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A back-to-basics revival

Rural auds boost Bhojpuri film industry

While Bollywood woos splintered urban multiplex audiences with babes, bikes and bods, rural states in North India are left disengaged.

Once a lucrative territory for Mumbai’s films, the Hindi-dialect, Bhojpuri-speaking heartland has instead turned to the almost-defunct Bhojpuri film industry, revitalizing a sector that until recently was considered a poor cousin to the Bollywood industry — and churning out jaw-dropping B.O. numbers in the process.

Recent hits include “Sasura bada paisewala” (My Father-in-Law Is Rich), which cost $65,000 and grossed $3 million, and “Daroga Babu I Love You” (Mr. Policeman, I Love You), with a $60,000 budget, which grossed almost $900,000.

These family values and back-to-roots-themed, emotion-packed melodramas — shot within six months — do not vie for critical acclaim. But done on the cheap, they follow the old Bollywood formula of good conquering evil, replete with rustic settings and double-entendre songs.

Mehmood Ali, producer of “Laghi choote naa” (Stay Connected) with a budget of $330,000 and Saroj Khan’s debut film, “Dil diwani tohar ho gayil” (My Crazy Heart Is Yours) costing another $330,000, claims the secret to Bhojpuri’s boffo numbers lies in the absence of piracy.

“There are 60-70 prints released, and many distributed by the producer himself,” says Ali. “With much of the piracy taking place outside the country where we do not have theatrical releases of our films, the chance of Bhojpuri films getting pirated are minimized. DVDs are released only six months later, after the film has had its run.”

The Bhojpuri films’ consistent profitability has prompted mainline Bollywood to take note.

Octagenarian thesp Dilip Kumar and his wife, actress Saira Banu, are bankrolling their first Bhojpuri production, “Ab to ban ja sajanwa hamar” (Become Mine Now, Darling) skedded for release in May, while Bollywood dance choreographer Saroj Khan and fight coordinator Tinu Varma are making their directorial debuts in Bhojpuri pics.

Even Bollywood icon Amitabh Bachchan and his “Baghban” co-star Hema Malini will do cameos in “Ganga,” the directorial debut of Bachchan’s make-up artist, Deepak Sawant. Pic is skedded for May release.

Balaji Telefilms, a premier TV production house, launched its first Bhojpuri film, “Hum bal brahmachari, tu kanya kuwari” (I Am a Young Bachelor, You Are a Young and Single) skedded for June release.

Ravi Kishan, Bhojpuri cinema’s leading star, says, “Bollywood’s churning out pizzas and burgers while Bhojpuri cinema peddles home-made food with the aroma of mom’s cooking, which our auds can identify with.”

“Our audiences cannot relate to the fast-paced flicks churned out of Mumbai. They don’t want to pass on this mindless violence, sex and seemingly immoral values to their future generations,” says Bollywood starlet Nagma, who has hit pay dirt with more than 10 Bhojpuri films in the pipeline, including Sawant’s “Ganga,” in which she’ll play the title role.

“My films may have a suggestive song here or there, but they do carry a social message.”

Social messages and suggestive songs are disturbing no one. After all, Bollywood’s poor cousin has developed an uncanny knack for hitting the jackpot week after week.

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