Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Khaali bore dopaharon mein

Every city, every town, every gali, koocha, mohalla has some new experience to offer. And that's how I found myself in Konark theatre in Rourkela, watching my first (and most likely last!) bhojpuri film: 'Daroga babu, I love you'.

Actually, it was Fate that dragged me in. I was merely taking a pic of the poster - which was quite fascinating in itself. I mean where would you find a poster which mentions credits for nirdeshan (direction), sangeet (music) and 'maar dhaad' (I guess they mean action sequences but note the literal meaning!)!

Anyhow, the manager noticed me and struck up a conversation. "Accha, aap Bombay se hain?" He too had a brother in Sion Koliwada, in the 'film line'.

Then, he said, "Aaiye na, dekhiye...". And I found myself walking up to the balcony, where he assured me 'ladies log bhi hain'. Yeah right!

The movie had started. An old lady was praying to a tulsi plant - asking for God to give her son a good naukri. Enter son: Maa hamaar naukri mil gavat (subtitle: I have got a job!).

A few push ups and running races later, son acquires a vardi. Camera focuses on his badge and then cap and then he puts on the most important accessory: a pair of dark glasses.

Next scene: villain is introduced. A man with a 'Mangal Pandey' moustache sticks a stainless steel sword into some random villager's stomach. Bright red 'blood' drips from the instrument which appears to be longer than the line at the Food Bazaar check out counter on a Sunday.

Next scene: heroine is introduced. Daroga babu alights from a bus, only to collide with girl on a scooter. The usual pleasantries are exchanged. Girl calls him 'goonda, badmaash - dekh kar nahin chal sakte kya?" Hero is already naming their children.

Cut: Daroga babu enters the police station. Here, he has two bumbling assistants called 'Loncha' and 'Kharoncha'. A nubile nymphet arrives at the police station to deliver lunch to her bapu. The real purpose of her existence is to bung in an item number.

At this point I sneaked out of the theatre and into the sunshine. And I couldn't help but wonder, "In the India of 2006, why would such pea-brained, predictable, poorly made films have a market?"

Bhojpuri on a roll
Well, they do - and a big one. Trade analyst Taran Adarsh says , "Most Bhojpuri films are made in small budgets, usually Rs 20-30 lakh, and they fetch Rs 1-2 crore."Several of these films are grossing 10 times their production costs. A good film can even make a profit of Rs 10-12 crore..."

The hero of this film, I have learned, is one 'Manoj'.

In 2005, Manoj, a struggling singer, debuted in sex comedy Sasura Bada Paisewala. The film ran for more than 50 weeks in Varanasi and Kanpur in UP and for 25 weeks elsewhere. Sasura... made with a modest budget of Rs 30 lakh, grossed a stupendous Rs 15 crore. Manoj’s other films such as 'Daroga Babu I Love You' then went on to do a business of Rs 4 crore and 'Bandhan Tutey Na' has already made Rs 3 crore.

Now Manoj would never ever make it as a Hindi film hero. He is just too ugly. But that, I guess is part of his charm. He is the kind of guy your taxi driver in Mumbai or factory worker in Ludhiana could look at and say, "This could be me".

The women, in contrast, can be called 'pretty'. At least they have no spare rolls of fat jiggling around. And they use 'Fair and Lovely'. So the ugly hero gets the soni kudi. Excellent form of escapism.

The world depicted in 'Daroga babu' is completely alien to you and me. Which is why it probably appeals to the target audience. In a world where everything is in flux, maybe the 'formula film' offers comfort to migrant Bihari labourers who appear to be the primary target audience.

Greatbong puts it superbly in a post on the same subject."This was bound to happen with Bollywood totally losing its touch with the Hindi heartland and instead catering to the multiplex-going city slickers.

Who really cares about 3 friends who go to Goa in a Mercedes and "break up", like girlie men, on some trivial issue? Not someone who has spent the whole day walking in knee-deep dung in a cowshack."

