The Sun Rises In The East

The Bangla film industry did robust business in 2015, racking up several box-office hits and rewarding, content-rich cinema. Good times are clearly here!

The Indian film industry churns out around 200 films a year, of which Hindi films unarguably enjoy the biggest market share. As far as regional films are concerned, the South Indian film industry comes a close second, so much so that it is sometimes considered almost parallel to the Hindi film industry. Now we are witnessing a surge in the growth of Bangla films too. This is evident in the box-office performance of many content-rich Bengali films this year and signals a possible turning point in this regional film industry.

The chequered history of Bengali cinema, which spans roughly a century, has many notable triumphs. The period between the ‘50s and the ‘70s were probably the Golden Era of the Bangla film industry, with films by veteran directors like Ritwik Ghatak and the Oscar-winning Satyajit Ray dominating the Bangla film space. The industry nosedived during the ‘80s and has now risen like a phoenix again.

From a mere two-film industry in 2001, to 96 releases in 2010, Tollywood is making it a habit to churn out hits. Films in this regional space are now dominating the box office for more than just one or two weeks and sometimes experiencing even a 100-day run at cinemas. Take, for instance, the recent release Bela Seshe, which completed 200 days at the box office.

Contributing to the buoyant mood of this industry are burgeoning production budgets, which are giving production houses the leeway to choose locales across the globe like the US, Bangkok, Switzerland, Singapore, Hong Kong and Dubai, to shoot their films. Some small filmmakers are using these destinations to shoot just a song for their productions, another giant leap. Did we say ‘burgeoning’ production budgets? Yes, amounting to as much as `5 crore, which was unheard of until recently. Hence, if a film has a foreign location as its USP, its marketing will have to have similar impact. Naturally, marketing and promotional budgets have skyrocketed.

This may also have to do with the fact that several corporate production houses are looking eastwards. With digital cinemas entering the domain, piracy has plummeted, which means films run for at least seven to eight weeks at cinemas. Just like the Hindi film industry, Bengali films are now being tagged with two distinct labels – commercial films that fetch revenues from single screens vis-à-vis content-rich, multiplex films.

From the golden era of Satyajit Ray to a phase of commercial and masala films, and more recently the co-existence of art and commerce, the Bangla film industry has undergone a sea change in the last few years. Earlier, Bengal used to release two kinds of films – art-house and massy films. More recently, Besh Korechi Prem Korechi, which featured Jeet and Koel Mallick and released alongside Bollywood biggie, Salman Khan-starrer Bajrangi Bhaijaan, fared well despite the tough competition.

This year, during the festivities of Durga Puja, the Bengali film industry churned not one but five films – Rajkahini, Katmundu, Byomkesh Bakshi, Cross Connection and Shudhu Tomari Jonyo – all of which performed well at the box office. We spoke to producers, distributors, directors and actors from the Bangla film industry to gauge how the year 2015 has been for this regional film industry. Here’s what they had to say…

Mahendra Soni, Producer, Shree Venkatesh Films

Good Bengali films have always cornered the limelight in the regional space, judging by both box-office collections and their reception at international festivals and awards. Bengali films have finally been able to strike a balance between entertainment and aesthetics. With slick production values, good scripts and great performances, Bengali cinema has redefined commercial success.

Yes, 2015 has been a good year for Bengali cinema in terms of business, with four out of five films that released during the Puja holidays doing exceptionally well at the box office. Many continued to run even after Diwali.

Our next set of releases is clashing with Bollywood’s big releases on December 18. Har Har Byomkesh by Arindam Sil starring Abir Chatterjee as the sleuth is releasing on that day, followed by Aparna Sen’s Arshinagar starring Dev and Jisshu Sengupta, which is releasing during Christmas. Past experience shows that good Bengali detective/adventure films in December have always been accepted well, from Feluda to Chander Pahar. Let’s see what happens this time!

The number of Bengali films releasing every year has doubled vis-a-vis five years ago, encouraging companies to invest in Bengali cinema. The year 2015 has witnessed one of the longest-running Bengali film, Bela Seshe. It released in May and is still running at multiplexes. Good films always had and will continue to have a large audience.

Rane (Nispal Singh), Producer, Surinder Films

Our Bengali film industry has seen healthy growth in 2015, compared to 2014 as the number of films which did well has gone up. It’s not only the massy films that did well; audiences were treated to some small-budget films too. At Surinder Films, we had a great year as all three films of ours – Jamai 420, Besh Korechi Prem Korechi and Parbona Ami Chartey Tokey – did very well. Our film Besh Korechi Prem Korechi released on Eid along with Salman Khan’s Bajrangi Bhaijaan, and it went on to do bumper business. It also stood out in our centres, where it did tremendous business.

Ronnie Lahiri, Producer, Rising Sun Films

I think it’s been a good year. Audiences have supported good films and that’s why small-budget, content-driven films went on to clock good numbers. But the market needs to grow, it is still very limited. What we need to do is grow beyond Kolkata and West Bengal. Rajkahini, Bela Seshe, our film Open Tee Bioscope and Byomkesh Bakshi are examples of good cinema which released this year, and in spite of clashing with big Hindi and Hollywood releases, they went on to notch up good business. The great thing about the Bengali industry is that films run for 100-200 days and distributors and exhibitors in West Bengal are supporting good cinema.

