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When filmmakers cash in on curiosity of current crime cases

Mahesh Bhatt has claimed that he developed a script similar to the Sheena Bora murder mystery much before the scandal became public. We find out what filmmakers stand to gain from such well-timed announcements

It can't be denied that creating a buzz around a movie is as important as the movie itself. And given the speed of information today, it is almost a challenge for filmmakers to rise above the noise and get themselves heard.

Mahesh Bhatt and (inset) Sheena Bora (left) and her mother, murder accused Indrani Mukerjea
Mahesh Bhatt and (inset) Sheena Bora (left) and her mother, murder accused Indrani Mukerjea 

They have started announcing their projects on social media platforms to connect with as big an audience as possible. If it's a topic that has aroused great public curiosity, the battle is half won. And if it is current, well, there's nothing like it.

When the Sheena Bora murder mystery made headlines last week, filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt claimed to have already developed a script similar to the murky, high-profile scandal for a film tentatively titled 'Ab Raat Guzarne Waali Hai'. Bhatt even clarified that it was "not an attempt" to take advantage of the much-discussed crime, but many felt that he was indeed trying to cash in on the tragedy that is still under investigation.

Real inspiration
Another filmmaker, Maneesh Singh also announced a film on the Sheena Bora case. He says he is "shocked to the bone" to hear about a mother (Indrani Mukerjea, wife of former media tycoon Peter Mukerjea) is allegedly behind the killing.

Maneesh has reportedly commissioned the industry's two best scriptwriters and has three researchers to compile the script. Interestingly, he also claims to have already cast actor Supriya Nair to play Indrani's role and that there could be changes in casting. He plans to take the film on floors by the end of this year.

Milan Luthria had announced a film on the sensational 2008 Aarushi Talwar murder case soon after the slain Noida teenager's parents were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in 2013. He had resolved to also focus on the murder of the Talwars' domestic help, Hemraj, on the same night. However, he later shelved the project
Milan Luthria had announced a film on the sensational 2008 Aarushi Talwar murder case soon after the slain Noida teenager's parents were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in 2013. He had resolved to also focus on the murder of the Talwars' domestic help, Hemraj, on the same night. However, he later shelved the project 

Not just that, Maneesh is also considering making a sequel to the murder mystery. Now, which of the two films — Bhatt's or Maneesh's — will go on floors first or roll at all is the question. Exhibitor-distributor Akshaye Rathi says, "Filmmakers make such announcements because they know that people are consuming the newsworthy case. It becomes easier for them to create an instant connect with their audience without putting any PR activity or marketing strategy in place."

Trade expert Vinod Mirani attributes two reasons to the trend. "First, big producers make an announcement so that the others do not make a movie on the same subject. Second, it is a way to stay in the limelight," he explains.

In the past
Filmmaker Milan Luthria, who is known for real life-inspired films like Once Upon A Time in Mumbaai (2010) and The Dirty Picture (2011), had announced a film on Aarushi Talwar murder case in 2013, the same year that the slain Noida teenager's parents were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. Milan had reportedly mentioned that the case had captured people's imagination and that it was worth making a film on the incident.

Sidharth Malhotra and Imran Khan
Sidharth Malhotra and Imran Khan 

He had also mentioned that while the case was called the Aarushi murder case, no one cried for domestic help Hemraj's justice and that his film would focus on it too. But he later shelved the project. He apparently felt that the case was stirring up strong emotions and that he didn't want to trivialise it.

Vikramaditya Motwane wanted to make a film on the reign of India's previous government and how the country was sinking i0nto the dirty pool of corruption and other social evils. The Lootera (2013) director was quoted saying that his project dealt with the years when Congress was at its peak and what all went wrong then. While many big names from the industry were rumoured to be a part of the film titled Bhavesh Joshi, actor Imran Khan was signed for the lead role.

Vikramaditya Motwane
Vikramaditya Motwane 

Later, Sidharth Malhotra replaced the actor in the project. However, as time passed by and the filmmaker could not take the project on floors, he put it in cold storage. Reportedly, he felt that the film does not fit into the current scenario.

All about timing
Ram Gopal Varma made a film, Not A Love Story (2011), which was loosely based on TV executive Neeraj Grover's murder by a Naval officer in collusion with his actress-fiancée, Maria Susairaj. Although Ramu denied that his film had anything to do with the sensational incident, he chose to release the first look of the film on the day of the verdict on the case.

Ram Gopal Varma raked up controversy by doing a recce of the Taj Hotel soon after the 26/11 terror attacks for his film. He was accompanied by the then chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh and his actor-son Riteish Deshmukh
Ram Gopal Varma raked up controversy by doing a recce of the Taj Hotel soon after the 26/11 terror attacks for his film. He was accompanied by the then chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh and his actor-son Riteish Deshmukh  

Later that year RGV found himself in the eye of a storm when he walked through the charred section of the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai post the 26/11 attacks, accompanied by the then chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh and his actor-son Riteish Deshmukh. Questions were asked on the filmmaker's insensitive recce business to make a film based on the tragic incident, especially when the city was reeling under the impact of the terror attack.

He later apologised for his visit to the hotel. At that point, the Opposition party had demanded the resignation of Deshmukh as chief minister for "misusing his position when he took Ram Gopal Varma to the hotel". In a few days, he stepped down due to mounting pressure for being perceived as "inept administrators and being insensitive to issues facing people in the state."

While filmmakers have time and again made such well-timed announcements, producer Ramesh Taurani believes that it's finally the quality of films which draw the audience into theatres. "The timely announcements might create a certain buzz, but an audience will like a film if it is well made.

Moreover, by the time the film releases — if all it releases — people forget about the case and merely watch a story unfold on the big screen," he states. When an announced project does not roll at all, how does it affect filmmakers? "It does not actually," says Rathi, adding: "The filmmakers did not have to invest any money anyway to announce these films so it's not a loss for them."

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