What makes filmmakers such as Anurag Kashyap, Nishikanth Kamat, Dibakar Banerjee and Sriram Raghavan take a detour from realistic cinema to strike the commercial route?
“Realistic cinema and commercial cinema are not anti each other. There are probably as many bad arty films as there are bad commercial films,” says Sriram Raghavan, when quizzed on whether independent filmmakers are under pressure to make films that sell. Sriram, who has made noteworthy films such as Johnny Gaddaar and Ek Hasina Thi, recently helmed the Saif-Kareena starrer Agent Vinod which failed to work at the box office, though it was praised for excelling in certain parts.
Elaborating on why he chose a big banner, big budget and fancy locations, the director says, “I made Agent Vinod simply because I love the spy genre and there had not been such a thriller in Hindi cinema for a long time. There are so many kinds of spy stories. I love the serious spy films such as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Munich and Syriana. But Agent Vinod is a fun title so we deliberately chose to go with a simple story and focus on sequences.”
Sriram is one among his many contemporaries for whom ‘commercial’ is no longer a bad word. Making money has become an integral part of filmmaking, realistic cinema or otherwise. Why else would a filmmaker like Anurag Kashyap pitch his film Gangs Of Wasseypur, set in the coal mines of Dhanbad in Jharkhand, as a commercial “item film”? What compelled the National Award-winning director of films such as Dombivali Fast and Mumbai Meri Jaan, Nishikant Kamat, to remake the Tamil film Khakha Khakha as Force or the thinking director, Dibakar Banerjee, to include an item song in his serious political thriller, Shanghai?
“The stakes are way too high in the industry to make self-indulgent cinema,” says a film actor-producer, who wishes to remain unnamed. “When Khosla Ka Ghosla was made, it almost petered out unceremoniously from the theatres, till television renewed interest in it. Now, if a Kahaani makes money, even if it is not a mainstream film, it is because effort has gone into marketing it right and promoting it as a big entertaining movie,” he adds.
Anurag Kashyap canvassed his latest film Gangs Of Wasseypur as an 'item film'. That's supposed to mean a masala entertainer. “Gangs Of Wasseypur is my first no-holds-barred all-out mainstream commercial film albeit without ‘stars'. It's funny and it's sad and it has full-on action,” Anurag has been quoted as saying. Coming from a filmmaker who has made realistic cinema such as Black Friday and dark indie films such as Dev. D, The Girl In Yellow Boots, No Smoking and Gulal, this definitely is a surprise. He has reportedly spent a whopping Rs. 15 crore on his 300-plus actors!
Anurag’s next movies as a producer are a romantic comedy and a gourmet comedy — Aiyaa and Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana respectively. Aiyaa, which he has co-produced with Viacom 18, stars Rani Mukherjee and is the story of a Maharashtrian girl who falls in love with a man because he smells good and goes about wooing him! Rani has reportedly shot for not one or two but three item songs for the film. Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana, his co-production with UTV starring Kunal Kapoor, is being promoted as India’s first ever ‘food’ movie and has an obvious Punjabi connection and a secret Chicken Khurana recipe. What either of these films doesn’t have is the patent Anurag Kashyap mood. Big actors and song-and-dance pieces in an Anurag Kashyap film?
Directors disagree that making business sense means their creativity and independence go out of the window. Speaking about Agent Vinod vis-à-vis his earlier critically-acclaimed films, Sriram says, “Both Johnny Gaddaar and Ek Hasina Thi were smaller films and didn't need huge budgets. If the budget of a film is high, there is the responsibility of getting the money back. For example, in Agent Vinod I tried to ensure the violence was not gory, simply because the film was aimed at kids. And I didn't want an Adults-only rating. I think kids loved the movie more than most adults. I remember seeing Where Eagles Dare when I was 12 or so. I didn't understand the story but I loved watching the film,” emphasising that the film’s reins were in his hands (and not in lead actor and producer Saif’s, as was being reported constantly when Agent Vinod was underway).
Trade analyst Amod Mehra does not endorse this view. “What’s a commercial film? To me, it means one that has romance, drama, comedy, action and all the formula stuff that we can think of. If these filmmakers think that they can envelop an art film with songs and sell it as commercial cinema, they are mistaken. When Nishikant tried something like Force, the makers will tell you that contrary to market perception, they lost money on it. We all know what happened to Agent Vinod. Everyone wants to lure the audience into the theatres so ‘masala’ or ‘item’ are the best-selling words to promote their product. Personally, I think filmmakers who make parallel or art or realistic cinema, whatever you may call it, should continue doing only that. Venturing into commercial space is making them clearly uncomfortable. The producers’ pulls and pressures are too difficult to handle, making even a man like Dibakar include an item dance!” he concludes.