Sriram Raghavan and Dibakar Banerjee are not alone when they feel that there is scant audience for offbeat cinema (The Hidden Superstar of Indian Cinema – Music). But that, as I will show, is just part of a fixed mindset.

And what is ‘offbeat’cinema? Is it that film that does not have one or more big stars, a high budget, popular music or other perceived box-office boosters like action, an item song (cabarets, discos or mujras earlier) and maybe loud melodrama or comedy and overseas shoots? Or is such cinema restricted to a powerful, preferably dark story, an unconventional or/and bold subject, a slow pace and a certain aura? Are there some of these factors present – or almost all?

Padosi Movie Poster
Padosi Movie Poster

What about the fact that so many genuine talents believe in only two kinds of cinema: good or bad? And what is good or bad beyond subjectivity?

Well, the audience, always the sharpest, keeps it simple: it needs to feel that a movie should be worth its time and money. That’s a good film!

We therefore ask Sriram and his school a simple question: Why have so many offbeat films of all kinds (including and excluding those with stars, good music and decent budgets) enjoyed great footfalls? And why is that true of every decade?

V. Shantaram’s Padosi in 1941 was a classic example of a serious (it might be called ‘dark’ today!) story of communal clash that led to tragedy. Rattan in 1944 had super-hit music, but that wasn’t the reason why this bold subject lured audiences and made this non-star-cast film one of the all-time blockbusters of Hindi cinema!

Anand Movie Poster
Anand Movie Poster

And so it went on in each decade: Baiju Bawra, Jagriti, Do Bigha Zamin, Boot Polish, Sadhana, Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje, Toofan Aur Diya, Do Ankhen Barah Hath, Pyaasa, Phir Subah Hogi and Sujata among the 1950s hits, and Bandini, Haqeeqat, Anupama, Aashirwad, Mujhe Jeene Do, Dharamputra, Kanoon and Ittefaq in the ‘60s.

In the ‘70s there was even a specific ‘New Wave’/ Art cinema movement against the perceived star system, but once again, only the worthwhile movies in that list made it—Rajnigandha, Ankur, Chhoti Si Baat and Junoon. But more well-made offbeat cinema clicked: like Anand, Guddi, Mere Apne, Koshish, Achanak, Swami and Khatta Meetha. The ‘80s saw Chashme Baddoor, Arth, Ardh Satya and Ankush. Maachis, Satya, Sarfarosh et al studded the ‘90s.

Lagaan Movie Poster
Lagaan Movie Poster

The multiplex era in the millennium exuded bigger hope for ‘different’ cinema, and due to reasons not really important here, many offbeat films got and keep getting high praise.

But the audience was not carried away—it still chose the truly meritorious movies across genres, from Lagaan, the Raju Hirani quartet of two Munna Bhai films, 3 Idiots and PK, Taare Zameen Par, Chak De! India, Barfi! and OMG – Oh My God! with big stars, to Khosla Ka Ghosla, A Wednesday!, Delhi Belly, Kahaani, Vicky Donor, Bhaga Mikha Bhaag and Queen all the way to a Dum Laga Ke Haisha.

Dhoom 3 Movie Poster
Dhoom 3 Movie Poster

One infallible test of a great ‘different’ film is that it is loved by all four distinct sections of viewers: the (supposed) masses and classes, the media and the fraternity itself. Most such films work well across the country and with all generations.

On the other hand, would completely mainstream films like Gadar, Dabangg or Dhoom:3 have made the money they did only if a specific kind of ‘mass’ audience had liked them?

Hallo! Where then is the divide?

– Rajiv Vijayakar, a Senior Journalist, Film & Music Critic and Historian for Hindi cinema and Film Music is also an Author and Twice Jury Member at 58th and 62nd National Film Awards.

Rajiv Vijayakar tweets @rajivvijayakar

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