(Attention Jayshah- These are the kind of never-heard-before regional cinema I was rerring to)
Three hundred films a year. An outlay of Rs 30 crore. Artistes from villages in western Uttar Pradesh. Themes mainly catering to the rural populace. Welcome to Mollywood-the now popular film industry of Meerut.
In the past four years, the industry has registered a growth of more than 50 per cent in terms of movies made. These films are a rage among the villagers, for whom this is the one source of entertainment. “Most of the stories are based on the rural lifestyle. It is clean entertainment, with no obscenity. The village folk identify with the characters,” said Harendra Nagar, a villager who was watching the shooting of Dhamki.
Mollywood owes its success to mimicry artiste Kamal Azad and audio company T-series. In 2000, T-series approached Azad with a proposal to make his hugely popular satirical cassettes into films. This was the start.
The first few films like Padosan Achchi Hai, Tau Rangeela and Begum Solah Saal Ki did fairly well but Dhak-ad Chora, released in 2003, was the first major hit. The love story between a Jat boy and a Muslim girl captured the hearts of the audience. “It had all the ingredients of a successful film like action, comedy and romance, and was a mega hit in the rural market,” said Bhupender Tetoria, who played the villain in the film.
More than one lakh CDs of this film were sold. “I have seen it 10 times. The story is well written, and brilliantly portrays the struggles in an inter-religious romance,” said Girza Shanker, a villager.
Interestingly, this industry has a unique way of screening films. Movies are not released in theatres. The film is sold to an audio company which makes CDs of it. There are around 20 such companies, and the CD is sold for Rs 20 each. Almost every house in the area has a CD player and a television.
The movie-making process is a far cry from the big budget-exotic locale set-up of Bollywood. The sets are cheap, minus any extravagance. Films are mostly shot in the agricultural fields or in the houses in the villages. A PD-170 video camera is hired for the shoot, which is completed within 20 days. The language is simple Hindi laced with ‘Haryanvi’, and the films are one to two hours long.
“We cannot afford expensive sets. Mostly, these films are a low-budget affair,” said a producer. However, there has been a rise in cost from the initial years. “Earlier, films could be completed with a budget of Rs 50,000. But as the market grew and films gained popularity, artistes started charging more. Now an average film would cost Rs 2 lakh, and if it involves top stars the budget goes up to Rs 7 lakh,” said actor Suman Negi, who is known as the Aishwarya Rai of Mollywood. The 19-year-old actor now charges Rs 1 lakh per film. The director’s fee varies from Rs 20,000 to Rs 40,000. “If the people associated with marketing and distribution are also taken into account, the number of people associated with the industry easily touches 4,000,” said Tetoria.
Mollywood’s hot pairs are Suman and Dev, Vijay and Megha, Uttar and Kavita, Rekha and Rajesh and Shweta-Jitendra. In direction, it’s Prasun Mishra, Mohammed Asif and Dhermesh Jaitley who top popularity charts. The actors mostly naturals have had no formal training. “We have never been to any acting school,” said Suman and Dev, who spoke to THE WEEK on the sets of Dhamki. “We gradually adapted to the style and methods of film-making. We learnt through trial and error.”
Some others like Tetoria have taken formal training. Tetoria did a course in acting at the Shri Ram Center for Performing Arts in Delhi. His entry into Mollywood, though, was accidental (as most actors claim). “I never thought I could become an actor,” he said. “I had accompanied a friend to a documentary shoot in Delhi. The director spotted me and offered a role. This proved to be a turning point in my life, and I became a part of Mollywood.”
The films are usually folklore stories or comedies or desi versions of Bollywood hits. For instance, Desi Sholay is an imitation of the cult film Sholay but with some twists. Gabbar Singh has been renamed Gobar Singh and instead of horses (as in the original), he uses donkeys for his dacoities.
Though popular and still growing, Mollywood has many hurdles to cross. “Our first major problem is the stepmotherly treatment shown by the government and administration. We are often denied permission to shoot. The police, too, harass us,” said director Mohammed Asif. “But we get 100 per cent support from the villagers. They allow us to stay in their houses, and provide us food.”
The talent in Meerut seems to have impressed Bollywood, too. “We get frequent calls from producers and directors in Mumbai who want to shoot with actors from Mollywood,” said Tetoria. Those associated with the industry are thrilled about the growth. “If the trend continues, the industry will grow considerably in the coming year. This means more money and more jobs for local artistes,” said Yogesh Mishra, an ex-Army man, whose love for films prompted him to become an artiste.