It’s raining gold in tinselville, and in torrents, if you please! The rupee may have tumbled against the mighty dollar lately, giving a blow to the economy elsewhere, but Bollywood appears to be unfazed for now. A string of hits has swelled the coffers of the world’s largest film industry, which looks poised to register its most robust performance at the box office in a long time this year.
In just eight months, eight movies have crossed the Rs 100-crore threshold. That’s something, considering there were eight films in all to cross that coveted mark last year—excluding the multi-lingual Baahubali 2—and the tally of such hits stood at just seven and six respectively in 2016 and 2015. And 2018 still awaits its last quarter, the most productive season for films. Thus, B-town appears to be in for an extended windfall of hits. For an industry reeling under the debacle of big-budget projects not so long ago, the turnaround could not have come at a better time.
What exactly has heralded this happy season? Did the neo-peddlers of 70 mm dreams finally crack that elusive box-office code? Far from it. There is still no fixed formula for success, and unpredictability remains the only predictable trait of the audiences.
“No one can predict the box office. I would have been happy with half of Sanju’s success. The final result surprised me.”
“I think in Sanju, people found a connect with the father-son relationship and the friends’ story. The only reason I made this film was that it evoked an emotion in me.”
Look at what Hindi cinema’s big basket of hits had to offer to them since January: A biopic of a filmstar, a freaky horror-comedy, a gritty quest for an Olympic gold—a veritable assortment of movies from diverse genres. There are, of course, dead giveaways as to what makes a movie succeed. Many would put content as the sine qua non, but some past examples have shown that it does not guarantee a hit. Although, movies clicking despite horrible content are still a dime a dozen, and the trend has been no different lately. Good, bad and ugly, all kinds of films have passed muster with the audiences. Factors such as star popularity, smart promotional campaigns and even a controversy have played key roles. At the end of the day, numbers remain the ultimate touchstone for judging the worth of a movie, with or without good content.
Among this year’s illustrious fare so far, the crown goes to Sanju, Rajkumar Hirani’s biopic on Sanjay Dutt’s life. With a collection of Rs 334 crore, it turned out to be Ranbir Kapoor’s first movie to surpass the Rs 300-crore mark. Post-release, Hirani was criticised for showcasing Dutt’s life in too positive a light but the row only added to its box-office appeal. Of course, Sanju, with Hirani’s impeccable storytelling, Ranbir’s sincere performance, a brilliant supporting cast and all the dope on Dutt’s life, was destined to be a blockbuster without the need of controversies. But, if a popular B-town maxim is anything to go by, a bit of controversy never harms a film.
“The female-protagonist epic heralded a welcome and much-needed change.”
“What we did not expect was people commuting from one state to another to be able to watch Padmavat.”
Hirani thinks a film succeeds for various reasons. “It has to find a connect with the viewers,” he tells Outlook. “If it engages them, entertains them, evokes some emotions in them or makes them think, it works. I think in Sanju, people found a connect with the father-son relationship and the friends’ story. The only reason I made this film was that it evoked an emotion in me.”
Hirani confesses that he never thought Sanju would do so well. “No one can predict the box office. I would have been happy with half of its success,” he says. “I initially thought that many people did not want to see it because there was negativity around the subject. But the final response did surprise me.”
Incidentally, both the biggest grossers of the year, Sanju and Padmavat, had their share of controversies. Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmavat became a subject of primetime news debate after Rajput fringe groups protested against its purported depictions. Bhansali was forced to reschedule the film’s release and change its title from Padmavati to Padmavat. Post-release, the film received flak for allegedly glorifying jauhar (mass self-immolation by women in medieval times). All this certainly did not stop the movie from becoming the first blockbuster of the year with a kitty of Rs 282.28 crore.
But Deepika Padukone, who played Padmavati on screen, says that people connected with the film for its content and presentation. “One cannot anticipate, success or failure. But what we most certainly did not expect was people commuting from one state to another to be able to watch Padmavat with their families,” says Deepika about the film, which had been banned by a few state governments.
Deepika avers that Padmavat also paved the way for big-budget films with female protagonists. “I knew it from the very beginning. It was a welcome and much-needed change,” she adds.
When Deepika signed Padmavat, people cautioned her that her third collaboration with Bhansali could be repetitive. “But he (Bhansali) is a magician. He has a way of breaking you down. He digs so deep that you start discovering new things about yourself. And that process not only makes you better at your craft but also better as a human being.”
It remains a moot point whether Padmavat would have been as big a hit without the controversies, but two movies with female protagonists, Raazi and Stree, required no storm to hit the bull’s eye. Raazi, which starred Alia Bhatt in the central role, raked in Rs 122.39 crore, while Shraddha Kapoor’s Stree also hit a jackpot with its horror-meets-comedy plot. It made more than Rs 116 crore in its first 25 day-run, approximately five times more than its budget.
“Without good content, no film can fly the way Stree is doing right now.”
“All I knew when I signed Stree was that this was a brilliantly unique story. Now that it has become so huge, being loved by the audience and breaking records, it’s a cherry on the cake.”
Shraddha feels a combination of factors contribute to a film’s success. “Right from the script to the post-production, every small thing plays an important part,” she says. “The same has happened with Stree. Each member from the cast and crew added in their way to the success of this film which we are all so proud of today.”
Shraddha too didn’t think that Stree would be such a big success when she was offered the lead role in the film. “All I knew was that this was a brilliantly unique story,” she says. “Now that it has become so huge, being loved by the audience and breaking records, it’s a cherry on the cake.”
