In May 2016, we had said something that was then already overdue: that a Reality Check for and by the film industry was the need of the nanosecond! We had suggested that the industry must stop being a stubborn ostrich and—ASAP— set things right at all levels: content, marketing, budgets and audience economics.
Since then, nothing even remotely like that has happened. Filmmaking, if we describe it that way, is akin to fitting pieces of a jigsaw together—the content (story and treatment, star-cast and other allurements like music), marketing and above all the budgets vis-à-vis the content must fit.
Last but certainly not the least is that a film should be a ‘clean’ hit—when everyone down the chain—producers, distributors and exhibitors— makes a profit. In the four months that have just passed (December 2016 to March 2017), Jolly LLB 2 and Badrinath Ki Dulhania have made it big, and Naam Shabana, released March 31, seems headed that way, of course vis-à-vis its slimmer budget.
On the other hand, Dangal may have become one of highest grossing Hindi films globally (it is the highest grossing in Indian theatrical business) but its repute is sullied by two aspects: one, the business it would have done with tickets at normal rates despite everyone wanting to watch it, and two, the strong buzz that Disney, which bought and marketed the film, did not earn much from it.
At face value, Dangal has neared Rs. 400 crore on the usual qualities of an Aamir Khan epic: a fresh and different subject from the run-of-the-mill mainstream, a whopping entertaining quotient, excellence in almost all departments and Aamir’s branding and charisma as actor-producer.
Added to that are the usual factors used by Aamir Khan with terrific results from Taare Zameen Par a decade back: a Christmas release (a season far better than Diwali as the majority population has no priority expenses on family and festivity), a vacation phase of at least a week, something in every film for children (who can pull in parents, like with Taare Zameen Par, 3 Idiots, Dhoom 3, PK) and last but not least, inflated ticket rates for at least the first week. So when cinematic superiority meets marketing genius, there is no stopping the money rolling in, with demonetization becoming a laughable excuse.
Kahaani 2 bit the dust and also Wajah Tum Ho, and we began 2017 with OK Jaanu. We still cannot fathom why Kahaani 2 (with a rather pretentious social theme and no whopping twists) was called so as it was a completely different tale, and an inferior one.
Wajah Tum Ho set a dubious record with its re-created songs outnumbering the originals, thus highlighting its overall creative penury. OK Jaanu was excruciatingly tiresome, and after it flopped, we came to know that even its original film had not really been successful!
Rangoon, even when edited pre-release by 30 minutes, still did not make the grade. The clear reason this film nosedived (apart from a stretched narrative that might have been identifiable 50 years ago but not today) was that the budget was all wrong. Being ambitious is good, but Vishal Bhardwaj, in his first-ever non-dark film, suffered the same fate as so many others of his kind of filmmaking community—he had no connect with the mainstream audience that he had consistently alienated for 15 years in all his films. And with the film’s canvas, a mass-connect, including good music, was mandatory.
The welcome surprise packet was The Ghazi Attack, the Hindi-Telugu bi-lingual that has seen decent success vis-à-vis its tightly contained production costs. A brilliant and even pioneering film made realistically, sans frills (for it) like music and romance, this film was successful on the modest side, like a Happy Bhag Jayegi last year, relying only on positive buzz for its Hindi version.
We discard piffle like another reprehensibly warped film in the name of evolved cinema—Haraamkhor—and also Wedding Anniversary (which we hear Nana Patekar did only to be able to donate a chunk of his fees to charity), and come to three major films where the jigsaw-fit went missing: Befikre, Kaabil and Raees.
Befikre was not really a flop but fell short of being a hit. Aditya Chopra wrote a smart and refreshing film, breaking his own stereotype of Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Mohabbatein and Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, but his past branding caused an unfairly heightened disgust from his fans! The film was seen as “wannabe modern” and its lesser-known heroine’s (this was one role that most A-list girls would have probably nixed because of the skin show) lack of face-value was the final letdown.
However, those were the more obvious reasons. This writer feels that any film works or fails primarily at a subconscious level and the real reason for this film’s disconnect was that it tried to be contemporarily youth-driven in the first half but treaded conventional YRF terrain in the second. The message was simply that you could not take India out of an Indian, but it did not really entice either traditional or GenY audiences! Living-in stories have yet to find a mass connect here, but the film did not do well even in traditionally strong YRF markets overseas.
Finally, the hyped two: Kaabil and Raees. Let’s face it—their co-release, with Raees insisting on coming the same day—made sure that only the producers (from obvious reasons including pre-selling rights and star draws) laughed all the way to the bank. Most neutral audiences and even the critics preferred the former film, but the fact remains that both films underperformed and there was zero chance of either becoming profitable for everyone down the chain.
It is, perhaps, up to the people who invest moneys in a film to put their foot down and refuse to release two big films simultaneously no matter what the occasion, season or supposedly auspicious date. That will at least help salvage the worse/weaker film among them!
On the other hand, is it an impossibly tall order to stop making substandard films and let the jigsaw fall into place each time? Because we are getting yet more (of umpteen such) signals from the March 2017 releases. Like Jolly LLB 2 (which was an all-round improvement on the earlier film), Badrinath Ki Dulhania was another outright winner, going past Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania by leagues. So was, at its own modest level, Commando 2. If not viewed with the distortive mirror called nostalgia (which the shrewd audience did not), all three were eminently better sequels.
Naam Shabana, a spin-off-cum-kind of prequel, was another prize catch for the audience, which warmly welcomed this well-made entertainer with substance. Cynics opine that the film has done well because of Akshay Kumar’s cameo, which is a bit like calling the VFX the cause of Bahubali’s super success!
On the other hand, films like Phillauri and Anaarkali Of Aarah took beatings because they had little to grip, and had extreme disconnect in their regional musical flavours—we have heard they did very well in Punjab and Bihar respectively. The absurd Trapped, the atrocious Machine and the antique Aa Gaya Hero obviously stood no chance, but the beautiful Poorna lost out on face value—here was a motivational movie that should have been, perhaps, released with great publicity on television.