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Development Hell: The buzzkill of the movies

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The Times Of India
13th October, 2019 11:09 IST

Most people who have seen Will Smith's new sci-fi action thriller, 'Gemini Man', have pointed out how dated the film seems, in content and form. The fact may not be a coincidence. Gemini Man' is actually a dated film - at least the film's concept is. It has taken 22 years for the script to be realised and released as a feature film, since the project was first mooted in 1997.

Over the years in between, several top stars including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Harrison Ford and Mel Gibson were rumoured to be part of the project every time a possible revival seemed in sight, just as names of A-list directors including Tony Scott and Curtis Hanson did the rounds as possible helmers before Ang Lee cast Will Smith and revived the project.

Hollywood has a fancy term for such occupational hazard. They call it Development Hell. Put simply, it refers to some sort of production limbo that a movie gets stuck in, often resulting the project being transferred from one set of cast and crew to another, and at times even seeing a change of studio ownership. Projects in development hell are never officially shelved. It's just that the production stops, at times for years.

'Gemini Man' reportedly surfaced as a concept in 1997 at Disney, as a pitch by screenwriter Darren Lemke. It was a time when the world was marvelling over Dolly the sheep, the first fully cloned mammal on the planet that was successfully 'given birth' from an adult somatic cell, using nuclear transfer process in 1996. The film seems to have taken cue from that historic scientific feat, and would have been very topical back then. In a nutshell, it is about an aging hitman who discovers his younger and much sharper clone has been assigned to eliminate him.

"I felt like I would be the guy to do 'Gemini Man' because it has strong action, and it involved technology which I have tried before. Also, they called me and asked me if I wanted to do it, so they must also have thought I was the guy," Ang Lee told an online entertainment portal, on why he chose to associate with the project when it was finally fished out of development hell in 2016.

'Gemini Man' does not stand alone in development hell, there are numerous other instances. Ezra Miller's much-hyped standalone "The Flash" movie or Taika Waititi's live-action "Akira" are random recalls.

Jog back your memory in time, and you can think of 'Gremlins 3', Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter's 'Bill and Ted 3', Channing Tatum's 'Gambit', 'Tron 3', the gothic superhero film 'The Crow', Sony's 'Masters Of The Universe' and Dave Bautista 's 'Gears Of War' as examples of projects that got caught in the hollow spiral of development hell.

There are examples in Bollywood, too. Remember the sequel of Salman Khan's hit No Entry, which we have been hearing about for years now? Or, Akshay Kumar's comic caper 'Hera Pheri 3', or the third installment of Sanjay Dutt's 'Munna Bhai' series - which never seem to take off despite much talk?

Those are but contemporary examples of Bollywood projects that were either announced following the success of earlier parts, or have seen changes in the creative driving forces, or simply got stuck at the storyboard level, or are just waiting for the team to unite forces to push it forward.

There are many films in Bollywood that were not released with intended cast or crew. K. Asif's 'Mughal-e-Azam' was originally planned with Nargis and Sapru when the film was launched in the late 1940s. The historical epic finally released in 1960 with Dilip Kumar, Madhubala and Prithviraj Kapoor as its lead cast.

Years later, when Asif launched 'Love And God' with Guru Dutt, the project was doomed from the word go. Dutt passed away long before shooting was over, and Asif, after temporarily scraping it, restarted the project with Sanjeev Kumar. However, the film was wholly put on the backburner after Asif's demise in 1971, till KC Bokadia decided to revive and release it in 1986. The result was a box-office disaster.

Kamal Amrohi's 'Pakeezah', the Raaj Kumar-starrer 'Ulfat', Shoojit Sircar's 'Shoebite' starring Amitabh Bachchan, Mukul S. Anand's Dus starring Salman Khan and Sanjay Dutt, and the Karan Johar-produced 'Shuddhi' have been Bollywood projects that have fallen in development hell over the ages.

"Every film has its own story and its own history. We cannot generalise the reasons," trade analyst Amod Mehra told IANS.

Recalling some of the examples, Mehra added: "There was a film, which was supposed to be directed by Subhash Ghai and star Amitabh Bachchan. There was 'muhurat' and a song was even recorded and then it got stuck. Similarly, two of Ajay Devgn's films are lying complete, but not being released. I can remember seeing a film long back, which was 90 per cent complete. It featured Dev Anand and Sadhana. It never got released. In fact, Madan Mohan's son Sanjeev Kohli released some songs recorded for movies that got stuck. There are many examples, but no one can pinpoint the reason why films get stuck."

In Bollywood, stars dropping out, directors having creative differences with producers, financial issues or trouble in finalising scripts are among the reasons that lead to films getting stuck.

"Everyone stands to lose with the delay of the film. These things happen because of financial differences, creative issues or untoward issues like someone in the cast expires or quits. Mostly, delayed films don't work. A shining example of a delayed film that clicked -- beside 'Mughal-E-Azam' -- was the 1986 film 'Locket', starring Jeetendra and Rekha," film historian SMM Ausaja told IANS.

While Hollywood, which is known for its more professional and organised approach, is still trying to find a way out development hell, things re slightly better in Bollywood right now.

"In India, not many films get delayed at present. Earlier it used to happen a lot," Ausaja asserted.

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