Since the beginning of the year, only two films have been able to break even. A small budget film released on December 31 last year, N Chandra's Style was murdered by the critics but watched by many young copycats who were fascinated by the dress codes of the movie's unknown heroes.
The other, Vikram Bhatt's Raaz has been the one big success. Like Style this, too, was made at a reported budget of Rs five crore, but is said to have grossed close to Rs 20 crore despite the fairly new star cast of Dino Morea and Bipasha Basu, making its young director Bhatt say, "one cannot call it a small film any more."
Point taken. But Bhatt's confidence took a severe beating when his big budget film with a very big star hit the big screen. Aap Mujhe Acche Lagne Lage had the media's favourite pin-up boy Hrithik Roshan and Amisha Patel, the superhit pair of Kaho Naa Pyaar Hai. It bombed in a big way. Bhatt's highly stylised signature shots and Hrithik's presence could do nothing because of the antiquated story that might have worked a few decades ago.
The result: distributors nationwide had to reconcile to wallowing in their misery once again. Leading distributor Shyam Shroff of Shringar Films summed up the mental state of distributors all over the country: "All of us have been hoping for the best but nothing has been working. At the moment there is a lot of panic, and distributors all over India have been hit by a serious financial crisis. So their level of confidence is very low indeed."
What then is going wrong? Says Taran Adarsh, the editor of Trade Guide: "The scripts are bad. That is the only reason. People are concentrating on the stars, the looks, every thing else." One interesting example is Vipul Shah's Aankhen, a big budget multi-starrer that tells the story of a temperamental but honest bank manager who hires three blind men to loot his own bank.
Amitabh Bachchan, who plays the manager, has been sacked by his employers for beating up an employee who had cheated a customer. He initiates the process of vengeance by forcing a teacher, Sushmita Sen, to train the three men -- Akshay Kumar, Paresh Rawal and Arjun Rampal. How does he get Sen to do his bidding? Simple. He kidnaps her younger brother, apparently the only person she lives for. So far so good.
But the major goof-ups in the film begin once the actual bank robbery constituting a series of boring sequences takes place. Bachchan, who is supposed to be an honest character who wants revenge from the bank and nothing more, suddenly turns vicious, capable of doing any thing to get the loot robbed by his three recruits. Why the transformation occurs is inexplicable. Sen, who participates under duress, loses her cool when she confronts Bachchan and unmindful of what might happen to her brother later, decides to teach the man a lesson by shooting herself. Not convincing at all.
Amidst such confusions in the narrative, it is impossible not to feel that Arjun Rampal's character has been badly developed, and that Paresh Rawal, despite coming up with a superb comic performance, plays a character that is better suited for a David Dhawan film, not this one. Rawal's presence does provide the film with some lighter moments, but it does not add to the substance of the story and in fact ends up diluting its intensity in the second half, which is when the real action takes place.
Far too many loose ends indeed, and this explains why the film got an enviably good opening in Mumbai because of the Big B factor but flopped everywhere else. The only compliment that the film deserves is that at least the story idea was new.
Something that's equally applicable to Ram Gopal Varma's Company -- his take on the underworld and the only film that deserved to be a hit in the last few months. Despite featuring a vastly improved Ajay Devgan and the upcoming star Vivek Oberoi, Varma displayed admirable restraint by not projecting any of his actors as stars in the conventional Indian sense.
Why the film did not work except in Maharashtra and the South was because of its treatment. It did not have the sort of masala expected in the average story on the underworld - which Varma had incorporated to some extent in 'Satya' earlier. Khallas was the only song which qualified as an item number for the frontbenchers, while some critics rightly pointed out that the film lacked ladies appeal, a cliché in the distributors' circuit, that makes 'K3G' mass-friendly while restricting the appeal of films like Company to men in general.
In the case of others, sad stories led to bad movies. Maa Tujhe Salaam which found viewers in the north because of Sunny Deol but failed everywhere else proved that the viewers were keener to reject bad films than ever before. Even if the film's theme was patriotism!
Mehul Kumar's Kitne Door Kitne Paas showed why a pretty couple (Fardeen Khan and Amrita Arora) cannot guarantee a pretty showing: especially when the hero is a mediocre actor and the heroine incapable of doing any thing beyond removing hair from her forehead in every second shot.
Not that the directors did not try to resort to other tricks to make their films work. In Haan Maine Bhhi Pyar Kiya, director Dharmesh Darshan brought the off-screen friends Abhishek Bachchan and Karisma Kapoor on the screen for the first time. HMBPK was one of the countless one-woman-two-men stories (Akshay Kumar being the second guy). The absence of a good idea led to the film's collapse at the box office.
Summing up the state of affairs, the Southern superstar R Madhavan who is doing quite a few Hindi films says: "Everyone has to pull up their socks, and the stories have to improve. What this means is that one cannot show on the big screen what is being shown on the television anyway". Madhavan could easily have been referring to stories of the HMBPK variety, which are so repetitive that nobody wants to see them any longer.
