Cinema Even as the audience shows its support for substance, Bollywood continue to rely on hype and cliches. ANUJ KUMAR

T his is proving to be a year where Bollywood biggies feel that yell and sell figure on the same page while audience have unequivocally made it clear – that it won't buy trash, no matter who is across the counter. The glitzy package doesn't matter, nor do the starry ingredients. Audience is looking for “content-ment.” It could come from a sari-clad rustic beauty giving choicest of abuses. It could emanate from an autistic Muslim character offering namaaz in an open field. It could smoothly flow from a complex political saga. And it could be derived from a crazy comment on honour killing and casting couch. The point is, give it the right direction and audience is ready to go the extra mile for new vistas. It appreciated the sincerity of Karan Johar and the exuberance of debutants Abhishek Chaubey (“Ishqiya”) and Parmeet Sethi (“Badmaash Company”). But take it to the beaten path and it will push you through the exit.

Salman Khan discovered it early in the year when his ambitious project “Veer” didn't find many takers. Mani Ratnam and Hrithik Roshan must have realised by now that reputation and familiarity no longer constitute a lifeline at the box office.

As stars fail to carry a weak vehicle past the winning line, their exorbitant fees become questionable. Yes, a gag-filled “Housefull” can still work but the film's semi-hit status put a lid on director Sajid Khan's pompous predictions before the release. In fact, of the 80-odd Hindi films released in the first six months, only six passed the box office test with grace marks. Only “Raajneeti” got the distinction of being marked as a hit in the real sense of the term. Anurag Kashyap says Prakash Jha film's success should help in clearing industry's notions about what the audience wants. “Pundits described it as a serious film which is too expensive to recover its cost.” The film managed to bridge the class-mass divide and gave hope to filmmakers who don't fall in the water tight compartments of romance and comedy.

Interestingly, for the first time we found critics and audience largely on same frequency. It can queue up for “Love Sex Aur Dhoka”, where even film journalists didn't know the name of the lead actors. The tag of a Dibakar Banerjee film and a well-directed marketing campaign was enough to evoke response for the small budget film dealing with voyeurism with unhinged maturity.

On the other hand Mani's “Raavan” and Hrithik's “Kites” were the most eagerly awaited films of the first half but a hackneyed script proved a complete mismatch for the humungous hype. That these two big budget vehicles failed to take a start prove that the spark plug that the corporate giants promised to the film industry is seriously clogged.

Actor-director Satish Kaushik says they are not concerned with the content of the film. “For them it is just an avenue for their branding with the choicest of stars. They keep misleading the media by quoting figures of gross income from a film.”

Unprecedented measures were tried to make the audience queue up at the box office. Sometimes it worked as in the case of “My Name Is Khan” where a brazen attempt was made to merge the reel and the real. Shah Rukh Khan proved that he could match Aamir Khan when it comes to raise the media frenzy.

Hype – a double-edged sword

Similarly Prakash Jha astutely played his cards by keeping the audience guessing between Mahabharat and dynastic politics. By the time the audience realised the two meant the same, Jha was already on his way to the bank.

However, publicists can no longer play the Pied Piper as the audience is no longer a monolith. In fact, hype is proving to be a double-edged sword which if left unchecked could devour the product. “Kites” is a classic example, where at first some revealing shots of Barbara Mori and Hrithik Roshan were apparently leaked and later the PR battery tried to put Indian critics under pressure by releasing some glowing reviews from foreign papers just before the release. But nobody told the unsuspecting audience and distributors that the Censor-certified Hindi film is largely not in Hindi but in Spanish and English. It shows Bollywood's increasing contempt for the hinterland audience. Similarly Leena Yadav's “Teen Patti” proved to be a no show. So was Vivek Oberoi's “Prince”. Ram Gopal Varma's “Rann” fared better but could not win the box office battle. “Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge” found an opening in the heart of people looking for some moments of unalloyed fun. Sometimes lack of publicity could be an issue as Chandan Arora must have discovered after the failure of his gritty “Striker”. Similarly Shyam Benegal's “Well Done Abba” got good grades only from critics.

In the first half Bollywood coughed up a loss of around Rs.300-400 crores, but it doesn't prevent it from working at a feverish pace. The change is showing at least in titles. “I Hate Love Storys” has opened well and the next half has plenty of options for the audience looking for variety, more young directors and Akshay Kumar. The actor has at least four films scheduled in the coming months. Variety comes with Aamir Khan's home production “Peepli Live”, a satirical take on the rural-urban divide. Then there is “Tere Bin Laden”, a funny take on Osama syndrome. Milan Lutharia and Vipul Shah are going into retro mood with “Once Upon A Time In Mumbai” and “Action Replayy”. In between Akshay Kumar will fight corruption in Priyadarshan's light-hearted “Khatta Meetha” which marks the entry of southern siren Trisha.

Biopic could be the next big thing as Tigmanshu Dhulia returns with “Paan Singh Tomar” and Ram Gopal Varma tries to resurrect his image with “Rakt Chartira”. Sanjay Leea Bhansali also has a point or two to prove with “Guzaarish”. Rohit Shetty will continue to keep his Diwali appointment with “Golamaal 3”. If all goes well this year Farah Khan will sum up the proceedings with “Tees Maar Khan”. Though Akshay stars in the film, but as far as film trade goes only Aamir Khan is looking the right candidate for the title!