The first quarter of 2003 is over.
No worthwhile film so far -- neither business nor quality.
Pooja Bhatt and Amit Saxena's small-budget Jism (Bipasha Basu, John Abraham) did reasonably well and the Metalight-Madhur Bhandarkar film Satta (Raveena Tandon, Atul Kulkarni) explored a slightly offbeat theme.
A couple of worrisome issues come up. When big star-studded films started flopping, a cottage industry of small-budget, offbeat films seemed to have mushroomed. After Bhandarkar's Chandni Bar, people believed these small films would work for audiences looking for something really different.
What they got this year was Bus Yun Hi (urban romance), Escape From Taliban (high voltage drama), Stumble (middle class crises), Mango Souffle (gays out of the closet), Valentine Days -- all of which deservedly bombed. While it is an encouraging sign that films like these (exclude Valentine Days, an apology of a film) got made and released, if the quality of alternative cinema continues to be so abysmally low, the new New Wave will fizzle out before it even gets a chance to crest.
All three films had nothing but good intentions going for them. That, as we know by now, is not enough to sell tickets. Especially if they are badly made and not even visually appealing -- unlike films of the old New Wave. A couple of more small-budget turkeys like these and the alternative cinema movement will be quickly discarded.
Nobody will say they were bad films. They will say small films don't work. The bottom line is quality has never been a criterion for computing success. (Who would honestly say Chandni Bar was a masterpiece?)
The other problem for mainstream industry folk is they don't know what to do. None of the stars could draw crowds this year. If they thought Aishwarya Rai, Kareena Kapoor, Vivek Oberoi, Fardeen Khan, Akshay Kumar, Tusshar Kapoor and other toasts of the media would translate their stardom into ticket sales, that did not happen.
Violence (Dum) didn't sell. Horror (Kucch To Hai, Dhund) didn't work. Romance (Khushi, Tujhe Meri Kasam), comedy (Aap Ko Pehle Bhi Kabhi Dekha Hai, it is too early to predict the fate of Ek Aur Ek Gyarah), thriller (Talaash, Chura Liyaa Hai Tumne) flopped. So what to do next?
Producers want new stuff. But they are not willing to go totally experimental when big budgets are involved. So they take the usual DVD, old Hindi film, South remake route. Half a dozen cop films, an equal number of army films, a few costume dramas (three Taj Mahals) and a few romances can be expected in the coming months.
Any silver linings? The only one trying out different genres and styles is the Ram Gopal Varma factory. Who knows? He may be the one showing the way.
The Manmohan Shetty-led Entertainment One has directors like Prakash Jha (Gangaajal), Govind Nihalani (Dev), Ketan Mehta (The Rising) of the old parallel cinema school, plus Varma, Vikram Bhatt and John Mathew Matthan making films under his umbrella. Some off-the-beaten-track cinema can be expected from them.
To a lesser extent, Subhash Ghai as producer is getting people like Rituparno Ghosh and Anant Balani (making the tiny budget Jogger's Park) to work with his Mukta Arts banner.
New directors and writers still find it difficult to open doors with fresh ideas. They are invariably put on hold till the fog clears. A couple of production houses like iDreams, Metalight, X-Over and the old art film warhorse NFDC are encouraging the development of new scripts. In the near future, some of this groundwork will lead to solid cinema structures.
At the moment, one can only look at the next three months with apprehension. Or hope for a miracle.