Fine - but this is what I don't get. Manoj recently declared,"Gone are double-meaning dialogues, lack of a coherent storyline and poor technical quality. The films are slicker...".

Er, if this is slick, I wonder what Bhojpuri films used to be like earlier! The point however is that 'upgrading' too much Bhojpuri films makes no sense. As actor Ravi Kishen puts it, "Bhojpuri cinema is like home-cooked food".

If the sets and actors and locales improve too much - will it be any different from their 5 star cousins - the Bollywood film industry? Except for the language, that is. And Bhojpuri is really more like a dialect of Hindi, rather than a complete bhasha in itself.

And once costs go up - with actors dancing in Switzerland instead of random maidans and mountains - will it remain as profitable a proposition?

Bhojpuri vs Bunty
A recent BBC article noted that Bhojpuri films are beating Bollywood releases in the Hindi heartland. "Both (Daroga Babu and Sasura Bada...) did more business in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh than the A-list Bollywood releases, Bunty Aur Babli, a version of Bonnie and Clyde, and Mangal Pandey - The Rising, about the 1857 Indian mutiny".

Sure. But the fact is in towns like Rourkela there is no 'family crowd' at the dilapidated, paan stained, A/C-less theatres. Where stall tickets sell at an amazing 10 bucks and balcony for a princely 15.

So the potential theatre audience for 'Bunty aur Babli' in buntyandbabli towns was quite limited. Here, 'decent' people watch movies on CDs or wait for the cable wallah to show them.

There are no plans to upgrade 'Konark' - the manager does not think there is a market for a better theatre with pricier tickets. And perhaps he's right. If the girls at NIT wish to see Rang de Basanti, they'll have to do it in Calcutta or Bhubaneshwar...

Meanwhile, Bhojpuri films with evil zamindars, daroga babus and gaon ki goris continue to be a great business proposition. And a reminder that all is not candyfloss and Chopragloss in this, our wide and varied country called India.


  1. Reminds me 'Bottom of the Pyrmid' theory by C.K.Prahalad... Just goes on to show how we are good at making things with good value (read dhik dhak quality and rock bottow prices). It isn't sheer luck that these gross >5-6 crores. After all I am damn tired of seeing the heavy hunks driving around in mercs and sexy beaus acting in movies with the same storyline and paying 150 bucks for the nonsense.
    Films like Daroga babu are a great value business models with a big market to be catered to. We can indeed export these to places like Pakistan and Afghanistan (and host of 3rd world nations) where bollywood sells hot. Great going 'Bhojiwood'...we hope to see u on top.

  2. Well, I guess one day when Bollywood gets more corporatised, we may probably see a 'Portfolio Manager' of a studio house 'spreading his risk' across various genres which may include Bhojpuri movies, sleazy sex comedies, and art house productions?

  3. hay Rashmi, nice artical. btw what you were doing in Rourkela ??

  4. hey rashmi;
    what an adventure to see a bhojpuri film...!
    nice post....the scenario is the same with gujurathi movie which are extremly popular in gujrat and also in predominantly guju localitites like mulund, ghatkopar, boriwali......
    I just saw a bit of a regional movie...and it was seriously behind was more or less like the weird serials we get on TV now a days...very othrodox, ghisa pita, and personally i think very depressing....

  5. Rashmi, your post has definately inspired me to go check out a bhojpuri film. Not for the cinematic quality but im sure it'll be good for a few laughs.

  6. There was a market for bigger films at Rourkela one time - thanks to the steel plant and the REC there. I remember watching 'Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander' there.You can watch Hindi movies on vCDs now and that too for 5 bucks ! Yeah, the pirated ones.Did you like Rourkela? Must have been cold now atleast for a Mumbaiwala.The next time you visit Orissa, do let me know.Would be interested in meeting you.


