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|July 19, 2001||
Once considered the pulse of Indian cinema, the Hindi film industry seems to be churning out films catering to urban tastes.
With Hindi films getting increasingly sidelined in centre where regional cinema has a hold, films like Pyaar Tune Kya Kiya, Kasoor, Love Ke Liye Kuch Bhi Karega, Lagaan, Aks and the forthcoming Dil Chahta Hai are casting a serious doubt over the Hindi film industry's all-India appeal.
For a country where 70 per cent of its one billion plus population resides in villages, the Hindi film industry has been churning out more and more urban-oriented films. From candy floss romances to slick psychological thrillers, the treatment is far removed from the wide and earthy appeal of films like the 1975 blockbuster Sholay.
While critics may argue that Lagaan brought the village back on celluloid, the reality is producer-actor Aamir Khan found it hard to sell the film in the interiors.
The Made for Urbanites label is writ large on each and every frame of debutant director Rakesh Omprakash Mehra's July 13 release Aks.
Similar apprehensions seem to haunt the forthcoming Dil Chahta Hai, starring Aamir Khan, Akshaye Khanna and Saif Ali Khan. The three actors sport "cool, hip and happening" looks with hairdos and attitudes to match.
That is not all. In keeping with the urban theme, a number of off-screen crew of Dil Chahta Hai are sporting the scalp-revealing close crops. They include debutant producer Ritesh Sidhwani and first-time director Farhan Akhtar.
In 2001, only Gadar - Ek Prem Katha has made it to the super-duper all-India hit category.
Lagaan and Mujhe Kucch Kehna Hai have done well but not raked in the moolah like Gadar.
Indian distributors say the Hindi film market within the country has been dwindling. With a drastic fall in the frequency of hits, there are fewer takers for Hindi cinema, especially in centres like Andhra Pradesh, Assam, West Bengal, Karnataka, Kerala, Orissa and Tamil Nadu, where regional cinema dominates the marquee.
Aamir had to assert repeatedly that though his film had a lot of English dialogues and a slick look, it is a film for the masses and not just the classes, before he could find takers in rural centres.
The 1990s were the time of 'exotic travelogues'. Though most of them were shot at foreign locales, they still were rooted in India with subjects that even villagers could relate to.
With the new millennium, however, Hindi cinema seems keen on experimentation.
And with it has come a new breed of artistes willing to take up themes that are alien to the rural Indian.
Hotshot director Subhash Ghai too seems to have taken the bait. Of his latest film, Yaadein, he says: "The characters are modern, not filmi."
Another pointer to the urban trend is the fact that Ghai's last two films, Pardes and Taal, were bigger hits abroad. They did good business in India, but they raked in profits on foreign soil.
"Filmmakers are targeting urban and overseas audiences at the cost of rural India. So we have more films targeting urbanites than those with wider appeal," complains a theatre owner.
Perhaps the new breed of technicians and directors, who critics hail as harbingers of Hindi cinema's new image, are partly to blame for the corrosion of the industry's all-India appeal.
But as long as the films rake in the big bucks, film distributors and producers are not complaining. That a large number of Hindi films which fared poorly in India did well abroad is reason enough for them to smile especially when they convert the figures into Indian currency.
Lagaan, for example, has turned out to be Aamir's biggest hit in the US.
Not just overseas Indians, but even the local populace is thronging to see dreamy romances with Indian stars, observers say.
In fact, according to some critics, Lagaan is doing for Indian films what Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon did for Chinese films.
Apart from the US and the UK -- traditional overseas markets for Indian films -- these films have done well in the West Indies, African countries, New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Mauritius.
The films have not just done well -- star-crazy fans also clamour to buy exorbitantly priced tickets to see stage shows featuring Indian stars.
This craze persists despite the fact that this 'new Bollywood' is yet to produce groundbreaking cinema.
At present, the Hollywood-inspired form cloaks stories that may be departures from the ordinary but are hardly classics.
Trade observers say cinegoers, especially in South India, don't find Bombay films any better than the regional fare. Even more so as the last few Hindi hits -- like Mujhe Kucch Kehna Hai, Hamara Dil Aapke Paas Hai, Viraasat and Hera Pheri -- are remakes of superhit Telugu and Malayalam films.
Indo-Asian News Service
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