|Sridevi in Tohfa (1984)|
"....The other day, cine-goers got a pleasant surprise, an unexpected ‘Tohfa'. Some recognition came the way of the unsung ‘hero' of popular cinema, D. Ramanaidu. The veteran became the latest recipient of the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, joining in the process the ranks of a handful of filmmakers to have been conferred the highest award in cinema.
Immediately the mind's eye went back a good two-and-a-half decades ago. The year was 1984. That was the era when we had billboards screaming at us from all traffic intersections in Delhi. And the road dividers were full of posters of films releasing that week. Often, three-four films jostled for space. The operative principle was simple: bigger the banner, bigger the hoardings. Then there was the good old “Chitrahaar”, Doordarshan's showcase of songs old and new. The films releasing that week usually had a song each in the Wednesday and Friday editions of the programme.
|Shakti Kapoor, Jaya Prada and Sridevi on the sets of Tohfa|
It was rare, very rare, for a film to completely wipe off all the competition from the roads of Delhi, from television screen, from newspaper advertisement space. That rare occasion came when D. Ramanaidu's “Tohfa” was all set to release. Even as cine-lovers lapped up every moment of Sridevi's risqué “Ek ankh marun to”, an Asha Bhonsle chart-buster that burnt the small screen, many women admired Jayaprada and her hundreds of saris in the song “Pyar ka tohfa tera”.
|Sridevi and Jaya Prada in Tohfa (1984)|
The drivers on the road were distracted by the huge billboards of “Tohfa” that made sure no other film hoarding was able to enter people's memory. And many a student strained his neck out of the moving school bus to take a peek at the posters showing Jeetendra, Sridevi and Jayaprada in varying degrees of proximity. The film was declared a hit even before it completed a week's run at the box office!
It was smart, real smart packaging of the time-tested, time-tried formula film: one hero, two heroines with the predictable love equation.
Many summers later, Ramanaidu happily says, “Yes, I am able to strike a chord with cine-goers. I am not just a producer. I am a distributor, an exhibitor too. I know what good publicity can do to a film. In the case of ‘Tohfa', both Jayaprada and Sridevi had novelty value then. And Jeetendra had his fans, both in Andhra Pradesh and Delhi.”
A little later, Ramanaidu repeated the success formula with the absolutely garish, undeniably loud “Maqsad” that was released at the beginning of the summer holidays to capitalise on the vacation crowd. The film starred Rajesh Khanna and Jeetendra in pivotal roles with the same heroines.
“My films are for family audiences. I have always made entertainers but made sure they must have a message. Indians are value-bound people. They want some message at the end of an entertainer.”
Banking on the formula
It is a simple formula that has reaped rich dividends for Ramanaidu, who has produced some 70-odd Telugu films besides 16 Hindi films and only two less in Tamil. He has made films in every major language of the country. All but Punjabi. He is now busy plugging that loophole too with a Punjabi film.
|Sridevi and Shakti Kapoor|
So, how does he adjust his sensibility to the needs of a specific audience?
“I have had a successful run in all languages. I am comfortable in all of them. My main point is the cast. For instance, I have taken Vanishree in maximum films but not in Hindi cinema when I have used Sridevi, Jayaprada, Rekha and even Hema Malini, because people readily recognise them in the Hindi belt. Similarly, I feel our cinema is still dictated by heroes. So I have worked with practically every big hero in Telugu and Tamil cinema. In Hindi too I have worked with Rajesh Khanna, Mithun Chakraborty, Anil Kapoor — though I have done maximum movies with Jeetendra. I have done more films with him because it was easy. He was popular with Telugu people as well as Hindi people.”
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|Sridevi and Shakti Kapoor in Tohfa|