View: Bollywood cannot afford out-of-the-boxoffice thinking

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Bollywood is desperate for success. The industry had incurred heavy financial losses since production had to stop because of the Covid-19 pandemic. After cinemas reopened, many films, including big budget releases, have been rejected by the audiences.

The leader among commercial successes this year, the Vivek Agnihotri-directed The Kashmir Files, a small-budget blockbuster with a barely disguised political agenda, drew audiences to the theatres because of its controversial take on a sensitive subject. But its unusual success story is not an indication of prosperity for Bollywood. The comedy horror film Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2, directed by Anees Bazmee, performed well at the box office, as did the Sanjay Leela Bhansali social loosely biopic drama Gangubai Kathiawadi.

While the verdict on Raj Mehta’s comedy drama Jugjugg Jeeyo is yet to be delivered, there has been a lot of bad news with seemingly ‘safe’ films like Farhad Samji’s action comedy Bachchan Pandey, Chandraprakash Dwivedi’s historical fiction action drama Samrat Prithviraj, the Ajay Devgn-directed Runway 34, and Ahmed Khan’s Heropanti 2 capsizing at the box office. Pre-release hype and big budgets did not help, while two

films, Prashanth Neel’s K.G.F.: Chapter 2 and SS Rajamouli’s action film RRR were hugely successful nationwide.

While many major hero-driven films are releasing in the coming months, beleaguered Bollywood producers are acutely aware that the industry must have a much higher percentage of commercial success to see light at the end of the tunnel. They also know that hype, millions of trailer views on YouTube, big budgets and names do not automatically a success story make. Viewers have become more selective and unpredictable, while the release of films on streaming platforms not too after their big-screen release has created the option of watching them at home at a much relatively less price.

The much-anticipated Aamir Khan-starrer Laal Singh Chaddha directed by Advait Chandan will hit the marquee soon. Khan’s last film, the 2018 Vijay Krishna Acharya-directed Thugs of Hindostan, was a rare dud for the star. Laal Singh Chaddha has to work for Bollywood’s sagging morale.

Shah Rukh Khan’s last release in which he played the hero was Aanand L Rai’s 2018 romcom Zero, which did not perform well at the box office. Khan will appear as the protagonist in Siddharth Anand’s Pathaan, which is releasing next year. Like Laal Singh Chaddha, much will be riding on the success of Pathaan.

Salman, the third Khan, had two releases in 2021. Prabhu Deva’s Radhe: Your Most Wanted Bhai was a critical and commercial debacle, while Mahesh Manjrekar’s Antim: The Final Truth was a box office disappointment. His upcoming film, the Farhad Samji-directed Kabhi Eid Kabhi Diwali, is scheduled for December release after his inability to convert two recent releases into box office successes.

The Pushkar-Gayathri-directed Vikram Vedha, another ambitious big budget film, has brought Hrithik Roshan and Saif Ali Khan together. Roshan’s last film was the 2019 Siddharth Anand-directed War, a blockbuster. Like Aamir Khan, Roshan works on one project at a time, which is why the success of Vikram Vedha is crucial for him. Saif, whose last film, the 2021 Varun V Sharma-directed Bunty Aur Babli 2 was a debacle, also needs a success.

Ranveer Singh has experienced two failures – the 2021 Kabir Khan-directed sports biopic 83, and Divyang Thakkar’s Jayeshbhai Jordaar released this year. His upcoming film, Rohit Shetty’s Cirkus, is critical for Singh, who surely knows if ’83’ can fail, anything is possible. Except for Shetty’s 2021 action film Sooryavanshi, Akshay Kumar hasn’t had much success recently. The prolific actor is looking forward to a few releases, including Aanand L Rai’s Raksha Bandhan and Abhishek Sharma’s Ram Setu. Devgn, too, also has a few releases in the pipeline including the sports biopic Maidaan directed by Amit Sharma and Indra Kumar’ comedy, Thank God.

Ranbir Kapoor is facing a tricky situation. His last film, the critically appreciated Rajkumar Hirani-directed 2018 biopic Sanju, was a box office winner. Kapoor is looking forward to two big-budget extravaganzas – Karan Malhotra’s Shamshera and Ayan Mukerji’s Brahmastra Part One: Shiva. If both these films are blockbusters, he will be a huge superstar. If not, leading roles in similarly budgeted projects may elude him in the future.

Confidence will return to Bollywood only if most of the upcoming films headlined by big stars become commercial successes. Until that happens, producers won’t be sleeping well at night.

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