The flavour of Kolkata

The flavour of Kolkata
The city is known for its old alleys. One such is shot by Atanu Pal.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

The rise of Bengali neo-mainstream cinema

Which was the biggest blockbuster coming out of Tollygunge in 2015?

No prizes for guessing. It’s Belasheshe. It generated an unprecedented buzz and ran well for months. Such was its resonance from the Bengal box office that Eros – a big production and international distribution house in Mumbai picked it up and released nationally. The biggest of production houses in Kolkata acknowledged its exceptional success and its amazing ability to attract the non-Bengali audience.

(Source: The film’s Facebook page)

Now, which was the second biggest success in 2015?

The position was shared by Rajkahini and Shudhu Tomari Jonyo where the latter was an out-and-out potboiler and the only big success to boast of among so-called mainstream releases.

Cut to 2016. The same questions come back.

The numero uno was Praktan. This time it was nationally distributed in 40 centres right at the time of release in May by Eros. A smart move that paid off big time. It collected Rs 6.5 crores in the box office till the first seven days of October1.

The second biggest was Zulfiqar. Its collection crossed Rs 3 crores in 9 days flat1.

None of the movies named above (except Shudhu Tomari Jonyo) fits in with the perception of conventional Bengali mainstream cinema. However they struck a chord with a wider audience than so called alternative or urban cinema and they were lapped up by the audience week after week.

Is there a trend that has started showing?

There is. In two years on the trot a new kind of mainstream cinema overshadowed the conventional mainstream flicks that fuel the stardom of the names like Dev, Jeet and Ankush. Remakes of south Indian movies – a staple diet of Bengali mainstream cinema– are clearly losing the plot and a major success is becoming more and more elusive with passing time. None of Jeet’s movies clicked big time at least in Bengal in 2015 and 2016 (Badshah, for which he had made news with his Rs 1 crore fee reportedly did well in Bangladesh but not Bengal). Other than the saving grace - Shudhu Tomari Jonyo in 2015 Dev hasn't met with great success too in the kind of cinema that built his stardom.

The neo-mainstream cinema with good content is connecting with audiences far and wide, beyond familiar urban territories (commonly referred to in the trade as ‘Howrar opare’) and made with reasonable budgets they are leading to producers smiling all the way to the bank. They are being loved by the urban and suburban viewers, classes and masses alike.The credit for this feat goes to the respective filmmakers -Shiboprosad-Nandita of Belasheshe and Praktan and Srijit Mukherji for Rajkahini and Zulfiqar.

This genre has started adding glimmer to the pathetic state of popular Bengali cinema thanks to the dominance of poor south Indian remakes for a painfully long time. Evidently the films by Shiboprosad-Nandita and Srijit  brought back a large section of people to the theatres in Kolkata and districts (for instance, places like Baruipur and Seoraphuli) who had lost the habit of watching movies in theatres.

In terms of dimension of release too they are showing signs to be a potential game-changer. Leveraging the impact of Belasheshe, the makers of Praktan released it in 101 theatres in Bengal - unprecedented for this kind of cinema. Such was the excitement in the trade with its release that even a shut down theatre in Agarpara (north suburbs of Kolkata) re-opened with a hope of a good time screening the movie. When Zulfiqar was releasing, Srijit rued the number of theatres it was allocated vis-a-vis Gangster from the same production house. Zulfiqar got 75 theatres while Gangster got 125. When the box office results came in, Zulfiqar left the latter much behind validating the director’s wish of a longer theatre list.

If this trend of neo-mainstream cinema gets bigger in the next few years, there will be a paradigm shift in the mainstream cinema market driven by better content. It will be good for the audience as they will have a bigger and better choice of movies.

Half a dozen films are scheduled to release this year which can be categorized in this genre, made by directors like Shiboprosad-Nandita, Kaushik Ganguly, Srijit and Anik Dutta (of Bhooter Bhobishyot fame). Looking forward to see if they are able to fan the trend and make it bigger and stronger. 

The role the audience can play in this scenario is spreading the word about the movies before and after release in their own circles including social media. Audience contribution in raising awareness can be critical in the success of this kind of cinema. There are cinema groups and pages dedicated to Bangla cinema on Facebook where they can participate. We the Audience is one such group. This will surely help this trend bloom into a major change.

1. Ei Samay, 9th October 2016

#TollyDiaries #BanglaCinema           

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