Bey Yaar – It was a small budget Gujarati film that nobody had heard about. And then something magical happened. Again, something that nobody had heard about. The film’s writer Niren Bhatt tells us about the making of the film, the hurdles it faced, and its amazing journey – how it not only recovered its cost but went to earn almost 10 times its budget.
Any Gujarati (I hate the word Gujju) reading this blog is (I assume) aware of ‘Bey Yaar’, for others – it’s a small independent regional film which recently completed 25 Weeks in cinemas. It’s beyond belief (even for us) considering the fact that it directly competed with all major Bollywood releases for almost 4 months now, in a market conventionally strong for Hindi films, and in a space where regional content is absolutely non-existent in multiplexes.
For decades, Gujarati cinema was on ventilator. It was far away from urban diaspora. It was as if it did not exist. It was looked down upon, and urban audiences strictly stayed away from it. There were a few notable attempts to change the state of affairs by some maverick film makers, but somehow the outcomes were quite inadequate. Finally, things started changing after 2012 due to the success of Kevi rite Jaish.
That’s when we (Me and co-writer Bhavesh Mandalia) decided to give it a shot. We knew that taking a plunge in a nascent industry was commercially an imprudent decision. We also knew that tangible remuneration would be negligible. But what the heck, it was for the love of the language. And we had a big in-suppressible urge (i.e. chool) to do it. We had a few ideas and over the period of time, zeroed down on ‘Bey Yaar‘ with director Abhishek Jain.
We wanted to break free of mainstream Bollywood’s infinite commercial constraints. The attempt was to organically create a story. We did not want anyone to tell us ‘iss mein love track kaha hai?’ or ‘iss mein item number daal do’. We wanted the freedom to let the screenplay take shape by itself.
As both of us (Me and Bhavesh) were doing screenwriting for a Gujarati film for the first time, it was an alien territory; we were not quite sure how it would pan out. But as they say, ‘a writer’s purest expression is always in his mother tongue’. We started realizing it as we started writing. The flair of the language, colloquial words, vernacular slang gave a whole new perspective to the narrative. The title ‘Bey yaar’ itself is a quintessential slang of Ahmadabad. Colloquially, it’s a short form of ‘Abey Yaar’, and literally it means ‘2 friends’.
Almost all the characters came from our real lives. They spoke our language; they had dialects, they had our sensibilities. There were no inhibitions; direct references were made from Van Gogh to Picasso, from Stanislasky to Pachino and from ‘Cubism’ to ‘Pop art’. Script’s requirement was fulfilled without anyone telling ‘apni audience ko ye sab nahi samjega’.
At the end of it, we knew that we had a winner on our hands. Since the story had a universal appeal, some producers advised us to directly make it in Hindi. But that didn’t tempt us a bit because it had to be in Gujarati. Its not a secret that real work is happening in regional cinema, especially in Marathi, Tamil, Malayalam, Bengali. We were simply in awe of films like Deool, Fandry, Aaranya Kandam, Aadukalam, Lucia and many many more. These guys were masterfully telling their own stories in their own languages. We had to tell our story in our language first. We had a belief – ‘if it can be done in other languages, it can be done in Gujarati too’.
We had certain actors in mind while writing the script. Convincing them wasn’t easy either. Some actors straightaway refused because it was a Gujarati film. But after multiple narrations, frequent meetings, and relentless efforts, finally we had our desired cast in place.
The film was shot in Ahmadabad, in 35 days flat, in a modest budget. Marketing and distribution were always going to be the biggest challenges. Regional television is also going through the crisis similar to regional cinema in Gujarat, not having a viewer base in urban spaces. So tv was not an option. We relied too heavily on social media. Sachin Jigar’s music was a big plus for us. Songs immediately went viral and caught the attention of youth. FM channels generally don’t play regional songs in their regular slots; we had to buy special spots to play our songs.
There are no established distribution channels for urban Gujarati films. So exhibitors had to be coaxed and cajoled individually to screen the film. Exhibitors showed very little interest initially and we had a humble release in about 35 screens across Gujarat and 4 screens in Mumbai. But the initial response was really positive and more screens were added over the weekend. For a month we went go to cinema halls to interact with audiences and ask them to spread the word. Local media supported us really well; TOI gave a 4 star review. Chitralekha – the most popular Gujarati magazine helped us in a big way by doing a cover story about the film. The most popular columnists of Gujarat wrote about the film and highly recommended it. And then the magic happened happened – the most potent and effective ‘Word of mouth’ started spreading. Film’s FB page was flooded with compliments. Screens started adding up, and rest as they say is ‘history’.
In Mumbai, the film was out on 3rd week, then re-released in 5th week in 2 screens, after a week again it was taken out due to release of Haider and Bang Bang. Again re-re-released after a week, and then it had a dream run, uninterrupted for about 15 weeks. At one point, Bey Yaar had more than 60 shows in Mumbai.
Bey Yaar became a global phenomenon, the first Gujarati film to get screened in 4 continents, received rave reviews from Australia, New Zealand, US, UK, UAE, Belgium etc.
For us, it was our own little effort to change audiences’ perception about Gujarati cinema. Without being modest, I think this film has achieved that.
But this is an ongoing process. The success of this film is just the beginning. We desperately hope this trend continues. We hope new voices, new story tellers, new film makers will emerge now. And we hope they express themselves with utmost conviction and integrity.
– Niren Bhatt