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March 1, 2000

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Controversy yes, but no collections
Komal Nahta

Hey! Ram As expected, Kamal Haasanís Hey! Ram has stirred controversies in different parts of the country. Congressmen, especially, are angry over what they describe as an incorrect portrayal of Mahatma Gandhi in the film. Incidents of violence, mostly by Congress workers (tearing posters of the film and damaging properties of cinemas screening the period drama) have been reported from cities like Calcutta, Varanasi, Nagpur, Indore, Bhopal, Jaipur etc.

There were protests in Varanasi on February 24 with Congress workers stoning and damaging the film's posters at the local Mazda Picture Palace where the film was being screened. A dharna was also staged by them in front of the cinema and they demanded that the screening be immediately stopped as there were objectionable references in it, which had "tarnished" the image of Mahatma Gandhi.

The protesters accused the BJP and the RSS of stalling the shooting of an "unmade" film (Water) by Deepa Mehta while deliberately allowing the screening of Hey! Ram. The filmís screening was stopped for a while but resumed after police protection was provided.

The cops also had to intervene at Smruti cinema in Nagpur the day before (on February 23) when the protesters got unruly and gheraoed the mayor of Nagpur who was viewing the film in her personal capacity. She had to leave the cinema under police escort. Some youth organisations gave an ultimatum to remove the film from Smruti within two days. However, the screening is being continued under police protection.

In Calcutta, Mitra and Priya cinemas bore the brunt of agitators. Members of the state Congress unit stormed Mitra cinema first and then Priya cinema on February 22, shouting slogans against the "filthy" film. Several female patrons who had gone to see the film at Priya were also heckled by the protesters. Bricks and stones were hurled at the cinema. The agitation took a violent turn and a small police force rushed to the venue to combat the situation. The police resorted to a mild lathi charge and arrested seven demonstrators.

The film continues to be screened at the cinema without cancellation of a single show. Even though the Pradesh Congress Committee vice-president issued orders to stop the agitation after being reprimanded by the party high command, police pickets have been posted at all the cinemas screening Hey! Ram in Calcutta.

In Indore, the shows at Regal cinema on February 25 had to be cancelled following protests by Congressmen. Similar protests were registered in Bhopal where the film is continuing to be screened. The madness spread to Jaipur on Saturday (February 26), but, like in the cinemas of the other cities, the film did not have to be discontinued from the prestigious Raj Mandir cinema of Jaipur.

Kamal Haasan must have anticipated that his Hey! Ram would be surrounded by controversies when it was released, may be even while he was making the film. In a practical sense, it wouldnít be incorrect to say that the actor-producer-director must have also expected that the controversies would give a boost to the filmís collections.

In the past, films like Bombay, Bandit Queen and Fire have got a lot of mileage from the controversies surrounding them which in turn has translated into bountiful box-office returns.

But in the case of Hey! Ram, box-office success is eluding it. Which proves that controversies can make a film run only if the film has the substance to hold public attention. Otherwise, no amount of stories around the film can help.

A classic case of controversies not creating box-office success is that of the political film, Kissa Kursi Ka, made by my uncle, the ex-Congress MP and filmmaker, Amrit Nahata. The mileage it had received, when its negative was burnt by Congressmen because it was a satire on Indira Gandhi, is unparalleled. But when the film was shot over again and released, it proved to be one of the biggest disasters of Indian cinema!

Record of a different sort

More on Kamal Haasanís Hey! Ram. The film seems to have broken all previous records of Raj Mandir cinema in Jaipur. So beautiful is this cinema that any film released there has a run longer than it would have at any other cinema. In fact, until recently, Raj Mandir was counted as the best cinema of Asia. Even now, after the setting up of some ultra-modern cinemas in Bombay, Delhi and Gandhinagar, Raj Mandir could easily rate as one of the grandest cinema houses. But so poor is the fate of Hey! Ram at the luxurious Raj Mandir that the film will have to be discontinued from the cinema after a two-week run! Even ordinary films have enjoyed at least four or five-week runs at the cinema. Love Birds is perhaps the only film which ran for just one week (that too, in deficit) at Raj Mandir in 1997. But that was a dubbed film. Hey! Ram is not. Hai Ram!! Itís good that Kamal Haasan is not in the pink city of Jaipur, or else, the poor collections at the prestigious Raj Mandir would have made him go red in the face.

Shah Rukh Khan Superstitious Shah Rukh

Shah Rukh Khan is rather concerned about the dismal fate of his recent box-office starrers. Reportedly, someone has told him that his good times would begin again from June 2 onwards. Because of this, Shah Rukh is keen that his next release, Josh, hits the screen on or after that date. The filmís release date was being announced by Venus (its producers) as May 29, but given Shah Rukh Khanís choice, a postponement of just one week is not a tall demand.

Sub 'chalta' hai

Koi film nahin chal rahi, ji, koi film nahin chal rahi, Kaho Naa...Pyaar Hai ke sivaye" -- this is the most common refrain in film circles these days. But worry not! There is a queue of 'chalnewali' films lined up for release in the months of May, June and July. Donít believe me? Take a look at the names of some films: Chal Mere Bhai, Chalo Ishq Ladaye and Tere Jadoo Chal Gayaa. On top of the line-up is Le Chal Apne Sang.

Holy city?

Let's go back to Varanasi. It suddenly seems to be in the forefront of controversies over films. Close on the heels of the ruckus over the shooting of Deepa Mehtaís Water in the holy city, Congressmen protested, quite violently, against the screening of Hey! Ram at Mazda Picture Palace. But unlike in the case of Water -- where the disgruntled people were able to drive out the unit from the city, the protesters against Hey! Ram did not succeed in forcing the cinema management to stop the film's screening.

Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das Parting shot
Here's some food for thought -- on news and newsmakers. First it was Harshad Mehta, now it is Deepa Mehta. First it was Bal Thackeray, now it is Shabana Azmiís 'bal.' First it was Ram Mandir, now it is Hey! Ram. First it was Sonia Gandhi, now it is Mahatma Gandhi. It has always been drinking water, now it is Deepa Mehtaís Water.

A look at the week

**Ratings based on box office collections and cost of the film**
Rating Film Production House Verdict Position Last Week No Of Weeks Since Release
1 Kaho Naa...Pyaar Hai Film Kraft Superhit 1 7
2 Badal Aftab Music Industries Average (above average in North and Bihar 3 3
3 Pukar S K FIlms Enterprises Loser
(Above average in South & Bombay)
4 4
4 Hey! Ram Raajkamal Films Intl Loser 2 2
5 Jaanwar Shree Krishna Intl Above average 5 10
6 Mela Venus Loser (Above average in Hindi belt)6 8
7 Hum Saath-Saath Hain Rajshri Hit 8 17
8 Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani Dreamz Unlimited Loser 7 6
9 Vaastav Adishakti Above average (Hit in Maharashtra) 9 20
10 Khoobsurat Jhamu Sugandh Loser 10 14

Komal Nahta edits the popular trade magazine, Film Information.

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