When we think of the Bhojpuri film industry, we think of its songs, language and over-dramatised storylines. What we tend to forget is its stupendous reach. Ravi Kishan, one of the most celebrated artistes of Bhojpuri cinema, laments the recent decline in the industry and sends out a clarion call to unite and return this regional cinema to its glory days
ON THE YOUNG BHOJPURI
INDUSTRY BEING SO SUCCESSFUL
More people speak Bhojpuri than any other regional language, around 25 crore people. Second, Bhojpuri fever caught on when I came into the industry, bringing in stars from Nagma to Rambha and so many others, especially at a time when Bollywood was totally into Karan Johar-type of films. This was back in 2001. They were all going modern and the Indian touch, the desi feel, was missing.
It was a time when single-screens were shutting down and multiplexes were becoming all the rage and people stopped going to single-screens. Also, single-screen cinemas were falling apart all over the country. This was when Bhojpuri films began to draw attention. The language, the attitude, the stories, the songs were exactly what the audience wanted.
Thanks to this, I became hugely successful. It became an addiction for people, and I started doing 16-17 films a year because I wanted the audience to stay addicted to Bhojpuri cinema. Three to four years later, Manoj Tiwari joined the industry and became very successful, followed by names like Pawan Singh and Girdharilal Yadav. I have done 400 films in my career, 350 of them in the Bhojpuri language.
ON THE REVIVAL OF BHOJPURI CINEMA
After Sujit Kumar, the Bhojpuri industry shut down for about 12 years. In between, Kunal Singh did some good films but then, the industry slowed and eventually shut for 12 years. I made my entrance after that. I came in with a new phase and I revived the industry. I worked very hard. I was trained in Bollywood and that training helped me. I brought everything, from glamour to class, to the media. Media ki madat I have taken a lot. The media has supported me big time. Then, when Nagma made her debut and did Panditji Batai Na Byah Kab Hoi, it became a huge hit. So credit goes to Nagma and Mr Mohanji Prasad for making all this happen.
ON THE RECENT DECLINE IN THE INDUSTRY
The audience was happy with Bhojpuri cinema but it has declined in the last couple of years. The audience is looking for good content once more. They want more story-oriented films. With the audience getting more and more mature, you cannot keep fooling them with the same kind of content. You cannot keep repeating the ‘80s theme and remaking old movies.
IT IS HIGH TIME WE ALL CHANGED.
Producers are not earning well and many are suffering losses. Times have changed from the days when I used to do female-oriented films based on dahej pratha (dowry), bhroon hatya (female foeticide), etc. We are moving away from all that and that is why we are losing the audience once again. We are not getting the kind of openings we used to get any more.
It is time to think and rethink. Telugu cinema is rocking big time, Marathi cinema is doing great and so are many other regional cinemas. We have to come back again but with a little support from the government, which is lacking big time right now. The UP government is supporting us with subsidies as is Jharkhand. But Bihar has to realise that
the biggest audience for Bhojpuri cinema is from that state. The major money spinner state for Bhojpuri cinema is Bihar.
We are actually surviving on Bihar right now. The condition of cinema halls in Bihar is so bad that the family audience has stopped going to theaters. Also, the content of some Bhojpuri films has begun to revolve around double entendre and we are thus alienating the female audience. Now they watch my movies at home, on television but they do not let their husbands go to theaters to watch films because some kind of stupid song will come in between. Things like these are affecting business.
It is a huge industry, which produces 70-80 films a year. We have to get together and arrive at a solution. I am doing a few movies this year with which I hope to get families back into cinema halls once again. We will see hit films once more, in the same way that Salman Khan sees crazy openings for his films.
Now I am doing films like Tanki Daroga and then there is a sequel titled Bairi Kangna 2. The first film Bairi Kangna was a blockbuster. Then there is another film called Radhe, which shows an emotional connection between me and an elephant. With all these concepts, I am trying to combine these emotions. I am sure I will be able to win back the audience and revive the industry because I know what works for me over here. My fans will come back.
ON THE LOW PRICE OF SATELLITE RIGHTS
This happens a lot, thanks to a handful of producers who bargain badly. Producers in other regional industries are partnering with big banners and that gets them a better price. Right now, we are getting 30-35 lakh rupees for the satellite rights of our films, which is very, very little. So content that will revive the industry – like my films Tanki Daroga, Radhe and Kashi Ambernath, which is a film produced by Priyanka Chopra’s production house – will help us get back in the market big time.
BHOJPURI VERSUS OTHER
We have to be united and focused right now. We have to be careful about making sweeping statements when we talk about what works and what doesn’t. Content matters, otherwise our films will flop. Yes, superstars will attract fans to cinemas but the superstar also needs content. We need good directors, we need good scripts.
