Thursday, December 07, 2006

Bollywood in town

The copy in the local website last week was something interesting.
“Dhoom-2 created box-office history in Kerala. In its opening weekend (Nov 24-26) the film has netted an amazing Rs 40.40 lakhs from 19 screens in Kerala! In Kochi at Sridhar and Padma it has netted a record, Rs 6.08 lakhs. At Kottayam Abhilash- a new record has been set for a Hindi film with Rs 2.43 lakhs net in three days! Even in small stations like Attingal Gowri and Kanjangad Vinayak the three-day net is more than Rs 1.20 lakhs! The youth of Kerala are simply loving the movie and enjoying it.”

I saw the pirated version of the movie; the gimmicks are worth watching in big screen. I remember my childhood, when viewing Hindi movies was limited to the weekly shows in Doordarshan. The usual dose of technicolour flicks, with award winning movies on Sundays and an occasional Anil Kapoor/Sanjay Dutt/Jackie Shroff starrer.

Theaters were not better options either. Not just because I was a kid, but Hindi movies came to theatres very late. With a few, and at times no takers at all, those were used as fillers in between two Malayalam movies. The screen life ranged from three to five days and, for some very popular prints, one week.

The only theatrical release of a Hindi movie that aroused some attention among the then youth was the 1993 release Dhartiputra; that too because the movie was a Mammootty starrer. And we had to be satisfied with a badly subtitled version, titled Jailor, a late release late in Kerala.

Before that, I think Sholay was the only Hindi film that aroused some interest in the youth. I remember Unni maman (maternal uncle) proudly saying, “I saw it on 70mm screen,” when we were watching it on TV. The 1975 release was the nation’s first 70mm movie. The print came to Kollam five years later, and was shown in the only 70mm screen in the town. That was a time when the old brigade of Malayalam heroes headed by Prem Nazir was turning unpalatable for the younger crop of moviegoers.

However, we used to get a regular dose of new Hindi songs through Chitrhaar every Wednesday. I still remember the II standard days when we used to rock the classroom, singing the chartbuster “Chumma Chumma De De…” (Hum, 1991) in our broken Hindi. “Tu cheezh badi hai mast mast..” (Mohra, 1994) was a hit in Kollam too, but the movie came to town the day after our cable network showed the video – original!

The gap between the Mumbai premier and the regional shows decreased with the coming years. Even then, the two three Kerala prints went to the local metros Kozhikode, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram. Hindi movies were fillers still.

During a strike called by the movie exhibitors’ association in town back in 1995, they refused to release new movies. The running movies were making profit, except in one theater. They had no other choice but to bring in a filler to attract the youth. Thus Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! (1994) came to town, after it’s golden jubilee run in the North Indian circuit.

The coming years saw the advent of cable TV. Hindi channels popularised new releases in almost all towns. Increase in the sales of audiocassettes was the first sign. Rangeela (1995), Raja Hindustani (1996), Gupt (1997) etc charted noteworthy sales figures in the state. And with AR Rahman music conquering Bollywood and the younger generation being regularly fed by the music channels, takers for Hindi films increased. Dil Se (1998) and Taal (1999) had tremendous audio sales. But premier shows still eluded my town.

The first premier show in Kollam came in 2000, when Fiza made its way to Pranavam Theatre; and that too because the scheduled Onam release couldn’t make it that month. Fiza had a comparatively neat run of two weeks, an effect of the hype created after the phenomenal success of Kaho Naa… Pyar Hai earlier that year. Even Kaho Naa… came weeks late, though it had a better collection than Fiza.

That year’s Diwali releases Mission Kashmir and Mohabbatein had three first-day prints in Kerala. Pirated CDs, to an extent, also contributed to the popularity of Hindi movies. Though movies such as Devdas (2002), Munna Bhai MBBS (2003) and Murder (2004) etc didn’t make big in the Kerala screens, they had good video circulation. The Ram Gopal Varma masterpiece Company (2002), even with the towering prescence of Malayalam superstar Mohanlal, could manage only 20 days in Kollam, but the pirate CDs were well circulated.

I saw a Hindi movie in theatre for the first time in June 30, 2003. Bhoot, the Ram Gopal Varma movie came to Kollam exactly a month after its national premier. Till then, Hindi movies targeted mainly college students, resulting in limited collections. Rang De Basanti (2005), a rage across the nation that season, couldn’t make more than 30 days in a youth-centric circuit like Kochi.

By then, the Mumbai bosses seem to have noted South as an untapped market. Aggravated marketing followed, resulting in the bumper opening Krrish (2006) had in Kollam. Kids were the target this time. My five-year-old cousin was so happy when he got a Krrish cape with the biscuit packet. Report was like this: “The Hrithik Roshan starrer has taken Kerala by storm. The film has netted an amazing Rs 16.55 lakhs from 10 prints in its opening weekend (June 23-25) the highest ever for a Hindi film in the state! It is the ladies and kids who seem to be enjoying this movie. The trade is also happy that the film could survive the football frenzy, which has ruined even superstar Malayalam films. Krrish has collected in Ernakulam Padma for three days Rs 2,51,175 and in Thiruvananthapuram Athulya Rs 2, 47,258 a new city record. At Savitha in Peruthalmana in Malappuram district it could net Rs 65,992 in three days.”

The Karan Johar juggernaut Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (2006) followed the suit with 12 prints in the state, giving tough competition to Mohanlal’s Keerthichakra (2006) released a week before. It was the first Hindi film to open in two screens in Kochi (Sridhar & Padma). From 2-3 prints arriving months and even years later to 19 premier shows, Hindi movies have come up a long way pretty fast. Really, is my small town turning big? Or is the nation becoming small?

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