Readers Write In #513: The Bollywood Crisis and the biggest star in Mumbai today

Posted on October 17, 2022


By ​Aman Basha

Stray thoughts on Hindi cinema’s biggest disaster year and case for its biggest star at the moment

Recently, the trade website Koimoi published a tentative version of its annual box office verdict, and it was shocking to say the least. It has become a habit to hear of a new Bollywood flop every week, so much so that even sure shot material (or so you’d presume) like Vikram Vedha not even getting an opening doesn’t astonish one any more but to see the comprehensive list does create an element of surprise. One, that out of the 35 or so big releases this year, only two, yes two have been Super hits, while the rest have ranged from averages to flops to all time disasters. Two, that Karan Johar is so abreast of anything happening on the Internet that Brahmastra, initially listed as ‘losing’, is quickly reclassified as ‘average’.

In all of documented box office history, there is only one year that can be called as bad as this, and even that year had Raaz, Devdas, Aankhen and Kaante (and also gave birth to the sex and SRK tagline) along with a few other minor successes. The same cannot be said of 2022, where the industry was looking for a reprieve from a long pandemic imposed shutdown of two years and faces fresh competition from both the West and the South, most of whose movies have done better than Hindi films this year.

Reflection on this past year’s box office may confuse more than enlighten, but I shall persist. What is most evident (and thus will be mostly ignored) is the truth that the South Indian industries are making their films with a lot more conviction and greater creative freedom. The latter is perhaps impossible in an industry where one is left to wonder about the lack of any young big name directors who could even do wonders with that creative freedom. Like them or not, the likes of Lokesh Kanagaraj or Rakshit Shetty or Hanu Raghavapudi have distinctive styles, concerns and visions which is appallingly absent in Hindi directors whose films released this year, except Sanjay Leela Bhansali. 

There is also the confusion over politics. All art is inherently political, yet the audience’s politics itself seems to be a bit of a cipher, or is perhaps being misread by the film makers. This is most apparent in the disastrous release of Samrat Prithviraj which was perhaps the first big star film to follow such an openly political promotional campaign. This is a stupid misinterpretation of the historic success of the Kashmir Files. A counter to this would be that any film deemed inappropriate by certain ideologies like Laal Singh Chaddha, Shamshera etc have all flopped this year.

Most important is the incredible death of Bollywood’s promotional talent. Of all Indian industries, Bollywood used to have the best promotions, managing to market mediocre products well enough to get some astounding openings. Apart from Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 and Brahmastra, one cannot think of one well marketed film, even with offerings from big production houses like YRF. What can possibly explain the badly cut trailer of Laal Singh Chaddha that killed the entire hype for the film 2 months in advance to its release?

Even more alarming is the evaporation of Bollywood star power. Bachchan Pandey’s 13 crore opening can be explained as the effect of the Kashmir Files wave and its own substandard content. But what of Samrat Prithviraj, a 230 crore budget film barely opening at double digits? At least Akshay Kumar still can open, unlike Ayushmann Khurrana whose Anek opened at a shocking 1.7 crore, lower than even Vicky Donor. Ayushmann’s woke Govinda act may have finally scored a success in Doctor G but it needed to be retired or reinvented before it comes to a Govinda like fate. There is a lot of chatter about pre pandemic and post pandemic, but only Jhund would have done better with a different release date, where it didn’t have Gangubai, Radhe Shyam and the Kashmir Files along with it. The same could be said for Brahmastra which deserved at least one holiday, while much has been wasted by the likes of Heropanti 2.

It is hard to choose which was a worse opening for Yash Raj Films, Jayeshbhai Jordaaar’s 3 crore or Shamshera at 10 crore, either way it raised serious questions on the star quality of the two most promising stars of the next generation. Dharma, as mentioned earlier, fared much better with Jug Jug Jeeyo and the highly debated collections of Brahmastra (which, IMO, would be a zero sum project without Ranbir’s fee involved). Amitabh Bachchan may be described as irrelevant after Jhund and GoodBye opened at 1 crore, but what of Ajay Devgn’s Runway 34 with the same Bachchan in a major role? Is Aamir Khan a bigger star than Hrithik Roshan for opening Laal Singh Chaddha at the same level as Vikram Vedha?

This current year has, like my article, thrown up more questions than any answers. These questions were a few that I asked to someone who I consider the most diligent and honest Hindi film reporter today, Himesh Mankad of Pinkvilla. There was quite a lot we covered, from the debate around Brahmastra to Amitabh Bachchan’s box office record to the problems plaguing Bollywood to the most exciting lineup today and more. The questions naturally wrote themselves.

(The cover of the video explains my idea of Hindi film history FWIW)

But there are two definite answers. One, that the monopoly over Hindi film music has become toxic, with people running out of songs to remix and immensely damaging the film (Note: Gangubai, Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 and Brahmastra had hit songs in common). A better album could have pushed Jug Jug Jeeyo to a hit status. It is shocking that even Telugu films have far, far better melodies than Hindi films even in the mass films like Sarkaru Vaari Paata.

The second is that Alia Bhatt is the biggest star in the Hindi film industry today. She boasts an incredible success rate of 90% with only Shandaar, Kalank and Sadak 2 as the failures. It isn’t even as though she has inconsequential roles, all her films except RRR have her in major parts that have earned the most praise. Two films, Gangubai and Raazi had no other star lead except her. This may be hyperbole but one would have to go back to Sridevi and Madhuri Dixit to find such a dominant female star. Her better half and her Sakhi may have had bigger openings and better hits, but they have been highly inconsistent so far. 2022 has been a spectacular year so far, and one wishes she begins 2023 with an adorable baby that breaks the internet and ends it with even more success that break the box office.