Times have changed and even Bollywood is going completely desi. In fact, the stars and their stories in Hindi films are going to the villages now. That’s what is working right now and that is what will work for 4-5 years because there are a lot of scripts and stories in those places. There are emotions in these places that are lacking in the metro cities. People have become like machines, with barely any emotions left. So we lack content like this and we also lack big budgets. We do not have good back-up, we do not have strong financers.
I am planning to talk to big production houses like Zee or Eros for Tanki Daroga, so that it helps revive the industry. We have to bounce back. We have the actors, we have everything going for us, and the biggest thing is that we have the audience.
WHAT BHOJPURI LACKS
My film with Anurag Kashyap, Mukkabaaz is going to all the big international festivals, it is opening at the Toronto Film Festival. Then there is Julie 2, in which I play a South superstar. There is so much happening, I am talking to you and connecting with my audience, so there is no personal pressure for me really.
But we do lack budgets and we lack focus. I have worked in the South before and I am currently working there as well, and I can tell you that, in the South, people are so focused on their films that it’s all they talk about, when they are brushing their teeth, when drinking, partying… just about all the time! We lack that kind of madness. We have done well for ourselves, bought flats and everything. But that’s not all. That’s not me. It has to be that marne ke baad amar bhi hona hai.
People should talk about you, remember you and your work when you are gone. To create that kind of history, you have to work hard. You have to immerse yourself in the world of cinema to create big films. And we have to be responsible because we take money from the audience. We should not waste it, partying. We should give them something substantial, with a message, so that they come back to cinemas.
ON TAKING BHOJPURI CINEMA INTERNATIONAL
People have appreciated my films in all the wonderful places around the world. Right now, we are planning to produce some films for markets like Mauritius. In this country, the mindset of the people goes back to
when the British took people there as bonded labour to work on sugarcane plantations… that is the core. Keeping those emotions in mind, I am planning to make a movie for which I am in talks with the government of Mauritius. I am planning to touch their emotions and have these movies premiere there.
They are watching Bhojpuri movies on YouTube and they have connected very well with us. Whenever I visit these places, I always get a red-carpet welcome and a lot of respect from the government. I have to do something for them otherwise that market will not widen.
Now Amazon and Netflix have become big and we want them as buyers. I want them to buy our movies too. They are buying not only Hindi films but South movies and other regional movies like Bengali and Marathi films too. Steps like these make producers extremely secure and it is very important to do that. So my next target is to have these digital platforms become our buyers. This will lead to bigger budgets for me, which will help to make better films.
INDUSTRY’S REVIVAL, A PERSONAL MISSION
Give Bhojpuri cinema six months and I promise you this will happen. I have two to three good films releasing in the next 6-8 months and these will help me revive the industry. I am working very, very hard on this. I am working on my body, on my brain and on scripts. I will get my fans back. They have been watching me for a long time and want to see me fitter and tougher. I want to be better and attract them with their kind of cinema.
The good thing for me is that I have more than one set of fans. I have Bollywood fans, I have South fans, my Bigg Boss fans and my Bhojpuri fans. This is what supports me. I have worked in the Bhojpuri industry for 17 years and have seen superstardom. And I have worked in Bollywood for 25 years. Thank God I am still in demand.
ON HOLLYWOOD FILMS NOT
BEING DUBBED IN BHOJPURI AFTER SPIDERMAN
Yes, Hollywood films stopped coming our way after that. I think I will sit down with the big filmmakers and have a discussion with them. I will show them the unity and pride in our fraternity. Like in Andhra Pradesh, all the producers are solidly united. They are best friends. They come together and stand together as a force. We too need to sit down together because mere akele se kuch nahi hoga. I cannot handle everything alone. It is team work. Filmmakers, financers, actors, everyone has to set their egos aside and come together for the sake of the industry.
ON THE BHOJPURI INDUSTRY – THEN AND NOW
The Bhojpuri industry has grown a lot, and people are now aware of it. We, Bhojpuri actors who are invited to platforms like Bigg Boss every year. We are given a lot of respect. I have been invited to every platform there is and it is a different kind of respect you get. It is really great. People rarely notice actors from the regional industries but the Bhojpuri industry has a different kind of masala. Even Bollywood has started using the Bhojpuri lingo and songs. It is a different level of attraction, and with lines like ‘Zindagi jhandva phir bhi ghamandva’, these things are becoming a cult.
