Small Budget, Big Wonders!

Updated: Aug 14, 2010, 13:11 PM IST

Bikas Bhagat

Lately there has been a lot of chatter about small budget movies doing wonders at the box-office. The phenomenon has even caught Aamir Khan’s fancy with him placing his bet on smaller films, though hopefully not mediocre ones. The trend reminds one of small and low budget projects in an altogether different sector: the airlines industry’s celebrated low-frills travel experience which actually helped in carving a niche market for them, owing to the evolutional changes in India’s demography.

So the concept has been around for some time now and Bollywood too has been fondling with it. It has started showing positive results by way of small or low budget movies like ‘Udaan’ and ‘Tere Bin Laden’ being liked even as initially some low budget films like ‘Bheja Fry’, ‘Blue Umbrella’ weren’t really called hits, technically, but still earned appreciation from a select janta.

Hence, as the works of new age filmmakers are applauded at international film festivals like Cannes, Durban, Sundance etc., the growing interest in small films prodded me to explore the dynamics of the small, big films of B-town.

And it seems like the bleak times of Bollywood helped turned the arclights on smaller budget films to satiate audiences of various denominations. At a time when the industry is reeling under the impact of two of its biggest debacles - ‘Kites’ and ‘Raavan’- the multiplexes are silently celebrating and surviving on the collections of two smart films, ‘Tere Bin Laden’ and ‘Udaan’.

Out of the nine movies which have made money in the first seven months of 2010, four are what we can call small wonders, making it a much better success ratio for the under-Rs 6 crore, no-star films.

The first one was Abhishek Chaubey’s ‘Ishqiya’, starring Naseerudin Shah and Arshad Warsi as goons-on-the-run chacha-bhatija, both of whom fall for the same femme fatale played by Vidya Balan. Next came Dibakar Banerjee’s ‘Love Sex Aur Dhokha’ (LSD), which featured only newcomers and was made on a budget of less than Rs 2 crore using CCTVs and handy cams, making it an amazing success story just after the first weekend.

After LSD released a movie which garnered worldwide acclaim, it would not be wrong to say that Vikramadiyta Motwane’s ‘Udaan’ defined a new business model for the quintessential Bollywood hit. The film is but a classic example of a small movie which made it big beyond expectations as it was screened at Cannes this year and won good reviews.

Next in tow is my personal favourite, ‘Tere Bin Laden’ which scored with its intelligent comedy and the title song of the film ‘Ullu De Patthe’, which only inspired me to write a piece on those ignorant producers who are still to come out of the big-film-superstar myth at a time when small is both beautiful and business savvy.

All ‘Tere Bin Laden’ had is a smart storyline, an intelligent approach to filmmaking and a bunch of actors who were willing to infuse soul rather than image in their characters. One thing is clear: any producer who just wants to invest a gargantuan budget, minus a storyline and a script, is ‘Ullu da pattha’, destined to bite dust at the theaters.

The reason being that today’s audience wants something more than just the entertainment of seeing superstars dancing at plush locales with maudlin music. No one likes to see the same old stuff rolled in a new package anymore. Makers who did relate with the prevailing sentiments have made a difference.

If we look at the figures - ‘Tere Bin Laden’ grossed Rs.50 million all over India in the first three days from 344 screens. Though Anurag Kashyap`s `Udaan` got a lot of critical acclaim, the opening was just about fair but showed some uptick during the weekend.

Given the fact that budget for `Raavan` and ‘Kites’, (including cost of print and publicity) came at around Rs. 150 crores and Big Pictures (the worldwide distributors) had a total investment of Rs. 110 crores for ‘Raavan’, both the film’s gross avenue turned up to only around Rs. 90 crores, the numbers which makers never really expected for movies of such big canvas. Apparently, the numbers only help in ringing bells among producers that pumping in money is only good till the time they have a smart script. Or, else the movie is bound to fall flat.

Even established actors have understood this fact and that is the reason why someone like Aamir Khan produced Anusha Rizvi’s ‘Peepli Live’, a film about farmer suicides in India and the media and political imbroglio, that eventually went on to win the Durban Film Festival in South Africa. News has it that even Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainment is producing Roshan Abbas’s ‘Always Kabhi Kabhi’, a high school film featuring four debutants.

This is not just good for the producers, but also for the scriptwriters, directors, music-makers and actors who would never get a Suraj Barjatya to hear them out, let alone give them a chance to perform. Big dreams of a new breed of creative professionals are being realized, courtesy small films.

Undoubtedly, the multiplex culture has ensured constant movement of audiences towards such movies as the earlier single-screens wouldn’t take the risk. This has also helped in the distribution of small budget films as the distributors and producers are no longer unsure of film reach, impact and box office collections.

As a matter of fact, in the past one or two years it has been observed that these small budget movies have done a much better job with audience reactions in comparison to big bucks Magnum Opus.

But like the troubled aviation sector which is doing a rethink on its no-frills model, will small budget flicks also fade away soon?

I don’t think so. India is such a market where there is place for everyone, provided that the players present what people want. While the investment in the airlines sector has only gone up due to various factors despite cheaper services on offer (making less than the expected profits), the opposite is true in cinema.

The costs have gone down while the profits have shot up. There is rarely a film that does not get even at the box office what with TV rights, merchandise, music etc compensating for the lack of audience interest.

One hopes, the small wonders continue to give the audiences big surprises.