Thursday, 10 April 2014

A Requiem for Mollywood

Meerut was not the steaming cauldron of emotions always . Before the pre election communal riots hit the area , it had a sense of humour, a sense of irony and great zest for community living . But most of that is silenced today, and as Groucho Marx once lamented about his country,  “…The restrictions , political and religious , have killed satire ..first thing which disappears when men are turning a country into a totalitarian state , is comedy and comics ..” .

Frightening words these for this boom town in the western Uttar Pradesh that once upon a time was home of Hindi’s bestselling pulp fiction ( it sold over a million copies of Vardi Wallah Gunda alone , a crime novel by Ved Prakash ) . The rich macho town, a mere hour’s drive from Delhi, remains the biggest producer of sports goods and musical instruments in India and bicycle rikshaws in the world. Meerut district has always had high crime rates and a romantic core harboured by outlaws all the world over. So when it is not making money or looting it, its fancy turns to thoughts of romantic comedies and crime fiction .

After the death of Nautanki, a folk theatre form replete with music and melodrama , Meerut took to producing regional language films for the vast rural audiences who watched them on inexpensive ( starting at Rs 1000) VCDs that could be run on tractor batteries . And by the first decade of this Century, Meerut had a thriving multi crore film industry employing 15,000 young men and women . Mollywood as some called Meerut’s film industry, catered to three rich states in the sugar belt : Haryana , Delhi NCR and UP. I chanced upon this nugget of information during my tenure as a member of the Indian Board of Film Certifcation, authorized to check and sign the release certificates of regional language films . This film industry was  marked by the energy , audacity and speed , so cherished by this gun loving sugar belt . And it refused to feel inferior to Bollywood . Infact, in a newspaper interview Uttar Kumar , the hero of the run away hit film Dhakad Chhora, claimed that Vishal Bhardwaj’s Omkara has actually copied them ! 

“This is our greatest film !” ( Yo sai mharee Dhakad Fillum !) says Ombir of village Bagpat who has already seen Dinesh Chaudhary’s ,‘Dhaakad Chhora’ , the runaway Haryanavi hit of 2004 , nine times . He adores its hero Uttar Kumar and heroine Suman Negi ( the Aishwarya Rai of the sugar belt , also the highest paid actor in Haryanavi films) . “ Hallaat ka to humein na pataa per yahan to taliyan in Filmon pe hee bajey hain ! ( I know nothing about the state of film industry but here these are the films that get all the applause ) , he says . He can recite verbatim the immortal dialogue between the hero and his girl friend's father : 

Father: ‘Your death has brought you here .
(Tujhe Teri Maut yhana Kheench Lai hai !)
Hero:  ‘ Tis not my death Samaruddin ! but Shabnam’s love that has brought me here .’

(Maut nahin Samaruddin , Mujhey yahana Shabana Ki Muhabbat kheench Lai hai !)

Thunderous claps !

Compared to Mumbai ,films could be produced in Meerut on shoestring budgets ranging from 2 to a few lakhs . This was a micro fraction of what a Bollywood superstar charges ( even the hit Dhakad Chhora , was produced within 3.5 lakhs). Actors’ fee ranged from Rs 5000 to Rs 10,000 a day , most of the shooting took place in village homes or on the side of canals and highways and wraps up within 10 to 20 days . The ready film , (usually to be distributed through the T series from Delhi ) only needed a certification from the regional offices of CBFC located in New Delhi . This was easy, given that these films fell in the category of regional dialect films .

Crew was easy to come by . It consisted of camera men who learnt their job by making wedding videos , small time construction industry wallahs , manufacturers of hand pumps , housewives also doubling up as social workers , sons of celebrated wrestlers (Pehelwans) . All rode this bandwagon and enjoyed the ride vastly while it lasted. Most comedies , as in Malegaon films , were spoofs of popular Bollywood productions or satires on local quirks ( Teri Meri Mughal e Azam , Rampur Ka Bunty Aur Babli , Choron Ki Barat , Chunav Pradhani Ka , Padosan Achhi Hai , Begum 16 saal ki , Ziddi Jat , Bibi nahin Bomb hai ) . Fights take place usually along canals with Lathis while romantic duets are sung upon buffalo Buggis or against the verdurous greens and yellows of mustard or sugarcane fields . Lathis replaced guns , hijackers are caught when their planes are brought down by Hookah power and Thugs cheat farmers out of their tractors and buffalos using ingenuous excuses .

All that is now gone! Behenji ( sister), says an old friend and newspaper correspondent to me . Today most film theatres and recording studios are locked up or turned into malls . Our own Vishal Bhardwaj started the trend for going away to Mumbai films and producing big budget films about west UP like Omkara . If people can hear our folk songs in the voice of sophisticated singers and see fights and special effects mounted at a cost of several crores, who will see our home productions ? Everyone is watching Bollywood on laptops distributed by Akhilesh Yadav( the Chief Minister’s). And anyone can download from the UTube today . Iss Ghar Ko Aag Lag Gai Ghar ke Chirag Se ! ( This house was set on fire by its own lamp!)


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