Balakot In Bollywood: Biggies Racing To Cash In On Abhinandan

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by Tahir Bhat

SRINAGAR: In the immediate aftermath of the ‘dog-fight’ between India and Pakistani warplanes over the Bhimber Gali (Rajouri) when the entire world was busy reducing the tensions and getting the captured pilot back, the Bollywood bigwigs were busy in a different race: to register a catchy name for a film. So far, media reports said that more than half a dozen titles linked to the Lethpora car bomb explosion and the Balakot air strikes stand already reserved by various producers.

IAF pilot Abhinandan Varthaman on the Pakistani side of the Wagah border before his release on Friday, March 1, 2019.

“February 26, the day India launched air strikes on Pakistan, was an unusually busy day at the cramped up offices of the Indian Motion Pictures’ Producers’ Association (IMMPA) in Andheri in Western Mumbai as representatives of at least 5 different production companies rushed to reserve jingoistic movie titles for films that they hoped to make in the future,” Huffington Post India reported. “A person present at the office described the scene as “a khichdi,” saying producers fought to register titles like Balakot, Surgical Strikes 2.0, and Pulwama Attacks.”

The registration process is low cost but interesting. Against payment of Rs 250, excluding GST, the applicants offer five titles in one application in order of preference. Since most of these persons who get the titles registered are not producers, they eventually sell the title to a financially viable producer against a cost. There are reports that some titles have fetched as good as Rs 2.50 crore. This is true with TV shows or a web film.

Reports in media said that a Bollywood bigwig had registered a title Abhnandan, hours before the IAF pilot who was captured by the Pakistan army could actually move towards Wagha for repatriation. “This is how the industry works,” one official of the association was quoted by a reporter.

Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman who was ambushed by the Pakistan Air Force and shot down was eventually released by Pakistan as a goodwill gesture to de-escalate the tensions.

Filmmakers are routinely attempting to make a film on a subject that people can relate with. Given the massive publicity that India’s air strike on Balakot got in TV medium, the Bollywood would make the best of it. Getting a title is a prelude to a storyline.

Car Bomb Attack

Any film on the situation that started with the car bomb explosion at Lethpora (Pulwama) on February 14, in which 49 CRPF personnel were killed, led to a chain of events. The horrific attack, the biggest in the history of Kashmir militancy, led to the intrusion of 12 Mirage-2000 warplanes into Pakistan’s Balakot town where they dropped four Israeli-made bombs. The air raids were carried out during wee hours on February 26, 12 days after the Jaish-e-Muhammad attack. A day later, Pakistan Air Force hit three spots in Rajouri and downed a MIG that Wing Commander Abhinandan was flying. The pilot from Tamil Nadu was sent home by Pakistan on March 1.

IAF said they also downed an F-16 fighter plane but Pakistan is refusing to admit. Islamabad has also refused that there was any human loss in the Balakote raid in which, Delhi insisted they destroyed a Jaish camp with possibly 300 killings. Instead, Pakistan has announced that it is planning to take India to UN for, what she says, the eco-terrorism.

Pakistan’s Climate Change Minister Malik Amin Aslam told Reuters that his government was undertaking an environmental impact assessment, which will be the basis a complaint at the United Nations and other forums.

“What happened over there is environmental terrorism,” Aslam told Reuters, adding that dozens of pine trees had been felled. “There has been serious environmental damage.” Two Reuters reporters who visited the site of the bombings, where four large craters could be seen, said up to 15 pine trees had been brought down by the blasts.

 Surgical Strike 1.0

“A similar “strike” that took place after the 2016 attack on an Indian Army camp in Uri achieved little more than inspiring a Bollywood action film,” noted author Arundhati Roy wrote. “The Balakot strikes, in turn, seem to have been inspired by the film. And now the media reports that Bollywood producers are already lining up to copyright “Balakot” as the name of their next film project.”

It is the massive success of the flicker Uri: The Surgical Strike that is pushing the Bollywood bigwigs to desperation. The film interestingly was released ahead of the Lok Sabha polls early this year.

The film by debutant director Aditya Dhar is a masala military drama with Vicky Kaushal and Yami Gautam in lead roles. Written and directed by Aditya, the film was bankrolled by Ronnie Screwvala. Its cast includes Paresh Rawal, Kirti Kulhari, and Mohit Raina. The film revolves around the “surgical strike” that India launched on September 29, 2016, after the attack on an army base in Uri at the peak of 2016 unrest. As many as 17 army men were reported killed, mostly roasted, in the attack when the base went up in flames on September 18, 2016.

The film, now in the seventh week has emerged a history in Indian cinema as far as collections are concerned. “I have never seen such a rush to a film in last many years,” one cinema owner in Jammu said. “In one theatre, we changed five films in the other theatre but this one is still getting crowds.” Interestingly, the entire film was shot in Serbia.

“The war film, on its seventh Thursday, added Rs 66 lakh more to its kitty,” Times Now News reported. “After a glorious 49-day run in cinemas, its total collection stands at Rs 237.36 crore.” Its worldwide earnings, however, have crossed Rs 350 crore, quite impressive for a film that had modest Rs 45 crore budget.

It is this film that is at the core the dialogue: “How’s the Josh?” This question has now finally got into the military academies to check the zeal of the soldiers. Eve the Prime Minister Narendra Modi is reported to have started one of his speeches with this dialogue.

War and Cinema 

War and nationalism have been getting great stories and action and eventually big commerce. After India and Pakistan fought pitched battles over the Kargil heights in 1999 summer, the “localised war” became the central theme to almost half a dozen Bollywood films, some of which did a good business.

LOC Kargil, the JP Dutta film was released in 2003 and its star-cast includes Sanjay Dutt, Ayyub Khan, Suniel Shetty, Saif Ali Khan and Abhishek Bachchan. “Based on the story of Indian soldiers at Kargil and their war efforts against Pakistan, it is one of the longest-running films in the world with a screenplay of four hours and 15 minutes,” according to Hindustan Times. “It is also believed that real ammunition and weapons were used in this movie. While real Bofors FH-77B artillery were shown in the film, the firing sequences were stock footage.”

This Rs 33 crore budget earned Rs 18 crore within India and Rs 32 crores from its offshore screening.

A site of the blast at Lethpora Awantipora in which 49 CRPF troopers were killed on Feb 14, 2019.

A year later came Farhan Akhtar’s Lakshya with Hrithik Roshan and Preity Zinta in lead roles. “Interestingly, this film has the highest crane shot ever done for a feature film, which was done on 13 October 2003 with a 24ft Giraffe crane at 17.796 ft above the Tanglangla Pass,” Daily Hunt reported.

In 2005, came Mani Shankar’s Tango Charlie with Ajay Devgn and Bobby Deol. The other films around Kargil war include Dhoop (2003), Stumped (2003), Mausam (2011)

This is why the producers are so keen to get the best of the titles if it catches the imagination of the gullible Indian. These themes usually do not require much of the publicity because the TV coverage of these high-pitch events keeping them always fresh.

The scene at the IMMPA office was caught by Huffington Post reporter literally in a filmy style.

Pulwama: The Deadly Attack, declared the middle-aged Bollywood producer, before turning to his mousy assistant. Kaisalaga?,” Ankur Patakh reported. “The assistant hurriedly indicated his assent. Ek Aur Likho —Pulwama Attack Versus Surgical Strikes 2.0, the producer said, before turning to this correspondent: You’ve got to think of long, complicated titles. The straight ones like Pulwama, Surgical Strike 2.0, Balakot are all gone.”

So the show goes on.

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