Mon, Mar 21, 2005 - Page 16 News List

Bollywood 'skin flicks' bomb at box office

Indian movies are traditionally circumspect and this attitude shows few signs of changing

AFP , Bombay, India

Former Miss World and Bollywood queen, Aishwarya Rai performs at the ``Help Telethon Concert'' in aid of tsunami victims.

PHOTO: AFP

After finally managing to bring sex out of the closet, Bollywood's dalliance with steamy cinema looks destined to be short-lived.

The Hindi movie industry's recent rash of so-called "skin flicks" -- which show more flesh and steamier sex scenes than India's traditionally schmaltzy romances, but are far from pornographic -- have bombed at the box office.

The reason, say critics, is that filmgoers want more than flashes of flesh. They want good storylines as well.

What started as a daring new trend last year was seen this year as a formula for making a quick buck.

However, despite the on-screen passion and increasing nudity -- which is tame by western and Hollywood standards -- the films aren't putting bums on seats.

Trade figures show that films like Rog [Disease], Chahat Ek Nasha [Love: An Addiction], Chehra [Face], Sheesha [Mirror] and Fun, which were all made for around 40 million rupees (US$915,000), about half the average cost of a star-studded Bollywood film, have managed to earn only about 10 million rupees.

"The films produced so far this year in the sex genre or the so called `unwritten bold' category have no story or shock value to bring the audience to the theaters," said film critic Komal Nahata.

"People have kept away from cinema halls where these films have been screened. They have not even managed good openings, forget about recovering their costs."

Chahat Ek Nasha has Bollywood leading lady Preeti Jhangiani in raunchy lovemaking scenes which are exceedingly bold by Indian standards, even though there is no full frontal nudity, nor even a hint of a bare breast.

In Sheesha former Miss India Neha Dhupia engages in a series of kisses and passionate scenes, including, for the first time in Indian cinematic history, lovemaking in a bathroom.

But the boldness of the scenes have not brought in the crowds despite the efforts of Bollywood sex symbols Mallika Sherawat, who starred in Murder, the film which started the trend last year, model Payal Rohatgi and popular actress Bipasha Basu.

"People have given their choice and that is ... give us a good story," said trade analyst Amod Mehra.

"After last year's success of some such films, everyone started making movies based on the sex formula, but there were no good scripts backing the sex show."

By producing Murder, starring the brash Sherawat as a woman involved in an extra-marital affair, Bollywood's famous Bhatt family offered a new formula to revive the creatively dormant film industry.

The movie pushed the boundaries of explicit sexual scenes, including one in which Sherawat makes love on the parapet of her flat in a high-rise Hong Kong building.

Murder, analysts say, offered not only shock value but also a storyline which kept it running for 49 weeks. Made at a meagre cost of 30 million rupees (US$690,000), the movie has already grossed 150 million rupees.

It also helped Sherawat bag a role opposite Jackie Chan in his forthcoming film The Myth in which she plays an Indian princess.

Mahesh Bhatt, who scripted Murder said sex was simply not enough for Indian audiences.

"One cannot have a skin show for two or three hours in cinema," Bhatt said. "We need to have an intense story to keep people engaged. Murder was a total package. It had good music and a story that people liked. A film cannot hold on sex itself and you cannot fool the audience."

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