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Parallel Cinema

Malegaon is not quite Ramgarh. Nor is it Champaner. But it hosts a gutsy bunch of spoofy auteurs living off-off-Bollywood.

Parallel Cinema
Abhijit Bhatlekar
Parallel Cinema
Three hundred kilometres from Mumbai, in a small town called Malegaon, girls are normal and boys have hairstyles. Middle partition, chiefly. A line very often so defined and undisputed that it could not have been the work of the British. It's the enduring spell of Mumbai's filmstars on a far-flung satellite that's dependent on its noisy power looms, since modern economics doesn't have the good sense to encash what people really want to do.

In these spirit-stabbing ancient looms and other dark corners of Malegaon, there are boys in leather pants and cotton who dream of a life in the movies. A few of them have looked carefully at themselves in the mirror and discovered striking resemblances to their heroes from real and imagined angles. Malegaon has its own Amitabh, though a few inches shorter and many years younger than the blueprint. But almost as much in debt. He, like Malegaon's Aamir, is a welder of some sort. With its own Dharmendra, Amjad, Jackie, Pran, Shahrukh and others, it was inevitable that this Muslim-dominated town would recreate a few classics, meant entirely for its 14 small video halls. Like in Mumbai, here they watch other people's films and then make their own. But in Malegaon credit is given to the original.

Gabbar Singh becomes Rubber Singh and Basanti becomes Basmati in Malegaon Ke Sholay which was made for Rs 50,000 with a VHS camera. The film ran for over two months in the 200-seater video halls at Rs 10 per ticket, fetching a rumoured Rs 4-5 lakh. Malegaon Ki Shaan too was a hit. Both films have been bought for Rs 20,000 each by Krunal Music, a Mumbai-based company which distributed them in other small towns. Malegaon Ke Karan Arjun didn't do well but that inscrutable, irrational force of show business has already struck the town, bringing together, as it always does, the creative and the Shylocks. In the making are Malegaon Ka Don and Malegaon Ka Rangeela in which, a co-producer says, "the girl who plays Urmila will be in socially acceptable costumes." The sets of Malegaon Ka Mughal-e-Azam are deemed ready after someone painted on cardboard. The shooting of Malegaon Ki Lagaan is almost complete, but the search for Rs 15,000 to finish post-production is on.

It was a 15-day project that has stretched over a year. Its 27-year-old director Farogh Jafri is distraught. He writes plays free of cost partly because nobody would pay him. He also runs a tile-polishing business that has never really ended his attempts at staying afloat though he polishes them very well. One day he hopes he will leave tiles for those who see beauty in them and instead write films in one of Juhu's famous seedy hotels. Whenever this hope stabs harder than usual, he looks upwards at the sky, though Mumbai is somewhere to the south. "I married very young," he says in a manner that suggests it was a bad idea. When he runs his fingers slowly, almost cinematically, through a well-maintained mop of hair to convey the gravity of his "situation", it's finally confirmed that his red made-in-Malegaon GAP T-shirt is torn at the armpits. He has problems.

Malegaon Ki Lagaan was supposed to have brought him fame if not life-saving cash. "But it has stretched for so long for many reasons." Money being one. After sinking in someone else's Rs 30,000, he looks in confusion at the creature called films which always need more. Too many things have to go right to make a film, even in Malegaon.

DON rip-off: Big B Shafeeque, a welder by profession, handles a sticky situation in Malegaon ka Don.

Sometimes the "cinematographer", being a wedding cameraman, wouldn't turn up for the shoot because, naturally, there would be a wedding. Some days, not all the characters reach the sets because they have found work. Sometimes, the light is not good enough. They use natural light in Malegaon because it's free. "If it's overcast, we can't shoot.Our guys are so dark you won't be able to see their faces on the screen." Adding to all this, Farogh says with one hard slap on his forehead, "My Aamir Khan looks like Ajay Devgan."

There was a brief encounter with this Aamir the previous night outside a video hall. His face was shaped like a five-paise coin that became somewhat hexagonal when he smiled. He wore a ring that let out red and blue lights. It was as though this welder was carrying work in his ring. He had Aamir's looks just the way some people have inner beauty—a point of view. But he started Malegaon Ki Lagaan. He had somehow collected Rs 4,000 and approached Farogh with the grand idea of a home production. More money was to follow but after a few scenes were canned, Aamir said he was broke. That's when a lineman employed with the electricity board, Shivaji Ahire, stepped in. He would take an office loan and rescue the project but he had two conditions. His son would act in the film. Farogh agreed. His son would score the winning runs instead of Aamir Khan. Farogh objected, "as a creative person". Finally, the lineman relented.

This Lagaan is set in 1935. A cricket-playing Englishman asks the vegetarian king of Malegaon to swallow an egg failing which power supply will be cut off and water tax tripled. The king refuses but before any damage can be done, Malegaon's Aamir challenges the Englishman to a cricket match. "Fair boys with light eyes play the roles of foreigners." A "fair girl" from Mumbai plays Elizabeth, the English girl who has an unconditional crush on the hero. The "ladies" are all outsourced from Mumbai. They are usually small-time TV actresses who finish their schedules in about three days for Rs 5,000 or less. "They are respectfully treated with Bisleri," Malegaon's Dharmendra tells us, "and sent back with honour."

