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Commoner calls the shots

Some of them were slow starters that went on to reap rich dividends, while a few began with a fantastic initial draw, only to withdraw without a whimper very soon. Be that as it may, the final fate of the Hindi films of the year that was, was decided as always, by the man in the street, observes ZIYA US SALAM.

Karan Johar's much hyped film... ``Kabhi Kushi Kabhie Gham''.

KARAN JOHAR'S much-hyped ``Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham'' may have been produced at an estimated cost of Rs. 35 crores. It may even have taken a phenomenal initial at the box office but there is no telling yet of the film's final fate. Not for another few weeks at least. For in Bollywood, it is the box office regulars who reign supreme.

Big names, big budget films, mega blockbusters all come and go. But it is the fickle-minded audience which decides which film rakes in the moolah and which lands its producers and distributors in the red. It is this presiding deity which tells you that an odd ball ``Junglee Tarzan'' is a more viable bet at the turnstiles than a star-studded ``Tera Mera Saath Rahen", an anonymous ``Tum Bin'' a commission earner while Amitabh Bachchan's stylish ``Aks'' is a loser from the first week. The age-old phenomenon of the cine-goer defying all trends, mocking at all predictions and scoffing at all names was manifest in the past year all over again.

What's more, the Bollywood big guns failed to come up with anything that will get approval of cine-goers across the country. Films, which did remarkably well in Mumbai and Hyderabad, came a cropper in North and East India. Others minted money in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar but failed to get cinema halls in Jammu and Bijapur. The divisions came to the fore even within the cities, with some films doing well in the expensive multiplexes but failing to win the favour of suburban viewers. And only a couple of films — Ashutosh Gowariker's ``Lagaan'' and Anil Sharma's``Gadar: Ek Prem Katha''— came anywhere close to being hits in all the circuits. Even there, while ``Lagaan'' kissed the silver jubilee mark with elan in Mumbai, Hyderabad and Kolkata — at five, two and one hall respectively — it failed to find as many takers even in the upmarket section of Delhi.

The film opened tremendously well in mid-June but by the end of the month, the feeling in Delhi was: ``Gadar'' is a better bet. The prediction proved right, with the Sunny Deol-starrer completing a 100-day run at cinema halls, which normally change the fare every Friday.

Hence, we had the spectacle of Lokesh, Janak, Swarn and Seble cinema halls playing ``Gadar'' to full houses for weeks while ``Lagaan", soon after it had completed 100 days, had to settle for a morning show slot in the hall owned by its distributor.

The Kamal Hassan starrer "Abhay" opened well in Mumbai, but Delhi did not even see its release.

However, down in Mumbai, Karnataka and Hyderabad, the story was different. Here ``Gadar'', for all the controversy it generated in places like Bhopal, Ajmer and Ahmedabad, failed to find as receptive an audience. And the distributors of ``Lagaan'' laughed all the way to the bank.

The scenario was recreated with Farhan Akhtar's ``Dil Chahta Hai'' and Madhur Bhandarkar's ``Chandni Bar". While Farhan's film did exceptionally well in the metropolises and big cities across the country, it failed to impress the audience in relatively smaller centres like Moradabad, Bijapur, Jalgaon, Puri and Guntur.

Tabu's critically-acclaimed saga of the life of bar girls,``Chandni Bar", had a superb response in Mumbai and Hyderabad but did not do as well in places like Delhi, Agra and Amritsar. While the film opened with more than 90 per cent collection in Mumbai and 100 per cent in Hyderabad, it garnered a mere 33 per cent in Delhi where it failed to find a centrally-located hall in the first week. By the fifth week, while the film was still raking in decent numbers down South, it collected a mere 10 per cent in Ahmedabad and was losing out in the sweepstakes in Delhi even in comparison to the repeat run of Mithun Chakraborty's flop fare, ``Jeevan Yudh"! In Kanpur, it did worse than C-grade flicks like ``Nasheeli Aankhen'' and ``Joshili Laila". Similarly, Priyadarshan's ``Yeh Tera Ghar, Yeh Mera Ghar'' collected over 70 per cent in the Bombay territory and 95 per cent in Bhopal, but less than 50 per cent in Tamil Nadu and Kerala and only 33 per cent in Delhi. Gautam Menon's``Rehna Hai Tere Dil Mein", which was supposed to sky-rocket R. Madhavan to the hearts of Hindi belt crowd, had a tepid opening everywhere but remarkably picked up by the third week! Still here too the discrepancy was too apparent to be ignored. While it notched a mere 17 per cent in Delhi, it did better in Hyderabad where it mustered 63 per cent.

