Vidya Balan
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Bollywood: Newer ideas, rich storytelling!

By HT

What’s common to Baahubali 2: The Conclusion, Golmaal Again and Judwaa 2? Well, they are three of the biggest box office grossers of 2017 in the Hindi film world. But what’s most interesting is that not just mega blockbusters, Bollywood audiences have also lapped up content-driven cinema in a big way.
 
Passion projects
 
To start with, if Vidya Balan starrer Tumhari Sulu continues to impress cinemagoers, the year has also seen films – that featured stars but were clearly high on rich content – such as Newton, Hindi Medium, Qarib Qarib Singlle, Bareilly Ki Barfi, Shubh Mangal Saavdhan (SMS) and Phillauri doing well.
 
“A film – regardless of how ‘small’ or ‘big’ it is – excites me as much. No film is small for me as it’s made with same amount of passion and hard work by an entire team. A film takes away almost one-and-a-half years of your life. So when you invest that kind of time and love, it’s like having a new baby,” says film-maker Aanand L Rai, who has backed films such as SMS, Nil Battey Sannata and the forthcoming Mukkabaaz.
 
Changing times
 
Not just films featuring well-known stars, the last few years have also seen other content-driven movies such as Ankhon Dekhi, Masaan, Aligarh and Shahid that found favour with the audiences as well as critics. The coming days will also see films such as Anurag Kashyap-directed Mukkabaaz hitting the silver screens, even as Ajji and Kadvi Hawa opens today.
 
“It’s heartening and is a sign of evolving times as far as the cinematic preferences of Indian audiences is concerned. I am happy to say that times are changing, as there are distributors and exhibitors, who encourage content-driven films and give them the right amount of exposure,” says Vikram Mehra, managing director of Saregama that has a new production house, Yoodlee Films backing a number of small, content-driven films such as Brij Mohan Amar Rahe and Ajji among others.
 
For Irrfan, the “intent of the film is extremely important.” “But what’s more important is how entertainingly the intent is played out and how it engages the audience. At this juncture of my career, I want to do films on themes that will reach to a larger audience — the kind of films that you talk about even after a few months and years of watching it,” says the actor.
 
Starry line-up
 
It’s interesting to note that of late, big Bollywood stars have also turned towards films, which are high on content. So, if Akshay Kumar has starred in films such as Airlift, Baby, Rustom and Toilet: Ek Prem Katha among others, Salman Khan starred in films like Bajrangi Bhaijaan and Tubelight.
 
Elsewhere, Ajay Devgn starred in Drishyam, while Hrithik Roshan featured in Kaabil earlier this year. Sonam Kapoor’s Neerja was also a hit, even as Alia Bhatt readies for the release of Raazi. Deepika Padukone will also be seen in Vishal Bhardwaj’s next production, to be directed by Honey Trehan.
 
“Mixing up (film choices) helps feed the actor as well as the entertainer within me. And in the recent past, I’ve been lucky with varied subjects that have come my way,” says Akshay, whose next film, Padman is based on a story written by his wife, Twinkle Khanna in her best-seller, The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad.
 
Constant evolution
 
Film-maker and actor Farhan Akhtar feels the “evolution of storytelling or any industry is a gradual process.” He says: “It doesn’t take place overnight. I think at this moment, the film industry has started feeling that there is a scarcity of ideas, so people will enter in the film industry from (different) places.”
 
Ayushmann Khurrana, Kriti Sanon and Rajkummar Rao starred in Bareilly Ki Barfi.
Historically too, the Hindi film industry has seen a mix of film choices. So, on one hand, if 70-80s were high on over-the-top entertainers by directors such as Manmohan Desai, Prakash Mehra and Ramesh Sippy, another set of directors such as Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Shyam Benegal, Govind Nihalani and Sai Paranjpye came up with films that were different but also high on content.
 
Not a cakewalk
 
But even now, attempting purely content-driven cinema isn’t a cakewalk. Vikram Mehra (of Yoodlee Films) says cinema in India is “very star driven as they ensure mass audiences.” “But small content-driven films are driven by stories and not stars. So, it becomes that much more of a challenge to promote the films. There is also the question of availability of enough screens to give such films a decent showcase. So, we have to ensure that our film gets the showcasing it needs to take to its intended audience,” he says.
 
At the same time, budgets are of paramount importance. “It’s all about smart budgeting. As the saying goes, ‘films don’t fail, budgets do.’ Prudent and strategic planning will enable marrying good content with reasonable budget, without any compromises. If we let the budgets mushroom into anything unmanageable, then that serves as a sure shot recipe for box office disaster,” says Mehra.