Srijit Mukherji, Director

This was a great year in terms of both content and business. This year, I had two films releasing. Nirbak was an experimental film that didn’t do well at the box office while Rajkahini released during the Pujo and it turned out to become one of the most successful films of the year. It is still running in cinemas and it was critically acclaimed and it was a box-office success. I would say post 2010-2011, this year has been the best so far. We have had eight super-hits so far and are expecting a few more. 2014-2015 has been an extraordinary year.

Shiboprosad Mukherjee, Director

The year has been overwhelming especially for us. We made Bela Seshe on a very tight budget and finished quickly too. Though we had superstars working with us in the film, we didn’t even realise when we completed the film. We have always given our 100 per cent whenever we have made a film. This time the audience loved what we made and it was an overwhelming feeling. The story we wanted to tell was accepted by the entire nation. In fact, Amitabh (Bachchan) sir also loved the film. Eros International, one of Bollywood’s biggest corporate houses came on board to distribute the film outside West Bengal. So for us personally, the year has been great. We released in May and are still running strong.

Overall for the industry too, this year has been great. We have seen not only big commercial films but also small budget films doing great business. Several new filmmakers including Anindya Chatterjee of Open Tee Bioscope made their debut this year so in short this year, content was the winner.

Anindya Chatterjee, Director

This year has been very good for the Bengali industry and we have seen all kinds of cinema making money. The year started with medium-budget films. In fact, my debut film Open Tee Bioscope released in January and it did a good business at the box office. This year, the Bengali industry saw many debutant directors too.

2015 proved that content is king as films like Bela Seshe completed a 200-day run at the box office. Content-driven films did well at the ticket counter and Hindi films are no longer a threat to our films. For instance, my film released alongside Akshay Kumar’s Baby but it still did strong business. But if we compare our industry to the South or the Hindi industry, we are still very small as our market is restricted to West Bengal, especially Kolkata.

Sudeshna Roy, Director

This year has been quite successful. A small-budget film like Bela Seshe did outstanding business and is still running in many screens. I directed a film called Bitnoon this year, which did decent business at the box office and the rest of the money was recovered through satellite. Even Open Tee Bioscope did very well along with the other massy films. We don’t need any more proof that content works. During Durga Puja, we had five releases – Rajkahini, Katmundu, Byomkesh Bakshi, Cross Connection and Shudhu Tomari Jonyo – and they all went on to do decent business. When five films can survive at the same time, it proves that good times have arrived. Compared to 2014, 2015 had many more successful films.

Raja Chanda, Director

I believe this year has been very good for the Bengali film industry. We saw various kinds of films releasing, and what’s more interesting is we now have more content-based films and they are doing outstanding business. During Durga Puja, we had five releases and each one did well. My film Besh Korechi Prem Korechi released along with Salman Khan’s Bajrangi Bhaijaan during Eid and it went on to do good business too. Hindi cinema is no longer a threat to us. What we need to look at now is expanding our market. In 2015, we had six to seven films that did good business and two more films are yet to release. So I am hoping that 2015 will be a turning point for the Bengali industry.

Abhijit Guha, Director

I believe 2015 was a turning point for Bengali cinema because there were many small-budget films that did good business. It’s not just South remakes or masala films that are doing well; it’s content that is working and but I assume we will see more content-rich cinema in 2016. Besides, our cinema is reaching the international audience too.

This year belonged to debutant directors and all their films did well. We are also attracting many investors. Corporate houses like Eros International are taking interest in the Bengali industry so I definitely see a positive future. Another interesting aspect is that we have rich literature, which several directors are now adapting to film.

Kamal Gianchandani, Chief Executive Officer, PVR Cinemas

Much like the resurgence of Marathi films with De Dhakka in 2006, Bengali films witnessed a renaissance in 2010 with Srijit Mukherji’s Autograph.  This was one of the first multiplex-friendly films and with this film, the non-Bengali diaspora was exposed to storytellers other than Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Rituparno Ghosh and Aparna Sen.

While we are yet to witness a time when Bengali films release as regularly as Tamil and Telugu films, good content has been travelling out of Bengal at fairly good frequency. In fact, Bhooter Bhabishyat (Future Of The Ghosts), one of the biggest films of 2012 in Bengal and outside as well, was remade in Hindi in 2014 as Gang Of Ghosts. Bela Seshe, one of the biggest films of 2015, which ran for 126 days (18 weeks) at our cinemas in Kolkata, released to a good response in the rest of India by Eros International, more than a month after its original release on May 1, 2015.

Rich literature and enduring characters continue to inspire and capture the imagination of storytellers and the audience alike. The Feluda Series and Byomkesh Bakshi capers continue to find an audience.  Recently, Rajkahini directed by Srijit Mukherji featuring a stellar cast of Rituparna Sengupta, Jisshu Sengupta and Saswata Chatterjee, met with commercial and critical success outside Bengal as well and was one of the main draws at the recently concluded MAMI festival. We regularly release Bengali films with subtitles at our cinemas in Bangalore, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Pune, Delhi and Gurgaon.

Debasish Dey, Aum Moviez, Distributor

It was not a very encouraging or interesting year for the Bengali film industry. There were only a few hits and many more misses. Among the films that performed well are Open Tee Bioscope, Kadambari, Besh Korechi Prem Korechi Raajkahini, Sudhu Tomari Jonyo and Byomkesh Bakshi, with Bela Seshe topping the charts and doing outstanding business. Compared to the kind of investments that were pumped in by producers, the returns were not at all up to the mark. Except for the abovementioned films, the rest were duds. You could say it was a mixed bag.



Rohini Nag ,Soumita Sengupta
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