CINEMA Serious filmmakers were hit hard by global recession in the year just gone by, but 2011 holds much promise. ZIYA US SALAM

O ften removed from the media glare but not untouched by the world economics, our seasoned filmmakers have not had the best of times in the year gone by.

Wedded to their craft, holding on to their principles in the face of challenges, they have been hit hard by global recession. Many of the international projects and co-productions reported by the media have either been put in cold storage or stand cancelled. Others, duly completed, stay canned for reasons beyond the control of directors.

Welcome to the world of Shyam Benegal, Ketan Mehta and Jahnu Barua whose cherished projects could not materialise last year. Of course, 2011 might just hold out hope. Ask Goutam Ghose and Rituparno Ghosh, whose films “Maner Manush” – an Indo-Bangla co-production – and “Naukadoobi” are already making waves.

“It was a year of frustration. I was saddened at the lack of progress with my projects,” admits Shyam Benegal whose much talked about international films on Noor Inayat and Gautam Buddha got stuck due to recession, putting an end to speculation surrounding whether Hrithik Roshan will play the Buddha or Aishwarya Rai don the spy's wardrobe. “Both those films had an international canvas with producers from Europe and Sri Lanka but they were hit by recession,” rues Benegal. Quite perturbed by the goings-on of last year, he is now “superstitious” to talk of his new projects. “I am working on a couple of medium budget films now. Maybe like ‘Well Done Abba' or a little higher. I realise back home there are so many stories waiting to be told.” Benegal is working on a political satire.

But the perfectionist in him won't commit to completing the film this year. “I am not happy with the script yet,” he concedes.

Censor trouble

Ketan Mehta's case is even more curious. While Benegal's films could not materialise because of global meltdown, Mehta's completed “Rang Rasiya”, starring Nandana Sen and Randeep Hooda, could not get across to the audiences. And he was furious with the Censor board for objecting to some nudity in the film.

“It is an outdated concept,” he said. While “Rang Rasiya” relating the story of Raja Ravi Varma could not get the green signal partially due to a puritanical streak in some of our institutions, Mehta's 3-D animation “Ramayana: the Epic” got meagre returns at the box office. Better hope is being nursed by Jahnu Barua, last noted by Hindi audiences for his work “Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara”. Since then he has been away from the public glare in the Hindi belt. “It was not a conscious decision to stay away from Hindi cinema. I take time to conceive a film. I take two three years to make a film,” Barua says, then adds, “‘Har Pal' is likely to be released this year.” The film, starring Preity Zinta and Shiney Ahuja is complete and has been delayed because of the court case following allegations of criminal assault made against Ahuja. “The delay gives me a lot of lessons. I would have liked the film to be released earlier. But the producer has put in his money. He would like to release the film at an appropriate time.” Appropriate time means when the final decision is made in the court case! That might mean a long wait for “Har Pal”! Meanwhile, this year Barua is working on a couple of projects. “Both are my own stories. I am likely to begin shooting around July this year. I will shoot mainly in India. Partly the film will be shot in the North-east.”

Mehta too is not sitting ruing his luck. He is working on “a historical with an international canvas” and a science thriller.

Hope beckons

If Benegal and company have endured a frustrating 2010, the year 2011 might just change things for serious filmmakers. Proof came late last year itself. Goutam Ghose's “Maner Manush”, relating the story of Lallan Fakir managed a simultaneous India-Bangladesh release and was greeted with a warm reception at the box office.

“I am thrilled at the response. The film has created a bit of history,” says Ghose, adding, “now we are releasing it in Delhi and other places too.”

The film, which won the Golden Peacock at the International Film Festival of India last year, is likely to open to multiplex audience in metropolises later this month. And soon shall have Rituparno Ghosh's “Naukadoobi”, based on a short story of Rabindranath Tagore, for company. “We are targeting release around Tagore's anniversary,” says Subhash Ghai, the film's producer.

So, hold on to the obituaries of serious cinema. The past year might just be hiccup. The real drink is just round the corner. So drink something new in 2011.