A little later, in the second case of Sunny Deol taking on a Khan — after pitting his prowess with Aamir in ``Lagaan''— ``Indian'' and ``Asoka'' were positioned opposite each other for a simultaneous release. This time, though, there were no conclusive winners. Santosh Sivan's ``Asoka'' with a fine, restrained performance from Shah Rukh, opened with cent per cent collection in Pune and only marginally less in Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Hyderabad. But it was a non-starter in Delhi and Bhopal.

``Indian", on the other hand, garnered only 80 per cent in Mumbai and less than 70 per cent in Ahmedabad. But it pipped ``Asoka'' in Ajmer where 100 per cent attendance greeted N. Maharajan's film, and in Delhi, where the audience, though not as enthusiastic as they were for ``Gadar", came in droves initially, giving the film a head start.

At the same time, in Western Uttar Pradesh's Bareilly town, ``Asoka'' was a poor loser even to ``Kasam", another Sunny-starrer which was launched about 14 years ago and managed to find exhibitors mainly due to the current craze for Sunny Deol. While ``Kasam'' collected more than Rs. 70,000,``Asoka" had to settle for around 20,000!

"Chandni Bar" ... this acclaimed saga of bar girls did make an impact.

The recent Diwali, the bleakest in many, many years, according to film director-turned producer Mahesh Bhatt, did not have great news for Bollywood dream merchants. Rather it re-confirmed the view that, like life, you can please only a handful people at a time. And you can never please all the people at the same time.

Vashu Bhagnani's ``Deewaanapan", which was released on a Thursday — in stead of the usual Friday — to capitalise on the festive mood, only ended up proving the lack of sensibility in the decision. The distributors rushed in haste to lick their wounds at leisure. Tanuja Chandra-Mahesh Bhatt's ``Yeh Zindagi Ka Safar'' and Mahesh Manjrekar's ``Tera Mera Saath Rahen'' were also routed in the aftermath of Diwali crackers. Interestingly, while the three films did reasonably well in Mumbai, they were absolute non-starters in Andhra Pradesh, Bengal and Rajasthan.

``Deewaanpan''started with around 80 per cent in Mumbai but elsewhere the slide began before the film could find its feet. In Delhi, it collected a mere 24 per cent. In U.P. and M.P., it was slightly better.

The fate of Amisha Patel's ``Yeh Zindagi Ka Safar'' and Ajay Devgan's ``Tera Mera....'' was worse. In Jaipur, ``Safar'' lost at the box office to films like ``Hawas Ki Aag'' and ``Arjun Devaa"! In Delhi it got a mere 21 per cent in the first week. ``Tera Mera....", Manjrekar's attempt at portraying the plight of a cerebral palsy patient, attracted a mere 18 per cent in Delhi and a little over 50 per cent in Mumbai.

Similar was the case with Kamal Haasan's ``Abhay'', which opened well in Mumbai and Nizam territories but was a losing proposition elsewhere. An action film, it was not released in Delhi where there is a captive audience for such films. Interestingly, even within a territory, in fact, within a city, films tended to do better in one section than the other.

For instance, ``Chandni Bar'' did better in the upmarket halls of Hyderabad and Delhi but did not impress the less-attractive halls' patrons. Even Mithun Chakraborty's ``Arjun Devaa'' did better in a hall like Moti, located in the Walled City of Delhi, but sank miserably in posh Connaught Place in the first week. So the message from the big screen is: Dream big, make bigger films but it is the small town man who often calls the shots. What's good for Mumbai may not be so good for Dharwad or Hardwar.

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