri films. Some of them are attracting NRIs. And those back home are opening in places unthinkable even a year ago! This Friday, the Tiwari-Chatterji starrer "Damadji" becomes the first Bhojpuri film in Dolby DTS with a release at Paras and Janak, besides the old faithful Shiela, Moti and Aakash in the Capital.
So, how come everything with a dash of the language of Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh is clicking? The reason is "Sasura... ".
"It did excellent business and now everybody is jumping on the bandwagon. It was an eye-opener. It opened the floodgates," says Mahajan, who has released seven films over the past year. "It is like one non-vegetarian restaurant doing well, then others springing up in the neighbourhood. A hundred Bhojpuri films are being made and only 20 per cent of them reach Delhi and other metropolises."
Adds Sanjay Mehta, who released Narayan's film, "Hindi films have started appealing to the NRIs. They are urban films. And the good old routine films that formed the staple diet of cinemagoers are neglected. Films with a whiff of the soil, with some slapstick, some Dada Kondke type comedy, a mujra, a qawwali, were needed for frontbenchers. These films fill that need."
A few years ago this need was fulfilled by those bandit films starring Satnam Kaur with Dharmendra, Raza Murad and others. All the "Johrabai", "Munnibai" films did well. "It was a kind of `Mother India' script with a rape and mujra thrown in. It was a routine the audiences loved and still honour," reasons Mehta.
Now Bhojpuri films are doing what Shilpa Shetty and company did in "Shool" in the song "Dilwalon ke dil ka... main aayi UP, Bihar lootne".
Besides this earthy simplicity, these films cater to an increasingly widespread Bihari diaspora. There are some 20 crore Bhojpuri speaking people in Bihar and UP. There are migrant workers in places like Delhi, Mumbai, even Punjab. "For them is it is back to the `Nadiya Ke Paar' days," adds Mehta. Of course, tax exemption in UP helps.
Yet all this is not a new phenomenon. Way back in the 1960s there was "Ganga Maiya". Then there was "Hamar Bhauji". As were "Ganga Kinare Mora Gaon" and "Saiyan Hamar". The future is more of the same: Coming up are "Chaila Babu", "Bihar ka Chhaila, Punjab ki Laila" and a film every other week. Besides Bhojpuri dubbed versions of 1980s' Hindi films like "Budnaseeb", "Budnaam" and "Namak Halal".
Reason enough for Mehta to strike a note of caution: "There is over-exposure. Every week a new release means there is over production, and it might just die a natural death." Well, for the moment, over to "Damadji"!
ZIYA US SALAM
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