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Money

Subhash K Jha

"I'm a man , Iíll not be led," quotes the self-confessed atheist Kamal Haasan.

Kamal Haasan and Vasundhara Das in Hey! Ram Here's a Kamal Haasan anecdote. Remember you heard it here first: At one time this never-say-day creative creature (if man is a social animal, Kamal Haasan is a lion king) planned to make a short film, Lead On Gandhi.

The film strove to trace the evolution of the bullet that killed Mahatma -- from Italy to the Gwalior museum, then to the lead factory. The entire film was meant to be a montage of guns sounds and voices.

"Finally, on the operation table, when the bullet is removed from the Mahatmaís body, a piece of it goes missing. It ends up in a
scrapyard. Then we see something cooking in a lead pot while the radio blares on messages about Independent India. I couldnít make this film. But thatís where Hey! Ram was born."

Today, Kamal Haasan is a much relieved man. Unlike Hey! Ram which, like most exquisite cinematic art (be it Guru Dutt's Kagaz Ke Phool or Raj Kapoorís Mera Naam Joker) shall get its due recognition only in retrospect, Abhay has been cleared by the censor board with an A certificate and minimal cuts.

Gracy Singh and Aamir Khan in Lagaan Now, the audience has a fair, non-mutilated chance to look at a film that promises to further break cinematic ground and reduce the chasm between entertainment and creativity like three other recent films: Lagaan, Gadar - Ek Prem Katha and Dil Chahta Hai have done.

Kamal Haasan has constantly been flirting with form, cohabiting with content to create cinema which demolishes all established norms and sneers at the sacred cows of filmmaking. Dogma goes to the dogs when this man gets to work.

In his own way, Rajkumar Santoshi has also been breaking barriers between the Big and the Meaningful.

Only, in his case, the cost factor outruns his creative vision. Everyone in Bombay wants to know where the Rs 270-odd million that Santoshi spent on Lajja has gone. Considering he shot most of his film at the cost-effective Ramoji Rao Studios in Hyderabad, the bulk of that mammoth budget must have gone into paying the stars.

Manisha, Madhuri, Mahima and Rekha in Lajja When you have six major stars in your cast, you are bound to end up owing money to a lot of people in the market.

Even Kamal Haasan's Abhay has gone grossly over budget, thereby creating a huge marketing problem. The Southern distributors are willing to shell out the money the Abhay producers want for the Tamil version of the bilingual. But in the North, the price quoted for Abhay had distributors shaking their heads anxiously.

Now, thereís Shankar's Nayak, which is said to be one the costliest films ever produced. Where does the huge budget show in the film? Is the massive economic liablity justified by the end product? That is the question distributors all over the country are asking themselves as films fall like ninepins.

In Bihar, the distributors just donít find it economically feasible to shell out large fortunes to purchase films that break odd instead of even, after the first three days.

Says Suman Sinha who owns the posh Regent theatre in the heart of Patna, "A time has come when film producers would have to seriously consider different price structures for Maharashtra and Bihar. Because if Dil Chahta Hai does well in Bombay, Lajja fails there and does well in Patna.

"Mind you. It isnít just a question of Bombay and Patna. Films are peforming differently in rural and urban Maharastra, rural and urban UP/Bihar, and so on."

Anil Kapoor and Rani Mukherji in Nayak - The Real Hero Pasand Apni Apni Price Apna Apna (Our choice, our price). Is that the solution to the current crisis of polarised success in the film business? I believe it is.

As the lines dividing urban and rural audiences becomes more pronounced, films are bound to appeal selectively. A filmmaker cannot sell a Rockford or a Paanch for the same price in Hyderabad and Kolhapur (never mind if Padmini Kolhapureís husband produced both).

If a filmmaker merrily indulges in niche harkatein his product has to be priced accordingly.

A Kaho NaaÖ Pyaar Hai or a Gadar that cuts across all cultural and ethnic boundaries is likely to come along once in , maybe, two-three years.

What happens to the rest of the 600-odd films that get made in Bombay during this period? What happens to filmmakers with vision like Kamal Haasan and Rajkumar Santoshi who make films that they want to, and on their own terms?

Surely Kamal Haasan must be allowed the economic freedom to match his creativity? Surely one day in the near future, he has to make his 100-crore dream project Marudanayagam one day? But how? Every trade pundit in Mumbai will tell you it isnít cost effective.

Sure, one period film, Gadar clicked. But that doesnít mean audiences are open to embracing history unconditionally. If Gadar is huge all over the country the other pride of periodicity Lagaan wasnít so hot in Bihar.

A still from Dil Chahta Hai The non-metropolitan distribution circuit is becoming increasingly impatient with urban legends like Dil Chahta Hai and Paanch.

Even if they do shell out the astronomical price demanded by producers, they begin to arbitrarily, and brutally, cut the product down to size after they see audiencesí impatient responses on the first day.

So, essentially, viewers in Bombay and Patna watched different versions of Lagaan and Dil Chahta Hai.

In the case of the Sunny Deol starrer Pyaar Koi Khel Nahin when distributors in Bihar realised the audience hadnít reacted favourably to the end game, they turned around the climax and conclusion completely.

Is this situation acceptable to filmmakers in Bombay? Or are they willing to go that extra mile and meet exhibitors and distributors on an acceptable ground?

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