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The magic lies in packaging

SREEDHAR PILLAI

Unlike other South Indian directors, Priyadarshan has managed to make it big in Bollywood. He has a lot riding on his next two releases, `Kyon Ki' and `Garam Masala.'


Today, I am bold enough to say that `Kyon Ki...' will surely work with the multiplex audience who have accepted films like `Black,' and `Parineeta.'



'Garam Masala'

Chennai-based director Priyadarshan is one of the biggest success stories in Bollywood. Two of his films, the Salman-Kareena starrer `Kyon Ki... ' and the Akshay Kumar-John Abraham one `Garam Masala' are releasing on November 2 and 3 respectively.

Nearly Rs 40 crores is riding on these films, which trade feels will light up the festival season (Deepavali and Id). Priyadarshan is on a roll after his comedies were hits in the past few years - `Hera Pheri,' `Hungama' and `Hulchul.' No other director from South India has made this kind of an impact as Priyadarshan has, with his smartly packaged slapstick madness, which are remakes of his own Malayalam super hit comedy capers.

There was a time during the 1950s and 60s when South Indian directors like S.S. Vasan, L.V. Prasad and A. Subba Rao made successful family tearjerkers.



'Kyon Ki'

Cold response

In the early 1970s and 80's Raghavendra Rao, K. Bappiah and T. Rama Rao recycled their mass masala Telugu films into Hindi, mainly with Jeetendra as the hero. And noted Tamil directors like K. Balachandar, Bharathiraaja, Mani Ratnam and Shankar made their debut in Hindi, but after the initial euphoria they were not able to gain the upper hand in Mumbai. Mani Ratnam, considered by many as the best commercial director in India, had the critics raving but the box-office was cold to his `Dil Se' and the youthful `Yuva.'

All these South Indian directors faithfully made carbon copies of their films in regional languages or did subjects to which the North Indian audience had no clue. The producers had no idea what the Hindi belt audience wanted.

Today, Priyadarshan is one of the highest paid directors and the most sought-after by top Bollywood banners for making films within a limited budget that are safe bets at the box-office.



HOLLYWOOD-INSPIRED REMAKES: Director Priyadarshan

Sitting at his posh state-of-the-art Four Frames sound studio in Chennai, Priyan (as friends call him) says: "My Hindi films are mostly inspired from Malayalam comedies. Though the content is the same, I take care that they don't have the South Indian flavour."

Priyan points out that when he bought the remake rights of `Thevar Magan,' Kamal Hassan warned him that the subject would not work in Hindi as the story was rooted in Tamil culture. Adds Priyan: "I [gave it] an Uttar Pradesh backdrop with its feudal system, and `Viraasat' turned out to be one of my biggest hits in Hindi."

Early days

Priyadarshan has come a long way from his early days in Thiruvananthapuram where he used to dream about making it big in films. His father was a librarian at the Public Library, which gave him an opportunity to spend time with books.

Priyan used to bunk classes and sit with his friends at the famous India Coffee House discussing Hollywood films and writing scripts based on them. His best friend was Mohanlal, who was dreaming of acting in films. Priyan reminisces: "Mohanlal was my junior in school and college. When he bagged the villain's role in Fazil's debut film, `Manjil Virija Pookal,' I joined the unit as an associate director. Later I did my first independent film with Mohanlal as hero and there was no looking back. We did 32 films together! He is my favourite and one the finest actors that I have worked [with] so far."

In Kerala, Piyadarshan drew the audience on the strength of his slapstick laugh riots enacted by some of the best comedians like Mohanlal, Jagathy Sreekumar, Nedumudi Venu, Sreenivasan, Innocent and others.

He adds : "When I reworked the same scripts in Hindi, I had talented actors like the late Amrish Puri, Paresh Rawal, Om Puri, Arshad Warsi, Akshay Kumar and others... "

He also had excellent writers like Neeraj Vohra to do the script. Priyan does attribute his Bollywood success to his team of Sabu Cyril, his art director and right-hand man and the cameramen who vibed with him perfectly. Confesses Priyan: "Malamaal' has Paresh Rawal, Om Puri, Ritesh Deshmukh and it is not a remake. Ultimately my success [depends on] team work as we package the film to give it the look and feel of a Hindi film."

Now Priyan is all excited about `Kyon Ki...,' and `Garam Masla. `Kyon Ki..' is based on his 1986 super hit `Thalavattom,' with Mohanlal. It is inspired by the Jack Nicholson starrer `One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.'

`Kyon Ki' has been brilliantly executed with Salman playing a mentally challenged guy who is looked after by his doctor (Kareena), which leads to a riveting climax. Says Salman Khan, "It is one of those touching love stories that is unusual and is one of mybest roles."

It is an acid test for Priyan as it is his most serious film till date in Bollywood. But he is confident. "Today, I am bold enough to say that `Kyon Ki...' will surely work with the multiplex audience who have accepted films like `Black,' `Parineeta' and `Sarkar.' And remember that Salman Khan has the best opening worldwide after Shah Rukh Khan."

Meanwhile `Garam Masala' is really hot in the trade as the chances of a romantic comedy working during the festival season is high. Akshay Kumar and John Abraham play photo-journalists who are compulsive flirts, and they get entangled with three airhostesses. It is a remake of a Mohanlal comedy, `Boeing Boeing' (1985) which is based on a 1960s Hollywood laugh riot with the same title featuring Tony Curtis and Jerry Lewis.

Priyadarshan has emerged as the hot-shot director of the year as Bollywood's top stars Shah Rukh Khan and Saif Ali Khan have also expressed their willingness to work with him, sometime next year.

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