Shraddha calls Stree’s content its USP. “Without good content, no film can fly the way Stree is doing right now. I feel so glad and proud,” she says.
Shraddha’s co-star Pankaj Tripathi, who plays a key role in the movie, says that the audiences always look forward to unique content. “We have to provide the content they are looking for and Stree provided precisely that,” he tells Outlook.
Tripathi believes that Stree’s success will go a long way in strengthening the demand for original content: “This movie showed an Indian village pond, not the Swiss Alps, and its characters wore regular clothes, not the designer ones. Its entire focus was on content and that’s why the viewers connected with it.”
Stree’s writer-producer duo, Raj Nidimoru and Krishna D.K. concur with Tripathi’s opinion. “Stree is a solid genre-bender, depicting small-town innocence in the backdrop of a scary setting to bring in the right dose of horror and comedy,” says Raj. “The right amalgamation of horror and comedy to create something unique and entertaining paid off.”
Krishna says though its script was solid, they didn’t expect such a response. “We are surprised at how well it has worked,” he said. “This has exceeded our wildest expectations.”
Film-maker Rakhee Sandilya says that Raazi and Stree worked because of the out-of-the-box treatment given to their plots. Sandilya, who made the critically acclaimed Ribbon last year, says Raazi was based on the clichéd India-Pakistan theme but the way it was handled made all the difference,” she points out.
Does all this box office good luck mean the lines between content-driven and commerce-driven cinema are blurring? “Well, yes and no,” says trade expert Atul Mohan. “A movie with a good storyline and great performances always does well, but a bad film does not always fail.”
Mohan, editor of the trade journal, Complete Cinema, explains that some bad movies, especially the ones starring big stars, do well solely because of their fan following. “The fans go to the theatres to see their favourite stars, and nothing else,” he says.
The collections of Salman Khan-starrer Race 3 bear testimony to this. In spite of being pilloried for its hackneyed plot and stale performances, it did a business of Rs 166.15 core and emerged as the third biggest grosser of the year. The success of the other entrants to the Rs 100-crore club, such as Baaghi 2 and Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety, also underlined the fact that formula films were in no hurry to leave Bollywood. Baaghi 2, in fact, collected over Rs 25 crore on the first day of its release, a feat which was previously believed to have been the sole preserve of the three Khans—Salman, Aamir and Shahrukh.
Prabhat Choudhary, founder of Spice, one of the key promotional agencies in the industry, which handled many big hits this year, says that positioning and marketing have always played a role in a film’s success. “What is new is that of late, we are dealing with a very discerning audience, who is not swayed by gimmicks or controversies,” he says. “Sincerity is what attracts them. If a character has spent two or three years preparing for the role and its efforts reflect on the screen, it gets the required attention span of the viewers.”
Audiences appreciated such efforts in Sanju, he says, right from the day Ranbir’s looks, bearing uncanny similarities with Sanjay Dutt, were revealed. “People won’t spend Rs 250 on a ticket just for a gimmick or controversy,” he says. “Besides, nothing can be predicted about the fate of a movie.”
This proved true this year as well. Many movies which were expected to do well bit the dust while some had an unexpected dream run. While Raid, Satyamev Jayate, PadMan, Veere Di Wedding and Parmanu did very well, big flops like Fanney Khan, Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster 3, Yamla Pagla Deewana Phir Se, Paltan, and Kaalakandi sought to prick the Bollywood boom bubble intermittently. The dubious distinction of the flop of all flops went to Bhavesh Joshi Superhero, starring Anil Kapoor’s son Harshvardhan, which had a net collection of merely Rs 1.45 crore.
Thankfully, a few small-budget movies with good content such as Pari and Mulk did fair business alongside the big hits. Mulk, a thought-provoking movie depicting the predicament of a patriotic Muslim family, earned not only rave reviews but also collected about Rs 25 crore at the box office, primarily because of positive word-of-mouth.
Anubhav Sinha, the director of Mulk, who has directed movies like Ra.One (2011) in the past, says his film had an opening of measly Rs 1.5 crore but it withstood all challenges to reach a respectable figure eventually. “What is remarkable is that my film earned both critical and commercial acclaim. It rarely happens,” he says.
Now, with a few months still to go, Bollywood can rest assured that it will have a fitting finale this year. As many big-banner movies, such as Aamir Khan’s Thugs of Hindostan, Rajinikanth-Akshay Kumar starrer 2.0, Indra Kumar’s Total Dhamaal, Shahrukh’s Zero and Rohit Shetty’s Simbba, are lined up for release in the last quarter, the windfall could run through right till the end.
- Ranbir Kapoor, Anushka Sharma, Paresh Rawal, Vicky Kaushal
- 334.57*, June 29**
- Ranveer Singh, Shahid Kapoor, Deepika Padukone
- 282.28, January 25
- Tiger Shroff, Disha Patani,Manoj Bajpayee
- 160. 74, March 30
- Salman Khan, Anil Kapor, Bobby Deol, Jacqueline Fernandez
- 166.15, June 15
- Rajkummar Rao, Shraddha Kapoor, Pankaj Tripathi
- 116.76#, August 31
- Alia Bhatt, Vicky Kaushal, Jaideep Ahlawat
- 122.39, May 11
- Akshay Kumar, Mouni Roy, Amit Sadh
- 102.27, August 15
Sonu Ke Titu ki Sweety
- Kartik Aryan, Nushrat Bharucha, Sunny Nijar
- 100.80, February 23
*Net collections in India in Rs crore (based on trade sources) ** Release date
#Till September 24 (In 25 days)