MUMBAI: It seems to be a time-tested formula in film industries all over the world, especially our very own Bollywood. The bigger the superstar in the film, the more success the film is likely to witness. In certain extreme cases, a film won’t even get made in the absence of a big star cast.
Stars pull in audiences, they bring in support in terms of marketing and promotions, they help multiply the footfalls in theatres manifold. That much is undisputed fact. Every aspiring filmmaker looks to cast a Shah Rukh Khan, an Aamir Khan or a Salman Khan in his debut film. Of course, the star’s astronomical fees become a constraint, and he may have to settle for a lower rung tier II star, but the film must have a star nonetheless.
However, there are certain filmmakers in Bollywood who neither ascribe to this star-system, nor do they go out and chase stars. Armed with a formidable script, an intelligent screenplay and pots full of confidence, they set out to make an honest, straight-from-the-heart film; one that neither requires to prop itself up with a massive star cast, nor aims to become the next blockbuster, 100 crore grosser.
This new wave, independent, indie cinema seems to have a character and flavour of its own. Bold thematic outlines, non-linear methods of storytelling, unique concepts, controversial ideas and out-of-the-box execution.
But the fact of the matter remains that such films are slotted as ‘niche market’ films, which see a limited release. Film festivals are where such gems flourish, but perhaps they are not given their due in the mainstream market.
A prime example seems to be ‘Ship of Theseus’, a film by Anand Gandhi and produced by actor Sohum Shah, which seems to fall plumply into the above category. A complete absence of a major star, an unexplored theme as far as Indian cinema is concerned (exploring the Theseus paradox, which raises the question of whether an object which has all its components replaced is essentially the same object), and a long time in the making (nearly three years of development): ‘Ship of Theseus’ is the perfect depiction of the new-age Indie film.
Filmmaker Kiran Rao, who is promoting the film in India, agrees that the film is for a certain kind of audience, but that’s not to say that it won’t attract audiences at all. She ascribes its uniqueness and appeal to it’s “narrative, idiom and structure. The language of the cinema is different from what you would expect from a regular, commercial film.”
The focus seems to be on the writing, which is the star here. Rao adds: “It’s an unusual film. It has a very interesting concept and is made with a lot of integrity. It is well-written, beautifully performed and incredibly well-shot film. In terms of cinema, it’s a complete film to watch.”
Box office expectations from the film are low, and Rao herself feels that the team is under no pressure to perform, because nobody is expecting anything from them anyway. “In films where there are big stars, people watch keenly how much the collections will be; right from the first day, first show. For ‘Ship of Theseus’, we aren’t going to be focussing too much on Box Office per se.”
Experimental cinema has had its place in the sun in Bollywood, with certain sections of the industry pushing the envelope to attempt something different. Sadly, more often than not, such films tank at the box office, and some even never see the light of day without a star propelling it into the limelight.
However, an experimental film like ‘Bombay Talkies’ for instance, backed by star directors like Karan Johar, Zoya Akhtar, Dibakar Banerjee and Anurag Kashyap not only managed to grab eyeballs, but it also became a celebration of a kind of Indie cinema. Mainstream superstars like Katrina Kaif and Amitabh Bachchan agreed to do cameos in the film, while a star-spangled title track featuring the likes of Shah Rukh Khan, Akshay Kumar, Rani Mukherjee, Kareena Kapoor, Aamir Khan etc ushered in audiences eager to see the glitz and glamour.
‘Bombay Talkies’ also saw heavy-duty promotions and marketing, something that a film like ‘Ship of Theseus’ hasn’t seen thus far. What remains to be seen, however, is how well received a film like ‘Ship of Theseus’ becomes, having already won over International audiences at several film festivals all over the globe.
Here’s hoping films like ‘Ship of Theseus’ manages to shatter the glass ceiling, and win favour with audiences when it releases in India this week. In that case, it will truly turn the axiom of ‘More Stars Equals More Success’ well on its head.