Lights, Camera, Conversation… “For the love of money”

Posted on December 21, 2012


Why does most of our discussion about cinema centre primarily on box-office collections, especially if a big star is involved?

As I write this, Bollywood-oriented web sites are screaming that Talaash has finally entered the 100-crore club, though this figure includes revenues from overseas. (The domestic total is a little under Rs. 85 cr.) At the time of release, the story was slightly different. The web site mourned, rather ungrammatically, “Talaash collected rather good numbers over weekend and was expected to fetch good numbers on weekdays. But film dropped with every passing day and it was apparent that this time audience at large did not like the content of Aamir Khan’s latest offering.” Then came the clincher. “Film collected further 3.50 cr nett on Thursday and film has finished week one at 67 plus cr nett. Film has to collect 30 cr plus in 2nd week in order to reach 100 cr nett mark…” And the second week’s total was a mere Rs. 15.5 crore, which means that Talaash will not join the 100-crore club when only domestic receipts are totalled.

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This has been the dominant mode of discourse around the film, apart from reviews and a stray opinion piece or two expressing indignation over Aamir Khan’s apparent endorsement of superstition. On the other hand, had Talaash been a Hollywood movie, these are some of the topics that would have risen around the film’s release, in newspapers, magazines and web sites: the best supernatural-suspense films of all time; ten best cops with moustaches; the origins of rug-pulling in the movies; how spouses in the cinema deal with loss; the literary tradition of lonesome policemen; why hookers in cinema, with the exception of Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, just cannot catch a break; ten reasons Talaash would have sucked had there been a male in the director’s chair; Farhan Akhtar’s evolution as a dialogue-writer; from Dil Chahta Hai to Talaash, a look at the male-centric multiplex movie; and, this being awards season, why Talaash won’t win the Oscar for Best Actor.

In short, we’d have had a range of writing around the movie, from the super-serious to the ultra-silly. And I’m not even talking about the lengthy profiles and interviews, the comment pieces and the debates that would have appeared. But here, all we seem to do is bother about the box office. That’s not wrong. You can do serious reporting using facts and figures that make up the trade aspect of a film. But when all those reports converge around a single question, whether or not Talaash will enter the 100-crore club, it’s depressing – not just because we can’t seem to think of other things to write about and around the film, but because the 100-crore mark itself is meaningless with this sort of film, with restricted appeal. That such a moody and slow-paced film made Rs. 85 crore so far is in itself a smashing success story, without speculating if Aamir is still the top Khan.

What, for instance, would Talaash have earned had Salman or Shah Rukh starred in it, both stars with a more massy appeal? Besides, a look at the Wikipedia page of Bollywood’s 100-crore grosser reveals that most of them are masala movies (or variants thereof, like the sci-fi masala Ra.One, or the masala comedy Housefull 2). Jab Tak Hai Jaan, if not quite a masala movie, is very much from a proven genre, plus it came with the star power of Shah Rukh Khan and Katrina Kaif, and the names of Yash Chopra and AR Rahman. The only two films that seem surprising additions to this club are 3 Idiots and Barfi!, the former a “social comedy,” pumped full with messages, and the latter a whimsical dramedy. Had Aamir made Ghajini 2 and had that film not made 100 crore, then there would be something to talk about. Why put these pressures on Talaash?

But that, I suppose, is part of the baggage of being a star – even a star director, for that matter. A lot of the number crunching around Lincoln has revolved around the fact that Steven Spielberg has, after a long time, had a $100 million hit. (His last blockbuster was the pre-sold Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull; his last non-franchise, non-blockbuster film to hit that mark was Catch Me If You Can, a whole decade ago). You cannot completely do away with these expectations. But the difference is that there have been scores of other kinds of articles written about Lincoln, ranging from The Scoop: Why Lincoln Grew a Beard to How Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln Benefited from Crony Capitalism to The Eternal Reach: How Steven Spielberg’s evolving ideas continue to ignite cinema. And all we have about Talaash is endless handwringing about a numerical benchmark. You’re probably going to tell me that our mainstream media doesn’t have space, any longer, for serious, analytical writing about cinema, but isn’t that why blogs were invented?

Lights, Camera, Conversation… is a weekly dose of cud-chewing over what Satyajit Ray called Our Films Their Films. An edited version of this piece can be found here.

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