You are here: Home » Specials » Strategist
Business Standard

Lights, camera, action...

A bunch of new production houses and young artistes are changing the face of the Bengali movie industry

Shine Jacob & Debaleena Sengupta  |  Kolkata 

Parivartan might be favourite buzzword in political circles of West Bengal, but it can equally describe face of movie industry in state. Referred to in popular press as Tollywood — from Tollygunge, in south Kolkata, where majority of film studios of city are located — Bengali film industry today is a far cry from one that was once synonymous with parallel cinema in country, one which produced legends like Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Bimal Roy and

Fast moving story lines, glossy overseas locations, swift action sequences, dialogues that pack a working overtime to revive golden age of Bengali cinema.punch-that is new age Bengali cinema for you. result of efforts by a bunch of new-age and movie makers who are

“We are changing with times,” says Arijit Dutta, actor, film distributor and owner of Priya Cinema, a theatre located in south Kolkata. “Now, trend is to produce urban cinema and remake blockbusters from south, much like what is happening in (Mumbai film industry) for some time. That is kind of cinema from stable of such as Shree Venkatesh Films, Surinder Films and Eskaay that has revived industry from a financial slump.”


 No. of movies made 

2011 More than 100*
2010 110
2009 84
2008 66
2007 44
2006 42
Source: CBFC & Industry reports                     (* Estimated)

Remember industry has faced many crisis beginning with partition when a large part of market was lost to Bangladesh. “Many master technicians and artistes like and relocated to Bombay,” says film director Goutam Ghose. If on-screen chemistry between Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen drew audience back to theatres-popular lead pair gave some 30 hit movies between 1945 and 1975 including classics like Saptapadi, Harano sur, Pothe holo deri, Share chuattor — it was with advent of Doordarshan in 1975 that changed scenario at Tollygunge. By 1980, with television sets creeping into drawing rooms of most middle-class Bengali households, cinema halls began wearing a desolate look. “lack of marketing and growing competition from Hindi film industry worsened crisis,” says Ghose. “When I was shooting for Paar (a 1984 Hindi movie), technician studio in Tollygunge was completely deserted.”

Film maker says that death of Uttam Kumar was a big blow to industry. “Directors like Anjan Chowdhury, Sujit Guha, Biresh Chatterjee did carry forward mantel with scripts that were based on contemporary issues,” he says. His films like Shwet Patharer Thala (1992), which took up issue of widow remarriage, and Lathi (1996) that upheld virtues of joint family system, were both commercially successful and critically acclaimed. Simultaneously, a section of directors were choosing to remake successful Tamil and Telugu movies in Bengali. “south Indian movies had some larger than life elements which were hitherto not served to Bengali audience and some of movies clicked in box office,” says Ghose.

Before this could become a full-blown trend directors like Aparna Sen, Rituparna Ghosh band Gautam Ghosh stepped in and took up cause of serious movie making in right earnest. “We were able to retain admirers of Ray, Ghatak and Majumder with strong content,” says Ghose.

Changing times

very next phase was completely different in that it was a blend a whole lot of elements from earlier genres — from commercial movies to art house cinema and everything in between.

While remakes like 2011 hit Paglu (directed by Rajib Biswas, it’s a remake of Telugu movie Devadasu) and Shotru (a remake of Tamil film Singham, 2011 Bengali action film was directed by Raj Chakraborty) broke many box office records. Experimental flicks like Baishe Shrabon, Autograph, Moner Manush, Abhohoman, Anuranan, Japanese Wife and Shukno Lanka walked taut tightrope between box office and critical fame with dexterity.

“In last few years, budget of movies have increased from Rs 75 lakh-Rs 1 crore to Rs 3-Rs 5 crore. Now, for a popular Bengali movie overseas locations are a must. We are remaking many south Indian movies like houses are doing because they lower risk of failure as we are following an already hit formula,” says Surinder Singh, president of Eastern India Motion Pictures Association (EIMPA), and founder Surinder Films, which produced Paglu. EIMPA has more than 500 as registered members.

While senior actors like Mithun Chakraborty and Prosenjit Chatterjee continue to shoulder much of burden, fresh faces like Dev (Deepak Adhikari), Jeet (Jeetendra Madnani), Koel Mullick, Priyanka Sarkar, Arunoday Banerjee, Hiron, Shoham and Srabonti count among A-list stars in region.

revival is also evident in number of movies made in state every year. From just 42 films made in 2006, number of movies has increased to 110 in 2010, according to Central Board of Film Certification. “number of films made in 2011 is upwards of 100, though only 77 are registered with EIMPA. This success has prompted to venture into Tollywood, but for various reasons, they are yet to make a mark,” EIMPA’s Singh adds. Corporate houses like Zee Motion Pictures, Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group’s Big Pictures, RP Sanjiv Goenka group firm Saregama, SPS Group, Rose Valley group and Mumbai Mantra owned by Mahindra & Mahindra have dabbled with Bengali movies in recent years.

“We are grossing anything between Rs 5 crore and Rs 10 crore even for low budget movies. All movies that we produced over last few years — including Khokababu, Shotru, Dujone, Fighter and Wanted — were huge box office hits. We owe a large part of success to marketing and growing number of Bengali television channels,” says Himanshu Dhanuka, who heads Eskaay Video. According to a FICCI-Deloitte report on entertainment industry in state, average production cost of a Bengali film varies between Rs 60 lakh to Rs 2 crore, excluding print and publicity costs.

marketing budget for Bengali films varies between Rs 15 lakh and Rs 35 lakh depending on their size. Unlike other regions such as south or Hindi movie industry where talent (artists and technicians) is a substantial component of a film’s cost, spend on these elements is quite small so far as Bengali film industry is concerned,” report says.

More than theatrical collections, revenues from various other avenues like satellite television rights, mobile ringtones and downloads, DVD rights, and overseas distribution have more than doubled in last four years.

Alongside purely formula movies, new production housed are also betting on author-backed films like Royal Bengal Rohosso, a thriller directed by Sandip Ray based on eponymous novel by film, produced by Shree Venkatesh Films and Surinder Films on a budget of Rs 2 crore, has reportedly grossed more than Rs 5 crore.

Describing last few years as recovery period for film industry in Bengal, Ghose says, “Producers and distributors were ready to invest in films which subsequently improved packaging that was missing from Bengali films. Overseas distribution has also picked up opening up newer markets for Bengali movies abroad,” Ghose points out.

major markets for mainstream Bengali movies are Bangladesh, United States and United Kingdom which have a sizable Bengali-speaking audience. But overseas collection for Bengali films is still very small compared to that of, say, Tamil films, that yielded Rs 9,516 crore through a mix of theatrical and non-theatrical distribution channels last year, according to FICCI-Deloitte report.

Roadblock remains
While experts fault new crop of for “blindly copying” stories from successful south Indian films, many in business believe it is vital for existence of industry. “I believe remakes are necessary; for me, biggest challenge is piracy,” remarks Arijit Dutta of Priya.

According to EIMPA, lack of infrastructure and cash flow remain major hurdles for film industry in state. “About 10 years ago, we had more than 800 production houses; this has come down to about 350 now. While in last four years we have taken huge strides commercially, close to 150 theatres in sub-urban and rural Bengal — which forms a major market for us-have closed down,” sums up Singh of EIMPA.

First Published: Mon, April 02 2012. 00:37 IST