The delightful surprise of the last quarter has undoubtedly been the success of ‘Phas Gaye Re Obama’. Subhash Kapoor’s film was released without any promotion, with two biggies ‘Khelein Hum Jee Jan Se’ and ‘Rakht Charitra 2’, and like the proverbial tortoise this little no-star film raced ahead, while the Bollywood hares were napping.
Every time this happens there are bugles of celebration. Trend stories are done on how the small indie film is beating the big budget multi-starrer. Producers, who are always confused about what audiences want, start rooting about for small-budget scripts and a revolution of indie film is declared.
There is, of course, no guarantee that the next small budget, non star cast comedy will be a hit. If a few of them fail, then the industry will give a big sigh, say they knew all along that only stars sell, and sink into their stupor of mediocrity again.
Not to be cynical, but this whole cycle of rah-rahs for indie cinema had happened when Nagesh Kukunoor made a success of ‘Hyderabad Blues’. Not even he could repeat it, and a lot eager filmmakers had managed to ride on the success of this one and launched a series of small comedies.
But this was not a replicable formula and even with the multiplex revolution coming up, Bollywood did not really make space for the small non-formula film.
Once in a while the industry is jolted when films like ‘Bheja Fry’ and ‘A Wednesday’ turn out to be hits. After ‘Bheja Fry’, Vinay Pathak was launched as a leading man in half a dozen films, all of which flopped and at least one did not get released. Similarly, Anjum Rizvi, producer of ‘A Wednesday’ kept making small films, not one of which made a mark.
What did happen, is that Bollywood stopped being totally skeptical about the small film, and floated companies like Spotboy (UTV), Searchlight (Mukta) and Art House (Sanjay Gupta), to produce and promote indie films. But with big studios and corporate backing such films, the whole point of indie cinema is lot.
However, it is in the interest of the industry to make space for new voices and new visions, to encourage the rebel and the out-of-the-box thinker. That seldom happens, what they seek to do is co-opt the rebel into the system and corporatize him/her.
What is most important is that films made by directors with an independent vision should reach a wider audience, and obviously the multiplex is not doing what was expected of it. Luckily, word of mouth (or word of the net) does a lot more for the cause of good cinema. And so films like ‘Phas Gaye... ’ get the
attention they deserve.