  7. Now Manoj would never ever make it as a Hindi film hero. He is just too ugly. But that, I guess is part of his charm. He is the kind of guy your taxi driver in Mumbai or factory worker in Ludhiana could look at and say, "This could be me".

    >>ROFL. Sure the due look uglier than several of the well packaged Bollywood heros. Do you keep your elitists glasses on during sleep too?

  8. hey rashmi!

    how did you reach rourkela! yeah my home town & i was pleasantly surprised to read about it all in your blog.
    there were 5 good cinema halls in earlier days and the families used to flock them, except for the notorious 9am morning show,which invariably had some or the other adult films being screened. As usual it was frequented by either the 'janta class' or the college goers. however things started going bad with the mushrooming of internet parlours... Sadly one hall, Deepak talkies, which used to show good hollywood stuff in all four shows went down some ten years back and it has been downhill since then for other ones as well. Don't know, even with such ridiculous low prices, why people have stopped flocking to these halls. Probably small towns like Rourkela need multiplexes now. The crowd, i am not sure if it exists!
    keep writing more on it. I am not sure if you saw the strange phenomenon in that town of millions of birds sitting on the electric wires at night! And without even an inch of space between them.


  9. You wonder about how such films are popular.
    I think it comes down to the audience. Who are you and me to decide about the calibre/level of these films? In rural areas, watching a film in a theatre is 'once-a-year' kinda phenomenon. People actually forego their meals to watch a film. You can not give them artistically designed fims filled with esoteric logic and ask them to enjoy it. They want all the 'masala' in a 3 hour film, dialogues that they can understand and characters they can identify with; however loud it may be. SO its a pure demand and supply equation.


  10. Hi Rashmi,

    This is Hardik I hope you remember me, nevertheless - Khali Bore dupharo se.. was an excellent piece of blog... i just loved it. Thanks for enlighting people likee me who believe its only Kurosawa, Godarad and Almodovar who make cinema - i would love to experience that at Konark or any such theatre - But for time being it is we who will have to rent a CD of Bhojpuri Cinema

    Keep up the terrific blogging

  11. Hey Rashmi...

    I'm frm NIT yr..and i must hand it to u..u made it thru half a film in the Konark theatre...

    I,during my stay of almost 4 years here,hav gone to tht theatre only watch Kal Ho Na Ho....and then,decided tht i am never gonna go thr,we prefer to watch movies on our comps..!!
    And the condition is the same in the other "theatres" in Rkl..which is why the CD renting business runs well here...

  12. Amazing.........
    you have a kewl Life

    experiancing a lot in life
    tell me if i am rite in presuming that you have a very different view of life
    I will mail you some articles for JAM

  13. You may catch all Bhojpuri Film News at

  14. Rashmi,
    I read your blog a bit too late but was infuriated and simultaneously frustrated.Due apologies on what I'm about to say...
    You write well... but u have a 'very narrow mindset'.. and to top it up... an arrogance or an outright 'superiority complex' towards urban lifestyle. What makes you think that 'these people are behind time'?If 70% of your own countrymen live,think and work that way, then you dont say 'they are behind time'.What are you doing to brige the supposed 'time gap'?You should be ashamed of using such derogatory sentences as 'He is the kind of guy your taxi driver in Mumbai or factory worker in Ludhiana could look at and say, "This could be me". ' You could have been fortunate to have been born & brought up in a big city, but mind it big city is not the ultimate reality. The reality is where the vast majority is. And vast majority is certainly not in metros and they do not sit in 'Air conditioned Cineplexes' to watch 'Big budget movies'. If a director is catering to the understanding and liking of a target Audience,and is not doing anything illegal, he desrves to be applauded. And getting returns to the tune of 10 times the cost of movie is adequate proof of the director's understanding of his target audience.

    Free democratic society doesnt mean that u go ahead criticing or denegrating or showing down others who might have a different approach to life.

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  16. Anonymous8:28 AM

    ^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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