Gautaman Bhaskaran
an indian journalist
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Cinema In General


Pans & Tilts…Star brand, Ta Ra Rum Pum, Bollywood in Pakistan…

Indian cinema has always had showmen. One of the earliest was Raj Kapoor. Shah Rukh Khan is the latest. While Kapoor and his ilk seldom stepped beyond cinema to promote themselves, the current crop of stars widely uses the advertisement medium. Performers like Aishwarya Rai, Amitabh Bachchan and
Shah Rukh Khan
Khan have virtually transformed themselves into brands, strongly associated with a variety of products. Bachchan has virtually become synonymous with all that is Uttar Pradesh. And much else. Khan drove Hyundai’s Santro to dizzying heights. Rai became the face of L’Oreal launching a million hearts. In fact, Khan and Bachchan charge Rs four or five crores each for every product or service they push.

I read a newspaper report the other morning that said with Ash now in the Bachchan stable, the family’s brand value has soared to Rs 700 crores.

The demand for film stars will now shoot skyward with India’s dismal showing at the World Cup. Companies are a little reluctant to let cricketers endorse their wares. So, the obvious alternative is actors and actresses. They have an edge over cricketers. Movie stars look dashing and glamorous, and it helps sell a consumer durable.

I remember adman Alyque Padamsee (known as God in Lintas which he led for long years) once telling me that when an ordinary, maybe plain Jane, housewife used, for instance, a Lux bath soap, she would imagine herself to be the actress promoting it. Those brief 15 or 20 minutes in the shower helped the woman to fantasise and feel a sense of joy.

So, the next time, you have a chance to drive a Ford Fiesta, think of yourself as Abhishek Bachchan!


The Aishwarya-Abhishek marriage does not appear to be fading. Every day, there is fresh news of the couple. And, the spokesperson remains the bride’s father-in-law, who has just revealed that his “bahu” will live with the Bachchans and even give up her maiden name. She would now be called Mrs Aishwarya Bachchan. This is commendable at an age when girls are unwilling to give up their own family identity, and even if they do, they usually add their husband’s surname to their own. So, Ms Rai will not be called Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, but just Aishwarya Bachchan. Well, as the Bard of Avon remarked, a rose by any other name will smell as sweet.. Ash will be as lovely sans the Rai title, I suppose.


Yash Raj Films’ “Ta Ra Rum Pum” opens today (April 27 2007). When a YRF picture releases, others stay away from the market. Such, I am told, is the power of the label. This Siddharth Anand’s Saif Ali Khan-Rani Mukherjee starrer is being keenly awaited, not because it comes from the YRF stable. It has two exceptionally good actors that Bollywood can boast of. Khan’s performance in “Omkara” (An adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Othello”) as Iago was brilliant, and Mukherjee’s roles in “Saathiya” and “Black” have been equally appealing. In an industry where stars want to look like stars and not like the characters they are called to portray, Saif and Rani seem like freshness personified. More about the movie after I see it.


Two recent films that drew a lot of attention in the West fared poorly in India. And for different reasons. Deepa Mehta’s “Water” was shorlisted among the five for the Best Foreign Language Oscar, and the movie went well with a Western audience still shocked by the injustices in Indian society, widows in this case, though they lived such lives in the twentieth century, a period in which Mehta sets her work. Indians were not impressed by such social documentation. In any case, what is the big deal: widows in India are still treated like dirt, at least in the rural and conservative milieus. And, the worst thing about “Water” was Mehta’s choice of actors: come on, surely Lisa Ray did not look like, and could not play, a widow. She is too much of a catwalk model to get into roles like this. John Abraham looked pathetic as the dhoti clad Gandhian ready to wed a widow.

Mira Nair’s “The Namesake” was certainly a great movie, and its lead performers, Irfan Khan and Tabu, melted into the characters of the Bengali couple. Watching them on the screen, it was hard to say they were anybody else, let alone Irfan and Tabu. The film itself was very well directed and paced. It was quite classy, but sadly a little too mature and refined for Indian viewers, used to messy love stories and nonsensical song-and-dance rituals. We still love garish costumes, opulent sets, and actors who play demi-gods, far, far removed from any trace of reality.


Tailpiece: Bollywood will now travel to Pakistan. Once, Lahore was a renowned film centre, which shifted to Bombay after the 1947 Partition. There is a virtual famine of movies in Pakistan, which produced just 14 films last year. This year, the figure is likely to be lower. Compare this with India’s production of 1100 in 2006, of which 250-odd were in Hindi. There is nothing now to feed Pakistan’s 50 or so operational theatres out of the 212 still left standing. The question now is, will Bollywood pump oxygen to a cinema starved population? It all depends on the country’s politicians, I suppose.

(Webposted April 27 2007)