A call has gone out to the cast of Lagaan to assemble for a special Outlook photo-session. The boy who plays Kachra is missing. But there is a replacement available. He is a small thin man in lungi, and a shirt that used to be white. A man with expansive language disproportionate with his financial condition, he looks at our Tata Sumo and says in part Urdu, "If such a big car has come to Malegaon, it's a matter of honour." To impress the city people he exclaims "shit" every time the car goes over a bump. He is widely known as possibly the greatest fan of Hema Malini. She appears in his dreams "to place my head on her lap and put me to sleep". Never will Dharmendra meet a cleaner man in India.

The cast has assembled outside a locked deserted palace that was built in 1885 by 'Shrimant Anandraw Gaikwar'. There is a man who keeps the key to the palace for reasons nobody knows. He is missing, but the palace exterior will do. As the actors change their clothes, the lineman who has sunk his office loan into the project froths at the mouth. "These guys have delayed the film. These fools wouldn't come for the shoot on some days. But everybody would be here on the day the girls come." The anger at his truant and heterosexual cast is confounding because the actors are not paid. Including Aamir, who in fact put in Rs 4,000 to metamorphose from being Ajay Devgan.

LAGAAN rip-off: Ajay 'Amir' Sonawane gets ready for a shot. His director, however, feels the gentleman looks more like Ajay Devgan.

The boys come for the sheer excitement of being filmed, and for free meals. Most of the Rs 30,000 that has gone into Lagaan went in travel and food. Apart from the lead girls, only the wedding cameraman has been paid. Rs 7,000. He is now perched at one end of a bullock cart. Spectators are asked to press down the other end. That way the camera can go up and come down. They cannot afford cranes or trolleys. That's why a few kilometres away, 28-year-old Shaikh Nasir has put a vhs camera on the backseat of a bicycle and is pushing it. Pan in, Malegaon.

He is not shooting a spoof. "It's an original film about leprosy and the society's reaction to it," he says, threatening to become one of those who convey a "message" to people. When the actors are introduced, they turn out to be a primary school teacher, a utensil polisher, a jalebiwala, a calligrapher and two pharmacists. "I want to move away from spoofs," says Nasir, who in reality is the father of the irreverent Malegaon duplicates. He made Malegaon Ke Sholay and Malegaon Ki Shaan. It's his success, he says, that has created a dream factory in his town. "Spoofs will make money if they are really funny." That's one reason why despite trying to create a parallel film movement in Malegaon with social messages and other things, he will soon begin work on Malegaonwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge.

As night falls on Malegaon, a large group of people are gathering on the road as though there has been a delicious road accident. But what they are doing is only gawking at a cinema hall. It's late Thursday evening and the posters of the new Friday releases are up. One is Armaan and the other is Aadamkhor Haseena or Cannibal Beauty, a marginally dressed woman crouched on all fours which undisputedly is the best way to eat man. Malegaon has broad taste.

Almost the entire film industry is trickling into the hotel room for gentle banter. At the door is a man who stretches his thuggish hand and says, "Salim Jackie." He is the producer of Malegaon Ka Don, Malegaon Ka Rangeela and Malegaon Ka Mughal-e-Azam. Apart from being the town's Bharat Shah, he is also its Jackie Shroff. "Do I look like him?" He does. The real-estate broker sinks into a chair and introduces his past unsolicited. He says he was "Paani kum chai" which is what they call people with a criminal background. "I have been in jail for some time," he says, but when asked to give details he shakes his head gravely as though the gore of his past life will terrify us. He is somewhat demystified by Farogh later who, in between chuckles, reveals, "He is not a criminal. He tried to snatch a woman's chain and got caught." But Jackie insists that he used to be a terror. "I changed after I got married. That was a few years ago. It made me happy," he says. "I am happier now since I got married again." According to him, Don, Rangeela and Mughal-e-Azam will be on a grand scale. "The budget for each of these films is Rs 1-1.5 lakh."

Malegaon's Amitabh Bachchan is the next to drop in. Thirty-year-old Shafeeque Ansari wears sunglasses often these days, but that's not because he is a cautious welder. He is gaining some kind of fame in the town. The receptionist at the hotel requests him to chat with his friends. Shafeeque obliges in perfect condescension. But he has never been paid by his producers. "How can films be made if actors start charging?" he asks. Jackie whispers later that he has got into a "verbal contract" with Amitabh. "He will act only in my films," Jackie says, "for which he will get to share the profit."

Many more drop in. Shahrukh, Shashi Kapoor, Dharmendra, Amjad Khan and a few aspiring directors. When the conversation heads towards the future of Malegaon, there is a lot of excitement. Some want to export these films to other countries. Some want to make Malegaon Ka Devdas and Malegaon Ka Rambo. Farogh runs his fingers through his hair, looks at the ceiling and contemplates a breakaway concept, "Malegaon Ka Dinosaur."

The men are in the middle of important things. And the women outside are queuing up in a bustling chaotic line to fill water from a street tap.
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