From tacky clothes to loud acting Bhojpuri Cinema has come a long way
Author Avijit Ghosh chronicles the history of Bhojpuri Cinema and distinguishes it from the other regional cinema in India. His book Cinema Bhojpuri is the one of the first studies into the history and themes of Bhojpuri cinema.
Cruel landlords, crafty moneylenders, corrupt politicians, righteous heroes and uninhibited dancing girls, are some of the characters of a successful Bhojpuri film. Often considered kitschy and crude by 'polite' society, Bhojpuri cinema has had astounding success from the 1990s onwards, which can only be explained by its overwhelming popularity among the other half of new India. What is it that makes Bhojpuri cinema tick? What is the logic of its aesthetics? And most importantly, how did these regional language films become a profitable industry? Author Avijit Ghosh answers all of these in book Cinema Bhojpuri.
During his growing up years Avijit has extensively travelled Bihar and Jharkhand. Avijit is a journalist by profession and is currently working in Times Of India, New Delhi. “I write regularly on cinema, sports and on any other topic that fascinates me. I have written a novel set in the times of 1970s in Bihar named, Bandicoots in the Moonlight (2008),” he says. His second book Cinema Bhojpuri (2010) has also won a Special Mention in the Best Writing on Cinema category in the 58th National Films’ Award last month. Below are the excerpts from the interview.
Tell us about your association with Bhojpuri cinema?
I spent most of my teenage years in Arrah, a small town in Bihar.That’s where I learnt to understand and speak the language. The first Bhojpuri movie I saw was Balam Pardesia (1979). A neighbourhood grocer used to play the movie’s songs over a loudspeaker. Thanks to the grocer, by the time we left the town, I had already fallen in love with Bhojpuri films and songs.
What spurred you to write on Bhojpuri cinema?
Over the years, I had come across many articles on the regional genre. But there were no books on Bhojpuri cinema. I felt I could write one myself. The idea of writing the book first came to me after I watched two Bhojpuri super hits like Sasura Bada Paisawala and Panditji Batain Na Biyaah Kab Hoi, in 2005.
Give us an outline of your book?
The book tells the story of Bhojpuri cinema, from its inception to 2008. Roughly speaking, the genre can be divided into three stages. The first period begins with Ganga Maiya Tohe Piyari Chadhaibo, the first Bhojpuri films which was released in 1962, and ends in 1968. Between 1969 and 1976, only one Bhojpuri film was released. The second phase begins with Dangal in 1977 and continues with crests and troughs till 2001. The third phase began roughly in 2002 and continues till today. This phase marks the advent of a bold and confident phase of the genre. In 2006, the censor cleared 76 Bhojpuri films. Between 2004 and 2008, at least 275 films were made. What was a cottage industry earlier is a full-fledged industry now.
My book also includes chapters on how Bhojpuri cinema has expanded to different parts of the country. Apart from Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh, which is its prime constituency, it is now also popular in pockets of Punjab. Bhojpuri movies are also shown in Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata. There are also write-ups on the superstars of Bhojpuri cinema – Manoj Tiwari, Ravi Kishan and Dinesh Lal Yadav Nirahua. There is a separate section on the evolution of Bhojpuri film music too.
Is there a sizeable audience for Bhojpuri movies?
According to the 2001 census, about 3.3 crore Indians recorded Bhojpuri as their mother tongue. However, the number of those who speak and understand the language must be several times higher.
Tell us something about the content of Bhojpuri films?
Thematically, a majority of Bhojpuri films belong to the broad category of family dramas, with plenty of songs, dance, laughter and tears. Most super hits till the end of the 1980s fall in this category. With time, however, the percentage of action films has grown significantly in the genre. There are a few mythological films too in the language, but those have generally flopped. Other categories are exceptions to the rule. Bairi Kangna (1992), Piparwa Paar Ke Brahm (2004), and Naag Nagin (2008) are rare supernatural movies in the genre. Tu Hamar Haoo (2007), which was heavily borrowed from the Bollywood thriller, Darr (1993), is one-of-its-kind. Ho Jaye Da Naina Chaar (1995), a remake of Bollywood film Kohinoor (1960), starring Meena Kumari and Dilip Kumar, is a one-off costume drama with palaces, kings and sword fights.
There are some dacoit dramas too: Saiyan Bedardi (2002), Ganga Jwala (1987), Dhartiputra (2005) and Hum Ta Ho Gaini Tohar (2005) to name a few. Half-hearted attempts to film Rabindranath Tagore’s classic, Nauka Doobi, also had a disappointing outcome: Piya Bin Nahi Chain (1991). In recent years, the genre has attracted Bollywood biggies, actors as well as producers, leading to its upward social mobility. Way back in 1984, Amitabh Bachchan made a special appearance in director Sujit Kumar’s Pan Khaye Saiyaan Hamar (1984). In recent years, he has played major roles in two big-budget films, Ganga (2006) and Gangotri (2007). And who in his wildest dreams would have foreseen six prints of Spiderman 3 being dubbed in Bhojpuri and actor Ravi Kishan being the desi voice for Toby Maguire?
Some people feel that the Bhojpuri film industry is a poor cousin of Bollywood. What do you think?
The resurgence of Bhojpuri films could be construed as a reaction to the way Bollywood refashioned its cinematic language and landscape after the arrival of satellite television in 1991. With the growth of the dollar-rich NRI market and multiplexes becoming urban India’s new temples of entertainment, young gel-and cologne film-makers with Hollywood sensibilities found a formula to bypass ‘India Unhappening’.
Soon, Hindi commercial cinema’s alienation from vast swathes of middle India was complete. The phenomenon caused an explosion of feel-good urban cinema. These films were marked by a sensibility and style of narrative that the underclass—who viewed films in ramshackle single-screen theatres—was unable to identify with. It was this fissure in aesthetics that the region-specific Bhojpuri cinema adroitly filled in and continues to do so. At one level, therefore, Bhojpuri cinema is a protest against Bollywood. But the latter is the dominant cinema of the country. So Bhojpuri cinema is also attracted towards it and also tries to imitate it. This, sadly, ends up diluting its regional identity.
Does Bhojpuri cinema have any takers in other countries?
Bhojpuri is spoken and understood in several countries such as Mauritius, Fiji, Surinam, Guyana and Trinidad. Potentially, there can be a market.
It is said that Bhojpuri films are filled with vulgarity? Comment.
Bhojpuri films have little sex. However, the dresses worn by the dancers in the item songs can be construed as inadequate by conservatives. Some songs also have lyrics with double meaning. I feel every cinema has its own aesthetics depending on its primary target audience it caters. And Bhojpuri cinema is no different. As for the dialogues, the cuss words used in Bhojpuri film are pretty mild compared to what we heard in Bollywood movies like Omkara or Ishqiya.
Who are your favourite Bhojpuri actors?
My favourite hero is Dinesh Lal Yadav Nirahua. I like his energy. I have enjoyed watching Padma Khanna as heroine in the 1970s.
Which is your favourite Bhojpuri film and why?
My favourite Bhojpuri film is Bidesiya (1963). Sujit Kumar did a fabulous job as the hero. And S N Tripathi composed some of the finest songs ever in the genre.
Author: Avijit Ghosh
Book Name: Cinema Bhojpuri
Publisher: Penguin India
Price: Rs 399/-