Indian film industry's favourite bouncing bunny is dancing with increased exuberance. Only this time Shahrukh Khan isn't getting paid for it. The new millennium will see the actor play a new role, that of a producer. Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani, debut film of Dreamz Unlimited'a banner jointly floated by actress Juhi Chawla, director Aziz Mirza and Shahrukh'figures among the first few Y2K releases alongside Aamir Khan's Mela and Kamalahaasan's Hey Ram. And the media's left speculating on whether the company floated by Hindi filmdom's top stars will succeed in bringing a modicum of order into the chaotic world of film production. Can it contrive to bring Hollywood-style professionalism to Bollywood's doorstep?
Shahrukh calls Dreamz a collective dream of three individuals. The Khan had even considered launching a film production company with Jackie Shroff till, one fine day, Aziz popped the question and Dreamz was born'practically instantly. But the joint venture certainly seems part of a larger trend. Isn't every other Indian actor turning entrepreneur these days'opening restaurants, boutiques and producing TV software? According to industry sources, with the overseas market growing by the day, every actor now wants to do at least one home production every year to tap nri cash. In the case of Phir Bhi.., the overseas rights were reportedly sold for Rs 4.5 crore at the very instant the film was announced, while the Indian rights are said to have gone for Rs 2 crore per territory.
The Hindi film industry has traditionally been ruled by studios, which, unlike a Warner Bros or a Twentieth Century Fox, have been more of family enterprises. So unorganised is the industry that the entire market still depends on a few individuals for finances'Bharat Shah, Vashu Bhagnani and Jhamu Sugandh among others. No wonder a very pragmatic Harshad Mehta once suggested that in the absence of a constant source of financing, institutional funding could go into producing films. This year, Bollywood was formally recognised as an industry'but only on paper. No real concessions have been granted, even electricity isn't offered to the studios at subsidised rates. There are only a few scattered attempts at regularisation'Subhash Ghai's Taal was the first movie to be fully insured against risks and delays. It's in this context that Dreamz acquires importance. Can Shahrukh take the first step in turning film production into a formal corporate exercise? Traditionalists believe an assembly-line technique can't work in India. 'Films need to be made with passion,' says trade analyst Amod Mehra.
It's to be an informal setup for some time. 'All three of us feel like a family. We've left the business to others who know the game,' says Shahrukh. Producer Yash Johar's taking care of money matters while Juhi's husband Jai Mehta is handling the legal aspects. Close buddy 'Adi' (Dilwale Dulhania... director) Aditya Chopra has conceptualised the tune of the title track which was polished up by Jatin-Lalit.
Dreamz follows in the footsteps of abcl whose films didn't quite click with audiences. 'We're taking one step at a time, if things turn out right we'll branch out a little more,' says a cautious Juhi. The attempt now seems to be to try and discipline the filmmaking process so that films are made in a shorter span of time.
Finances for the first film have come from the sale of music rights'which went for about Rs 3.5 crore'and from overseas rights (Rs 4.5 crore). No wonder the film also targets the 'new' global, urban Indian. Inspired by Billy Wilder's The Front Page and the Kathleen Turner starrer Switching Channels, the film is a tale of love in the times of TV. Shahrukh (Ajay Bakshi) and Juhi (Ria Bannerjee) play warring TV journalists who're ready to sink to any depths to get a great story and good trps. Rings true in an age where the rat race is hyped as the be-all and end-all. 'It's about today's people, their dreams and ambitions,' concurs Juhi.
In a first of its kind marketing move, the music company, Sony, had a singles album release, with just the title track and three remixes from Bally Sagoo, Partners in Rhyme and DJ Akbar Sami. It's also the first film for which an exclusive, stand-alone music video has been shot with the lead players. The tongue-in-cheek video reflects the spirit of the film. There's a willingness to take potshots at Indians, at their little swindles and dishonesty and yet there's a sentimental assertion of the essential goodness of the Indian heart. Will this turn-of-the-millennium nationalism sit well with the turn-of-the-millennium viewer? That'll also decide whether Shahrukh, Juhi and Aziz can dream some more.