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Biz catches franchise fever

Bollywood sees success in sequels

Characters who live happily ever after don’t demand sequels. The Hindi film industry has traditionally been a purveyor of fairy tales with predictably happy endings, so Bollywood, unlike Hollywood, has never been big on sequels. The scattered few that have released have failed. Conventional Bollywood wisdom states that sequels, no matter how big the original film was, don’t work.

But that is about to change.

This year, four major sequels will hit screens. The first, “Krrish,” bows in June. “Krrish” is the sequel to India’s first sci-fi blockbuster “Koi mil gaya” (I Have Found Someone), which released in 2003. The first, produced and directed by Rakesh Roshan and starring his son Hrithik, was a monster hit. Afterward, Roshan says, he stayed up one night watching “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and asked himself: “If they can make three films about one ring, why can’t we.”

“Krrish,” also starring Hrithik, tells the story of the original character’s son. Born with superpowers (which were endowed on his father by an E.T.-like alien), Krrish can leap across buildings and trees — he is India’s first homegrown celluloid superhero.

Rakesh pulled out all stops to ensure that Krrish is sufficiently super, hiring “House of Flying Daggers” action choreographer Tony Cheng Siu Tung for a fee greater than that of a typical Bollywood leading man — though still less than Tung’s usual quote.

The background music for “Krrish” was recorded in Prague to get a full orchestral sound and two American visual effects supervisors were brought in to oversee CGI effects. All of which has taken the film’s budget to over 450 million rupees ($10 million). Rakesh says: “I’ve been spending and spending but you can see every penny in the film.”

Two other sequels on the way are “Munnabhai II Innings” and “Dhoom 2.” The former is a sequel to the 2003 comedy “Munnabhai MBBS,” which was so successful that it was remade into three regional languages and also picked up by Twentieth Century Fox for an Americanized remake.

The second installment follows the good-hearted goon Munnabhai (who in the original tried to become a doctor) and his side-kick Circuit on another adventure. It is, says director Raj Kumar Hirani, not strictly speaking a sequel: “The film is another story with the same characters. It is more like James Bond in that sense.”

Sanjay Gadhvi the director of “Dhoom 2,” insists that in fact his film is the only “legal sequel.” The first, released in 2004, was a high-testosterone babes-and-bikes action film. In the second, the bikes have been ditched but the action, Gadhvi promised, “is bigger, better, more expensive,” and he says “It is more of a roller coaster ride.”

But producer Firoz Nadiadwala says his sequel — “Phir hera pheri,” skedded in June — is the “first true sequel” because “it takes up where the first story ended.” Like the others, Nadiadwala is pulling out the stops to ensure that the second matches the first at the box office — a special promotional video was shot for a steep 7.5 million rupees.

Next year will also see a smattering of second editions–among them “Hanuman 2,” a follow-up to the enormously popular animated children’s film “Hanuman” that grossed $166,775 in India.

Writer Jaideep Sahni sees these sequels as the by-product of Bollywood’s evolution into an increasingly organized, corporate film industry.

“It is no longer a hit and run operation,” says Sahni. “Producers are looking at revenue streams over decades rather than just the next Friday so they are thinking about product development and brand extension.”

But Sahni points out that these films will only work if they are more than just “tasty economic opportunities.”

“For recurrent numbers,” he says, “the second must also have something to say.”

Indeed the biggest challenge for filmmakers treading into sequels is how to better the first. “It’s a tough job because the characters are no longer unique and the expectations are sky high,” he says. “But ‘Godfather II’ was better than the first. We are also aiming for that.”

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