Small budget films are back... or are they?

By Subhash K. Jha, Indo-Asian News Service

imageMumbai, (IANS) Small budget films seem to be back in business. But it remains to be seen how profitable these Rs.20-25 million films are, given that most releases in the past few weeks have failed to excite audiences.

UTV, which has so far released biggies like "Lakshya" and "Swades", is now looking at a nominal 40-print release of "Main, Meri Patni Aur Woh", a romantic comedy featuring the scene-stealing character-actor Rajpal Yadav in the lead that released Friday.

"If they break even with the film, UTV will be happy," says Yadav.

But breaking even, too, has become a major issue thanks to the ongoing spate of films big and small that are being rejected outright.

While the last big film, Yashraj Films' "Salaam Namaste" has already garnered an accumulated box office collections of $1.10 million in Britain, $1.14 million in the US and Canada and $517,000 in Australia (the highest ever in the country) within three weeks of its release, the films that followed have been incredibly disastrous.

In the past few weeks, Ram Gopal Varma's "James" and Romesh Sharma's "Dil Jo Bhi Kahey" introducing Mohit Ahlawat and Karan Sharma respectively, have been greeted half-heartedly by the audience.

The avalanche of small films by first-time directors - Sanjay Daima's "Ramji Londonwale", Aditya Datt's "Aashiq Banaya Aapne", Kannika Varma's "Dansh", Bappaditya Roy's "Sau Jhooth Ek Sach", Ruchi Narain's "Kal", P. Jitendra's "Meri Aashiqui" (a boringly belated attempt to resurrect the long-forgotten "Aashiqui" star Rahul Roy's career) are some of the films that sank without a trace in the last two weeks.

Last week there were as many as seven releases. "Rain" and "Kasak", the latter bringing back the Pakistani bore of an actress Meera, got the lowest box office collections ever.

Assamese director Jahnu Barua's elegiac and elegant "Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara" garnered decent collections thanks to the distributors Yashraj Films' astute marketing and the Gandhian theme and the presence of Urmila Matondkar who is perceived as a saleable star.

The overall picture at the box office has been pretty gloomy in the post-monsoon season.

Says Patna exhibitor Roshan Singh: "Nothing seems to be working. Even 'Salaam Namaste' which, I believe, is a smash success overseas isn't as hot as Yashraj Films' 'Bunty Aur Babli' or 'Hum Tum' in India.

"As for the rest of the films released in the last few weeks, the less said the better. Most of them, including 'Dil Jo Bhi Kahey' which starred the mega-star Amitabh Bcahchan, didn't even get an opening."

One small film which has pulled through the gloomy season of duds is debutant director Vivek Agnihotri's "Chocolate". In spite of a dense plot and undecipherable characterisations the film has done decently well in some centres. It won't be a loser.

As for the other so-called multiplex films, the collections have been so low as to make the marketing experts rethink the whole concept of niche marketing.

How much more niche can a film get than Deepak Balraj Vij's "Mumbai Godfather" or Jairaj Padmanabhan's "U Bomsi 'N Me?" These blink-and-vamoose releases flickered so feebly, audiences didn't even know when they came and went!