By Priyanka Khanna
New Delhi, March 2 (IANS) While the quality of films released so far in 2008 is several notches higher than the usual Bollywood fare, commercial success evaded most with "Jodhaa Akbar" emerging as a ray of hope.
The Hrithik Roshan-Aishwarya Rai starrer started slow but business picked up in spite of controversies about it raging in different parts of the country. It is now the sole source of optimism as the trade enters the traditional slow phase.
Interestingly, Aishwarya was also part of "Guru" which released at the same time last year and was the only hit in the first quarter of the year. Much like the Mani Ratnam film, the Ashutosh Gowarikar romantic historical started in the range of 40 percent in the morning shows, but the collections have been improving ever since.
The film is likely to be a pan-India success with it doing roaring business in small towns as well as multiplexes. And money has been pouring in from overseas sectors.
The removal of the ban on the film in Madhya Pradesh will help the film further. It hogged national headlines before release owing to a controversy over its content that erupted in Rajasthan.
"After a long time, Bollywood has been able to connect with audiences from all classes. It is heartening to see cinema hall owners in small towns are making handmade posters to promote the film," said a trade observer.
At smaller centres the collections were in the range of 20 to 30 percent but an upward trend has been seen following favourable audience response. Money has been pouring in from overseas markets as well with the film starting with a bang in Britain.
Business had turned cold before "Jodhaa Akbar" hit the screens. The intense cold weather deterred audiences from going to cinemas though the films on offer had strong contents and performances. These included "Super Star" and "Mithya" which garnered great reviews.
Following the trend set by "Om Shanti Om", both films looked inwards and gave a peek into the world of filmmaking. But "Super Star" tried to bite more than it could chew by trying to say too many things at once.
Though the film got a good opening, never an easy task for a film without established stars, it could not live up to audience expectations. The Ranvir Shorey-starrer "Mithya", on the other hand, had many layers but was a story told simply.
The film enjoyed better reports and has done well in multiplexes, once again reaffirming faith in films with solid content.
"Rama Rama Kya Hai Dramaaa" tried to strike a chord with single screen theatres and also at non-metros but it could not withstand the onslaught of "Jodhaa Akbar".
Ajay Devgan opened his account early this year with two films releasing in the first month of the year itself. "Halla Bol" and "Sunday" released in January.
Like most of Rajkumar Santoshi's films, "Halla Bol" had its heart in the right place but could not make much mullah. Similarly, "Sunday" had great promos and a cast packed with actors known for their acting and comic prowess but failed to charm audiences. Ajay will be seen again soon in "U Me Aur Hum" opposite real life wife Kajol.
The year had started with "Halla Bol" releasing alongside "My Name Is Anthony Gonsalves" by commercially successful director E. Niwas. Both films opened to poor houses so expecting a miraculous pick up in business was ruled out. But the makers did break even.
One of the biggest disappointments of this year so far was Nagesh Kukonoor's "Bombay To Bangkok". The director who is credited for delightful small budget films this time got all the money he needed from Subhash Ghai but failed to strike a chord.
Traditionally, filmmakers try not to release too many films in the first quarter of the year because school examinations are held across the country at this time. But this time, the year started with "Return of Hanuman", a film targeting children.
The gamble paid off and the filmmakers made a neat profit. They have already sold its rights, shunning all apprehensions about the first quarter being a bad month for family films.
Another film made with children as the focus - "Taare Zameen Par" - continues to do good business, regardless of the exam season.
Month of March will be a lean period for Bollywood. The lone big release is Saif Ali Khan, Akshaye Khanna, Bobby Deol starrer "Race". The action flick has three hot female actors - Katrina Kaif, Bipasha Basu and Sameera Reddy.
The music of the film is already topping the charts and is a big hit with party crowds. The film marks the return of masters of suspense, director duo Abbas and Mastan.
But before that, Subhash Ghai will unveil "Black & White" starring Anil Kapoor, Shefali Shah and debutant actor Anurag. Ghai helmed the direction of a film after a long gap. But the hype usually associated with a Ghai-directed film is missing, owing to the serious subject of the film. As a result, it will be up to "Race" to keep the money flowing into the film industry at top gear.