This year, language is no bar in Bollywood

Come April 2013, and we will see Priyanka Chopra mouthing fiery dialogues in both Hindi and Telugu. And no, she isn’t doing it for a lark — Chopra will soon begin shooting for the remake of the 1973 blockbuster Zanjeer, which will be shot in the two languages. This Apoorva Lakhia directorial venture stars southern superstar Ram Charan Teja.

Priyanka Chopra

In fact, Zanjeer is not the only bilingual on the anvil. Bollywood will soon present a host of films not only to its core, Hindi-speaking audience, but also to the audiences elsewhere in the country. Dubbing a film in another language after it becomes a hit is passé — planning multi-linguals films right from the first cut is what the biggies prefer. Films are not just being dubbed for new audiences, but also have the actors speaking the languages themselves; and they are being shot in different languages simultaneously.

This month, Kamal Haasan returns to the Hindi screens with his ambitious new project, the spy thriller Vishwaroopam (co-starring Pooja Kumar and Rahul Bose) which will also be screened in Tamil.

Apoorva Lakhia’s forthcoming film, Zanjeer, which stars Priyanka Chopra and Ram Charan Teja, was shot in Hindi and Telugu

After winning positive reviews for Shaitaan, director Bejoy Nambiar has chosen to make his next film David (top-lining Neil Nitin Mukesh, Vikram, Tabu among others) in both Hindi and Tamil. The film will hit screens on February 1.

The Balki-produced English Vinglish too was recently released simultaneously in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu. Looks like many filmmakers are now thinking on the same multilingual lines as Balki.

This month, Kamal Haasan’s ambitious new project, the spy thriller Vishwaroopam, will be screened in Hindi and Tamil

Pan-India appeal
The general perception is that a remake of a tried and tested success in another regional language is a safer bet than bilinguals. The Hindi film audience has already seen a host of South Indian films been remade in the recent past — Malayalam film Bodyguard was made into Hindi with Salman Khan; Telugu film Vikramarkudu was made into Akshay Kumar’s Rowdy Rathore, Maryada Ramanna was made into the Ajay Devgn film, Son of Sardaar. So why are filmmakers like Lakhia and Nambiar opting for the bilingual route?

“We knew upfront that we didn’t want to do a remake,” Nambiar asserts. “When there is an opportunity to make a bilingual, why would I remake it? I wanted to see the reactions simultaneously.”

The recent Sridevi-starrer English Vinglish, produced by Balki, was released simultaneously in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu

Nambiar insists that he made David as a bilingual because of creative reasons. “David was originally meant to be made in Hindi, but when we started casting, we realised it had the potential to be a good Tamil film, too. So we sat and rewrote some portions of the script in Tamil. We felt that David’s story has a wider connect,” says Nambiar.

Presence of a regional superstar
Though Nambiar does not spell it out, a large motivating factor for a film to be made into a bilingual is the presence of a regional superstar — Tamil star, Vikram, in David. “If you have a star, however good or bad the film is, the fan base comes to watch the film and it gets a good opening,” Nambiar points out.

Teja is a relatively new but hugely successful actor in the Telugu film industry besides being the son of veteran actor Chiranjeevi. It would be common sense for the makers of his Hindi debut Zanjeer to capitalise on their hero’s home market as well with a Telugu version.

Tanuj Garg, CEO, Balaji Motion Pictures which is distributing the Hindi version of Vishwaroopam, feels a movie with an actor who will appeal to multiple audiences deserves to be multi-lingual. “For instance, Sridevi is popular down south and also among the Hindi-speaking audience. Zanjeer has an actor from the South Indian industry and Priyanka Chopra. Projects like these lend themselves to a dual market. And Kamal Haasan is very strong in the Tamil film industry, and given the genre and budget of Vishwaroop, you want to extend it to Hindi as well. I think having the right —and varied — star cast is critical.”

Bejoy Nambiar’s forthcoming film, David, has been simultaneously made in Hindi and Tamil. It stars southern superstar Vikram opposite Tabu and Isha Sharvani

Anita Anand, executive producer of English Vinglish, agrees. “Sridevi is popular in Bollywood and in the South. Having a common star helps us release two versions. There was anticipation about seeing Sridevi onscreen in all three languages because audiences haven’t seen Sridevi for a really long time. Plus, artistes like Sridevi are fluent in multiple languages.”

Not always in their comfort zone
But not all actors are as comfortable as Sridevi when it comes to multiple languages. Nambiar had to rework on his cast a bit. “We had already cast actors for the Hindi version,” he says, “so we had to decide which actors we would repeat when we thought of making the Tamil version. There are a few changes — we have replaced one or two actors. But the supporting cast is the same.”

Actors are also shuffled according to their general appeal. In English Vinglish, Hindi audiences enjoyed the excitement of seeing Sri team up with Amitabh Bachchan who made a comical cameo as a flight co-passenger. For the Tamil audience, it was Ajith Kumar who took over the role.

In the remake of the 1973 film, Zanjeer, which releases this April, Sanjay Dutt will essay the role of Sher Khan (originally played by Pran) in the Hindi version while Sonu Sood has been brought on board to play Sher Khan in the film’s Telugu version.

When the actors are the same, an effort has to be made so they are comfortable in multiple languages. Nambiar reveals, “I have a direction team, who helped actors get the diction right. We got a separate dialogue writer for Tamil and Hindi. Vikram worked really hard on the Hindi dialogues. He has memorised his dialogues and he improvises on the sets too.” Neil, however, did not have to face the challenge of speaking in Tamil. “When we were writing the story we had decided that Neil’s segment will not be part of the Tamil version. The audiences will not connect with the story,” adds Nambiar.

Good business sense
Garg too cautions against adapting some stories to multi-linguals. He insists on having the right project, with the right starcast, and filmmaker. “Otherwise, it is a terrible mistake,” he warns. “Because when you shoot in a separate language, you are going to spend separately on the marketing, promoting, distributing, and releasing the other version, so costs goup.”

Bollywood has been making bilinguals and multi-linguals for a long time. Back in the 1930s, noted filmmaker V Shantaram and Prabhat Studios made several bilingual films — Ayodhya Ka Raja in Hindi and Ayodhyecha Raja in Marathi and Aadmi in Hindi and Maanus in Marathi. As regional cinema developed independently, there was only the occasional attempt to encompass multiple audiences - Guide and Shalimar, for instance, were made in Hindi and English simultaneously. Today, it is once again a lucrative option for producers to attempt bilinguals.

Garg points out that making a bilingual is justified because it is good business sense. “When you have two or three versions of the film, you have sales on not just one but two or more films. When the star cast and the director lend themselves to such a film, the business proposition is more lucrative for producers. Productions costs don’t skyrocket, either. And we have two sets of rights to sell, rather than just one.” 

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