The storytellers are not delivering and, on top of it, this is an era of intense pressure on them because there is no star who can guarantee good initials on the basis of charisma alone. "The era of Amitabh Bachchan is over," Adarsh asserts. "His was the time when people flocked to the theatres for one full week before they gave their verdict. That does not happen any longer."
Hrithik-mania has withered away and, if AMALL's 39% collections in Mumbai in the third week itself is anything go by, this star needs a story and a strong supporting cast for success. Shah Rukh Khan had several flops in a row before he came up with a fine performance in Karan Johar's Kabhi Khushie Kabhi Gham. In the Johar film, Shah Rukh not only eclipsed Hrithik completely but also managed to stand up to Bachchan which rescued him from getting into further discomfiture at a time many had written him off.
Salman Khan's appeal has diminished considerably, his recent release Tumko Na Bhool Payenge having been such a big disaster that many renamed it Usko Hum Bhool Jayenge. Govinda has failed to reinvent himself, and his repetitiveness has led to a reduced fan following which was in evidence in David Dhawan's Kyonkii Main Jhooth Nahi Bolta a few months ago.
But the real disaster has been Kirti Kumar's Pyar Diwana Hota Hai, a badly publicised bad film which found very few takers from day one. Aamir Khan seems to be the only relatively safe bet, but then he acts in very few films anyway. Sunny Deol's devotees are confined to the north and, to make his films work all over, he needs to get better stories which has not happened very frequently.
At a time when no hero can be trusted to guarantee a few house full days, the emphasis on the big idea has increased. And when such ideas are few and far between, why films bomb on a weekly basis is not tough to understand.
Music, the one big factor that can play a big role especially when promos are being bombarded on the television, has been the other culprit. Producers have been experimenting a lot, and one formula they have used in recent times is having more than one composer in a film.
Says Lalit of the composing duo Jatin Lalit: "Films are not doing well, and since music plays such an important role, the producers go in for more than one composer often." But has that led to good soundtracks? Not at all, the best example being K S Adhiyaman's Hum Tumhare Hain Sanam which has as many as five directors but pretty ordinary music.
In the last few months, the only exceptional soundtrack to have hit the market is that of Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Devdas in which the composer Ismail Darbar has shed all inhibitions and come up with some really divine music. Speaking off the record, a well-known composer observes: "At a time when the listener has heard some superb soundtracks like those of Lagaan and Dil Chahta Hai, Anand-Milindisms do not work any longer."
Even if the music composer sticks to the basics and produces traditional melodies, the end result has to have the appeal of Karan Johar's 'K3G' for which Jatin-Lalit did some fine work in particular. But what has been released in recent times quite often are albums like those of Naresh Malhotra's Kranti in which the same duo of Jatin-Lalit have been so bad that the TV viewers must have kept their remote devices close by when the promos came on. Starring Bobby Deol and Amisha Patel, Kranti failed since both the story and the music were equally dismal.
While it is too early to predict the fate of Arjun Sablok's Na Tum Jaano Na Hum starring Hrithik and Esha Deol, it is pretty clear that the film has not evoked exceptional interest among the masses at this stage. One critical reason for that is Rajesh Roshan's inability to give good music which could have been incorporated in the promos and teasers of this romantic film, tempting hardcore film buffs to rush towards the booking counters.
Bad scripts. No Amitabh Bachchan in the avatar of the Angry Young Man for whose films the fans were forever hungry once. Less than ordinary music. Although Bollywood needs a revival most desperately, what can make that happen?
Reflects director Kundan Shah: "My feeling is that not only is a correct script necessary, but one also must have the correct stars. The two recent successes Raaz and Style have worked not because of the stars but because the casting was most appropriate. Also, it is important to remember that a big budget does not make a good film."
Says actress Namrata Shirodkar, whose forthcoming projects include Mahesh Manjrekar's Kutumb based on The Godfather: "Lots of people say that one must only do big films, with big banners, star cast and so on. But the concept of big cinema is all wrong. One's decision about signing films should be based on a good script and a good director."
The coming months are going to be critical for Bollywood since several major releases are in the pipeline: David Dhawan's 'Hum Kisise Kum Nahin', Satish Kaushik's 'Badhai Ho Badhai', Sanjay Leela Bhansali's 'Devdas', Sanjay Gupta's 'Kaante' and K S Adhiyaman's 'Hum Tumhare Hain Sanam', to name a few.
Can that change the situation in Bollywood? Remarks Adarsh: "I personally believe that such a clash can only lead to a crash. There are three-four releases every week, and the viewer with his limited spending power cannot watch all of them."
The one big hope which has consumed Rs 40 crore is Bhansali's Devdas, but the industry does need a few surprises from the long list of big films for equanimity to prevail all over again. If that happens, one could very well see the emergence of a much-awaited boom. But if not, the only ones left with smiles on their faces will be the forecasters of Bollywood's doom.