We are still not sure how Bollywood should identify itself. For starters, the name itself imitates a term used in the West, making no pretence about lacking in originality.
It is not the default industry for pan-India commercially successful filmmakers since Vivek Agnihotri, the most successful director this year, doesn’t consider himself part of the Bollywood clique. The resentment seems mutual since Bollywood didn’t invite him to events like Filmfare recently.
For this article, let us assume Bollywood means the Urdu-Hindi film industry based out of Mumbai.
The industry has seen one flop after another this year, barring Kashmir Files, Bhool Bhulaiya 2, a few remakes of Southern films, and now Drishyam 2. Media reports claim that films like Brahmastra and Gangubai Kathiawadi are hits, but given the budget of such films, they eventually ended up being loss-making projects for their producers.
In the case of Brahmastra, PVR showed massive losses in the quarter that the film was released. They suffered this loss even though they were the film’s co-producers (through a newly-created company with daughter of PVR’s main promoter as a director). To save their faces, the crew later claimed that the initial budget they had announced (using expensive PR as “the most expensive Bollywood film ever made”) was intended for the entire trilogy and not just the first part.
They gave a ridiculous justification that they had already created VFX for future films (that would be released at an unspecified time in the future) and hence would be able to produce those films cheaply. Sadly, these statements were not made by the finance controller of the project.
Interestingly, the company that produced VFX was also a co-producer of the film. No wonder they may have a separate internal budget calculation that is not made public through PR, making them confident that the film would break even as per actual (and not projected) costs. But even if we calculate using publicly-available figures, Brahmastra was a loss-making disaster on the scale of Thugs of Hindostan.
We have noticed an interesting pattern among the recent successful films, summarised below in four points:
1. No successful film sold on the strength of its lead actors, called ‘superstars’ in Bollywood lingo. Kashmir Files – the greatest success of 2022 – was almost a documentary on actual events. Anupam Kher was the only regular Bollywood face with a significant role. Mithun Chakraborty had a minor role. Kher confessed before the film that he no longer gets major work in the star-obsessed industry.
2. Other successful films were simply dubbings of southern films without familiar faces for Hindi audiences, like RRR, Kantara, etc.
3. Urdu-Hindi films with a familiar cast – Bhool Bhulaiya 2 and Drishyam 2 – were both sequels of older films. Drishyam 2 was also a remake of a successful Malayalam film.
Bhool Bhulaiya 2 was a thriller with all the usual content problems that have been called out in what has been unofficially termed the “Boycott Bollywood movement”.
While some disagree with the impact of this movement and blame the right wing for spearheading it, the truth is that right-leaning organisations and individuals were engrossed in the emotive Gyanvapi issue when this film was released.
4. Almost every production house in Bollywood has bitten the dust. Some films produced by big production houses couldn’t earn even a crore despite their actors actively promoting these films on social media. You may refer to Jahaan Chaar Yaar, Tara vs Bilal etc. Others have postponed their movie’s release.
In such dark times, when a film like Drishyam 2 surpasses 100 crores of claimed gross earnings, it is understandably a moment of celebration in Bollywood. The impact of the Boycott movement is being derided, and reports are announcing the comeback of Bollywood as if the public watches films after analysing trade reports.
But the success of a film like Drishyam 2 is bad news for the future of Bollywood. And here’s why:
1. The film is quite different from the typical Bollywood film. It has no songs, item numbers, action scenes, or flowery dialogues. It is a well-made thriller where the plot takes precedence over everything.
2. It was successful even though it doesn’t have a crowd-puller cast. Ajay Devgn recently came in his usual stylish form in ‘Thank God’ – a more expensive and well-marketed film. It had all the glitz, skin shows, sleazy dialogues, and better sets that have defined Bollywood for the past several decades. However, the film was a massive flop.
Tabu and Akshay Khanna have never been crowd-pullers and have been relegated to supporting roles even in the prime of their careers. Shriya Saran is an almost unknown name among Hindi cine-goers, reprising her role from Drishyam 1, her last Bollywood film.
Yet, people went to watch Drishyam 2. They were least bothered about who starred in it.
3. The film is a scene-by-scene remake of Malayalam Drishyam 2, which received widespread critical acclaim. There is no contribution of Bollywood to the original movie.
4. The film is made on a small budget, with no significant expenses apart from actors’ fees.
5. Unlike other Bollywood films, there are no attempts to give sermons to society or make jibes on Hindus or overtly market Urdu culture. It is a straightforward film that sticks to its plot.
In a nutshell, it will be easy for any newcomer to replicate the success formula of this film at a low budget – by just focusing on the plot. The audience no more cares about star power, expensive sets, songs, item numbers etc. They are also getting increasingly sensitive to jokes about religion.
The success of web-series like Panchayat shows that the audience will support shows and films that present substance over style.
Suddenly, all those techniques that established Bollywood’s dominance and made them commercially viable have failed and how. Low-budget quality films with unknown faces can sell tickets if they focus on plot and execution.
Per some estimates, actors’ fees form the most significant chunk of film expenses in Bollywood, followed by sets, VFX and PR. Drishyam 2 has busted the myth of requiring any of these three, rendering them non-essential.
Drishyam 2 has shown that regional cinema can now hope to attract a Hindi-speaking audience without requiring support from the Bollywood brigade. If this trend continues, we will soon see the old guard in Bollywood making way for new storytelling talent from all corners of the country, reclaiming the art of making cinema.
Against trafficking, social injustice, cruelty. Promotes Vedas, Yoga, Sanskrit. Data scientist. IIT-IIM. Founder – Sewa Nyaya Utthan Foundation, Gems of Bollywood.
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