It’s official. The trend that began with Ghajini as harmless flirtation with South Indian cinema has transcended into an obsession, elevating the, if we may use the term, Madras Cut films well beyond the muse status. And this south meets rest of India match has the blessings of the audience as well as the BS Brand Derby respondents, who voted Rohit Shetty-directed, Ajay Devgn-starrer 2011 film, Singham one of the most successful launches of the year.
Singham, produced by Reliance Entertainment, is a remake of a 2010 Tamil movie of the same name; the Tamil one also being co-produced by the same production house. It is also an esteemed member of the coveted Rs 100-crore club of Bollywood.
With a production budget of about Rs 46 crore (including production, publicity and release costs), the film pocketed Rs 102 crore (net) in domestic box office collections and another Rs 4 crore overseas. The movie with its gravity defying action sequences, smattered with a more than generous helping of punch lines cut ice with the audience is no secret. The pressing question of the hour is: why the audience ravishing hungrily this potboiler that lacked the usual trappings of a Bollywood super hit — designer clothes, foreign locales, festival/marriage sequences and often the last ditch effort to salvage the most unsalvageable of films, a Khan.
Singham is a classic example of a typical film curve: depiction of the existing world order, a disruption, ending with the re-establishment of previous world order or replacing the old with the new — an honest policeman, uprooted from his native village and pitted against a ruthless villain in an unfamiliar environment and how he emerges triumphant.
According to Sanjeev Lamba, CEO, Reliance Entertainment, the simplicity of the storyline was key to the film’s success. “It resonated well with the audience, making them empathise with him, feel his angst and eventually revel in his success.” He also attributes a the film’s success to its characters, mainly the protagonist and the antagonist, played by Prakash Raj, who reprised his role from the Tamil original. “After a really long time there has been a villain of an equal stature of the protagonist, a formidable foe so integral to such good versus evil stories, that makes the hero’s victory seem that much sweeter,” says Lamba.
The makers identified this aspect quite early on and their promotional strategy reflected it. The film is a cocktail of romance, comedy, inter-family discord and of course action. Yet, the first trailers of the movie that released six to eight weeks prior to its July release made no allusions to these elements. “It (the trailer) was unapologetic. It portrayed Singham as an hard core action film, with the emotional high points as visible through its key dialogues,” says Lamba.
The print campaign that accompanied the trailer’s theatrical release maintained this core theme as well. The usage of the lion graphic in the background and a colour palette of orange, red and yellow, served to highlight the films underlining ferocity. Without getting distracted by multiple elements, it stayed focussed of the protagonist and the antagonist.
Though Bollywood has dabbled in the past in Hollywood-style sophisticated and classier action sequence, its own brand of action continues to dominate the scene. The reason is obvious, say trade analysts. The country has around 4,500 cinema screens in the Hindi speaking belt. Of these only 1,200 are multiplexes, mostly in urban areas. The rest are single screens, appealing to a certain “economic-cultural type”. This larger base that brings in the volumes demands stories that they can interpret, identify with and more importantly entertain them. That should explain in part the resurgence in the very Indian, very earthy film themes, ones that appeal to the Indian in us.
But the challenge begins with the choice of this audience that is as varied in its preferences as it is diverse in geography. A universal theme that connects across this belt is what Singham and others before it discovered and those after it will continue to as well. But as depicted by the numbers, there is a risk of isolating the overseas audience.
Another voice adds a note of cynicism to Bollywood’s focus on the Hindi heartland. The logic: ticket prices abroad for an average Bollywood film could range from $15-25, while those for even the latest Hollywood blockbusters could be as low as $5-7. With layoffs and fewer job opportunities being the top of mind subjects, the non resident Indian may just not be one’s safest bet at the moment for the more expensive productions.