That passions blow hot and blow cold in Bollywood is evident from the Anurag Kashyap-Amitabh Bachchan spat and patch-up, says Satyen K Bordoloi. But it is the cooling off that is pregnant with possibilities for cinema
It is said that in Indian politics, there is no constant enemy or friend.
Bollywood isn't any different.
On the third of October at a special celebrity screening of Bedabrata Pain's debut magnum opus Chittagong, it was delightful to see Anurag Kashyap almost bending down in a symbolic gesture to touch Amitabh Bachchan's feet.
If you had read Anurag Kashyap's Facebook status messages in December, 2010, you'd have never have thought this moment possible.
Anurag, without really naming anyone, had then posted: "See Chittagong, a far superior film made on the same subject as KHJJS (Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey).. At one-
eighth the cost, far superior actors and immense passion.. Producers decided to sit on it, because of a phone call from someone, Because that someone was trying
desperately to save his son's career..welcome to bollywood, where whose son you are outshines all the hardwork and passion and potential and talent. KHJJS came and
went, now what."
Anurag was referring to Ashutosh Gowarikar's, Abhishek Bachchan-starrer Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey. KHJJS and Chittagong are both set in the 1930s and are based on the first armed Indian uprising against the British in the 20th century.
Anurag's comment had many known names of the film industry rise up in support. To one comment on his status, he had responded, "One newspaper refused to talk about it because they had sorted their differences with the father after a long time. So indirectly it says that you are meant to be trampled on because you are a nobody and there won't be any justice meted out to you so that the incredible Indian family can grace their annual award functions."
Another time he wrote, "Shonali Bose is the producer.. Bedo is the director.. Shonali's husband.. All this happened right after they lost their 16-year-old son.. Which
is why I feel angry, with these insensitive, selfish, nohup.out replace_dependentitem_tags.sh icons of India."
Anurag, not one to mince words or intentions, put his money where his mouth was and on October 12, almost two years later, Chittagong is finally being released by
Anurag Kashyap and Bohra Bros.
Considering this, watching Bachchan and Kashyap bury their hatchet is a good sign for Indian commercial cinema in general.
Think about it. In a film industry rife with insecure producers and distributors, often only those films with a big star get made and distributed.
The quality of the film and even its inherent box office potential has often little to do with a film securing release.
This system, in a way, began with Amitabh Bachchan. Before him there were big stars like Rajesh Khanna, Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand among others. Yet, there was a
difference in the way the stars looked at films and the industry looked at stars. Before Bachchan, the star was an integral part of a film's production.
Depending on their mindset, stars were often part of things like production, set design and quite often even the creation of songs. Yet, in a way, they did not call
all the shots in the film. Finally it was the director and the producer who decided what to do.
Quite often, a good film, with lesser known and often unknown actors without any connection to the film industry, got made and saw proper release. Amitabh Bachchan would know - Over a dozen films he acted in got decent releases before he finally tasted success.
Things changed with the rise of the Superstar. And it had nothing to do with any fault of the Big B. It was just that the winds of change, and money were sweeping
through Bollywood (it wasn't even called Bollywood then).
Amitabh Bachchan's success coincided with the pouring in of black money by gangsters and smugglers who were desperate to turn their ill-gotten money legitimate. It
didn't matter to them whether the film was of a good quality or not. The only thing they cared about was box office success.
Hence, no matter what film it was, if Amitabh Bachchan agreed to star in that film, the film would get made and find an excellent release.
That trend has culminated today into a practice where it is the star that calls the shots in almost every department of a film without getting deeply involved in it.
Today the main task of a producer or director, is to convince a big star to sign their film.
Getting a star on board means that their film will get the money it requires and get a proper release. On the flip side though, the stars would interfere with key elements of the film based on their fancy.
This has resulted in the shameless worship of money evident from the Rs 100 and 200 crore club in Bollywood where stars, directors and producers justify their trashy
and often plagiarised films just because it has made Rs 100 or 200 crores not realising that even thieves make a lot of money.
Today, for a new filmmaker to make his film is tough without the patronage of a big star. And even if they do manage to make it, they can't find a release. The
condition becomes worse when it is a new subject.