And thank God people love what I have been doing and started taking me seriously. They thought there is this guy who is working with people like Shyam Benegal and Mani Ratnam and creating quite a stir. So they were curious about Bhojpuri. And, everyone from Mr Dilip Kumar to Govinda to Mr Bachchan has used the Bhojpuri lingo in their language. They use it in their films and the films become blockbusters.
Also, UP and Bihar have always been a kind of attraction for everyone, from Lalu Prasad Yadav to Ravi Kishan. Whether your watchman is Bihari or your cook is from UP or there is a cop or a lawyer, there is always a connection to UP. Even in Mumbai, this community is connected to your life, you are aware of them and you know them. The language is very easy to understand too as it is like a cousin to Hindi.
The Bhojpuri industry is very lucky in many ways, we just need to work harder to take it forward. Bhojpuri stars are used even while campaigning during elections. Mr Manoj Tiwari is a member of Parliament. I am a star campaigner for the BJP across India. The industry has been given a lot and now we have to figure out what we have to give back. This is what I and other people from the industry have to do. I have already done it once but I think I will have to do it again. I will have to keep fighting this war.
EXPECTATIONS FROM THE BHOJPURI INDUSTRY
Unity!!! We have to come
together, we have to think together and we need to have just one target. We need to be of one mind. Everyone has to set their egos aside. Everyone is a superstar here but you are only a superstar if there is a Bhojpuri industry. But, to bring about growth in the industry, we have to be normal, creative people and think about what this industry has given us. We have to salute the Bhojpuri industry and think about its betterment. Unity is power.
IMPORTANCE OF THE INDUSTRY
Our films have celebrated silver jubilees and golden jubilees. Our movies don’t leave cinemas after they release. All the heroines from the South started working in Bhojpuri films, from Naghma to Rambha to Bhagyashree to Shweta Tiwari. I have introduced more than 40-50 heroines to the industry.
Hungama toh bohot hua hai. Bigg Boss has played a huge role in in creating awareness for our industry. It has also given me a platform to make myself more aware to people across India. Bigg Boss played a very big role. We entertained there in Bigg Boss for three months, but Bhojpuri got a huge place on the map because of it.
Another highlight is that this cinema has saved single screens and did not allow even one single screen to shut down. If there are many single screen cinemas left in India, especially in the North and around Mumbai, it is because of Bhojpuri cinema. They haven’t been turned into buildings or malls.
Also, it has been economically good for so many people. All those thellawalas and samosawalas started surviving by selling their products outside these cinemas. They won’t be able to sell their wares outside malls and multiplexes. So the Bhojpuri industry has helped all these people.
This industry has also offered opportunities to amateur actors who did not find work in Bollywood. More than 50,000 families have benefitted economically from this industry. These people wouldn’t have been allowed into Bollywood because they did not have the maturity, the understanding and education that is needed to get into the Hindi movie world. They have not studied in the National School of Drama or at FTII; they haven’t assisted anyone before nor have they struggled with other filmmakers.
We have struggled. We have reached here after crawling on our hands and knees. Life ne actor banaya hai, zindagi ne actor banaya hai aur zindagi guru bani hai. So they should be grateful that they are surviving nicely in an expensive city like Mumbai. And they are all busy. If you call an actor from the Bhojpuri industry, no one has dates available now. These are the highlights of the Bhojpuri industry.
ONLY A MATTER OF TIME
Give us one year. I promise, I will try my level best. I said six months before but I will need a year because I have zeroed in on all the scripts and locked everything. Things have been signed and delivered. I just need one more year to come back and deliver a good performance.
We need just one film to make a comeback. There was only one Dangal, only one Baahubali, only one Bajrangi Bhaijaan. So we need only one good film. Just one movie like my Panditji Batai Na Byah Kab Hoi revived the entire industry, one single film did that. Then there was Manoj Tiwari’s Sasura Bada Paisawala, which was a big hit. I revived the industry with one movie, Saiyan Hamar in 2001. The industry came alive with that film after 12 years. And that was a silver jubilee. So, once again, I need just one film. Any one film that has a strong script, usme aatma laga ke kaam karna hai and then there will be no looking back.
ON THE FUTURE OF THE BHOJPURI INDUSTRY
The industry has a very big future. I am giving it all I’ve got, seeing it with thoughts, energy and honesty. This is the torch that will be carried by someone in the next 20 years. The Telugu industry was considered down-market 20 years ago but it has become respectable now. Just like that, we too will come up. We are a newborn compared to these industries and it will take some time. The Bhojpuri industry is just a 20-year-old industry compared to the others which have been around for decades. The future will be very bright for this industry, provided people understand what I am trying to say here, understand my honesty, understand my thoughts. If that happens, they will definitely rock.
– As told to Bhakti Mehta