Consider the case of Tigmanshu Dhulia. Paan Singh Tomar sat in UTV's vaults for over three years, till they decided to give it limited release in a mere 250 odd
screens. Taken aback by the audience lapping up the film, they increased the prints to over 750 in the third week, but by then the traction was lost.
A Barfi with nearly 750 prints from day one, managed to make over Rs 50 crore in two weeks. And it got 750 prints because it had a star. Thus if Paan Singh Tomar had an A-listed Bollywood star in it, it would have become one of the highest grossing films of all times.
That is where people like Anurag Kashyap and Bedabrata Pain come in.
The 21st century has seen those who have vehemently resisted the star system. And no one has done it as vociferously, incorrigibly and vocally as Anurag Kashyap. If
Bombay cinema has a patron saint whose unerring consistency has led to the birth of new talents, it is him.
The film he made are excellent. But the films that he has helped make, have often been exceptional, be it Vikramaditya Motwane's Udaan or now Bedabrata Pain's
Bedabrata Pain's struggle to get his film's release is typical of a newcomer's struggle.
First of all his film, and especially the point of view from which he is telling the story, is unconventional. Secondly, it has no A-lister. It wasn't that he hadn't tried. Shah Rukh Khan and Abhishek Bachchan were approached to play Masterda's character which later went to Manoj Bajpai, supposedly on the suggestion of Shahrukh
Khan (Surprisingly Abhishek would later accept the same role when Ashutosh Gowarikar offered it).
Despite all these struggles, when writer director Pain and writer producer Shonali Bose finally made the film, they faced a different hurdle.
Another film on the same theme starring Abhishek Bachchan and directed by Ashutosh Gowarikar was now floating on the Bollywood horizon. Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey had two big stars – Abhishek and Deepika Padukone - while Chittagong merely had exceptionally talented, but relatively unknown actors.
Despite these, and perhaps because of these, Big B had to intervene leading to the film's release being stalled indefinitely.
Director Bedabrata Pain meanwhile, in an interview to this writer, after the Kashyap-Bachchan controversy in 2010, had chosen instead to focus his attention on his
This NASA scientist who had given up his cushy job to turn director, told me about his passion for digital technology, how he was part of the team that invented
the CCD technology that revolutionised photography and filmmaking, the painstaking research that went about making Chittagong. He spoke of meeting the protagonist of his film Jhunku aka Subodh Roy just a week before his death in 2006 (A grainy footage is shown at the end of Chittagong lending it a surreal poignancy) and how it was important to tell the incredible story of the Chittagong uprising in the proper context.
The result is a film that seems not only relevant to our times, but extremely relevant considering the many injustices and instances of corruption rife in the country.
The time is rife for a different kind of revolution in India, and Chittagong in its womb carries the flints that just might spark that revolution.
Perhaps Amitabh Bachchan had been told of this. Or perhaps he wanted to make amends.
Whatever it was, the symbolic gesture of Amitabh Bachchan coming well in advance with wife Jaya in tow, animatedly fraternising with the folks at the screening,
sitting till the end of the film and appreciating it is a welcome gesture not just for the film Chittagong, but also for Hindi cinema in general.
It smacks of great potential and hopefully tomorrow, Amitabh Bachchan will act in small, but extremely creative films of newcomers thus tacitly green-lighting struggling projects.
This way, he would be in direct competition with the patron saint of little films in the acting department, Nasseruddin Shah, whose patronage of films in the last 30 years, often acting without pay - has been responsible for many films having seen the light of the projector.
If Amitabh Bachchan is the Big B of Bollywood cinema, Anurag Kashyap is its ACE A. It is but a welcome sign that all is well with the A and B of Bollywood.
A and B in tow, it's now time to get the 24 other 'alphabets' of Bollywood to fall in line.
(Satyen K Bordoloi is an independent film critic, writer and photojournalist based in Mumbai. His writings on cinema, culture and politics have appeared nationally and globally.)
Also by Satyen K Bordoloi:
Gattu and the lost cause of truly creative cinema in India
An Indian, A Pakistani & A Walk in the Woods
Superman, Spiderman and India's 'local' cinema!