The ‘real’ entertainment

Debarati Palit Singh
Sunday, 10 September 2017

Are the age-old Bollywood formulae failing at the box-office? Debarati Palit Singh looks at some of the ‘once popular trends’ which no more guarantee success at the box office

Take a look at the performance of Hindi films at the box office over the past year and you will realise that many stereotypes have been broken during this period. The success of films like Pink, Babumoshai Bandookbaaz, Bareilly Ki Barfi, Shubh Mangal Savdhaan, Lipstick Under My Burkha, Hindi Medium and others, has made larger-than-life heroes, item numbers, multistarrers, sequels, which have been a staple for Hindi films for years, dispensable, if not obsolete. The recent failure of films like Salman Khan’s Tubelight and Shah Rukh Khan’s Jab Harry Met Sejal underlines this fact.

According to an industry insider, now filmmakers should either make a film like Baahubali or get realistic. “The middle path won’t work any more,” he observes.

So why has ‘realistic’ become the buzz word in the industry? “Because the audiences are looking for a connect with the story and the characters. If they find it, they are drawn to the theatre; the names in the credits do not matter then,” says a critic.

Here’s a look at the changing ingredients of a hit movie

‘Super’ heroes
In one of the scenes of Zoya Akthar’s Luck By Chance, an acting teacher (Saurabh Shukla) tells the protagonsit (Farhan Akhar) that a Hindi film hero needs to know acting, dancing, action, comedy and emotions. And ever since the masala entertainers came on the scene, we have seen how all major Bollywood stars from Amitabh Bachchan, Anil Kapoor, Sanjay Dutt, Aamir Khan, Salman Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Ajay Devgn, and Hrithik Roshan among others, have been exhibiting their heroics by jumping off 24-storied buildings, throwing 20 men in the air with a single punch and romancing girls 20 years younger to them.

But something changed last year, or perhaps a little before that. SRK’s Dilwale, which came in December 2015, flopped, despite his macho act and chemistry with Kajol. Ajay’s daredevil stunts couldn’t stop Shivaay from sinking, Hrithik’s Mohenjo Daro became history in a week and Salman’s Tubelight couldn’t shine at the box office either.

And while these biggies struggled to reach the audience, newer actors Ayushmann Khurrana, Rajkummar Rao, Nawazuddin Siddiqui managed it, making them the new saleble proposition.

It’s obvious that producers can no longer push films simply on the leading man’s ‘super hero’ qualities. The changing audience taste has made them, the writers and the actors relook at the concept of a hero.
While dwelling on this in a chat with Nawazuddin, the talented actor said that actors, including A-listers, have to choose characters which the audience can connect with. “We can no longer get away with playing a hero fighting 25 goons at a time. It’s the character that matters to the audience,” he says.  

Filmmaker Ashim Ahluwalia too agrees that the old Bollywood formula is failing. “The audience today cannot accept a 50-year-old hero making a 20-something heroine fall in love with him or the same hero playing a college boy. The younger audience is moving towards alternative platforms like Netflix that offer more real characters,” says Ashim, whose film Daddy released on September 8.     

Of course, there is no denying that masses love the heroes with superpowers, otherwise Salman wouldn’t be rigoriously working on Tiger Zinda Hai and Ajay wouldn’t have worked in Baadshaho.  but the sooner they realise that viewers are feeling a disconnect with them, the better, feel observers.

Ah womaniya!
Till a few years ago, with very few exceptions, our leading ladies were made to play only the damsel-in-distress or sexy bimbette kind of roles. Their job was either to stand behind the hero and watch him fight the goons or wear shiffon sarees and dance in the rains. But today one can see a huge difference in the kind of roles the actresses are playing.

Unconventional, bold and taking on the world, women in films command equal space with their male counterparts. Whether it’s Taapsee Pannu, Kirti Kulhari and Andrea Tariang in Pink or Bhumi Pednekar in Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, these characters have an identity and a voice.  

And if one thinks this change stems from the fact that the characters are urban, then one would be surprised to find unconventional stories and characters based in small cities doing well too. Actress Richa Chadha known for playing strong roles in films including her upcoming Fukrey 2, says, “Times are changing. Not just the female characters, the audience is rejecting films that have any stereotypical characters and storylines.”

Diana Penty, who played a bindaas character in Happy Bhaag Jayegi says that the audiences, specially the women, need to connect with the characters on screen. “The reason the female characters are changing is because writers are accepting the changing role of women in society. There is no denying that the audience is becoming more demanding and we have to live up to their expectations.”

It’s not that every female character written these days is progressive and strong. Conventional roles are still being written. Actor Zeeshan Ayyub, who was part of Tanu Weds Manu, says, “Recently, when the trailer of a film released, we were back to discussing the objectifation and commodification of women. So we haven’t changed completely.”
“But,” he adds, “the debate has started with Pink which showed the protaganist excercising her right to say no.”

Sharing similar thoughts, Richa maintains that no matter how progressive a woman is shown to be, there’s somewhere an underlying expectation (even pressure) from her to look good. But she is optimistic. “This too will change soon. We have to evolve, otherwise the trend of people not going to cinemas will continue and Hollywood will take over,” she adds.  

Emotional atyachar
Till a few years ago, mushy love stories — poor boy rich girl, parental opposition, love triangles — always worked at the box office. But the recent failure of films in urban setting, showing new age romance, like Raabtaa, Half Girlfriend, Jab Harry Met Sejal, has given out a clear message — just romance is not enough.

Says writer-lyricist Prashant Ingole, “The young generation doesn’t believe in happily everafter and therefore cannot relate to such stories. If it’s a love story, it has to be something real, like a Mary Kom, which showed the romance between the boxer and her husband.”

Actor Sonu Sood believes that along with sloppy romance, the concept of antiheroes coming in the way of the lovers is also disapearing. “Every character is a balance between negative and positive. The situation around our life is changing and it’s the situation that acts as villain in our life or creates romance in it,” he points out.

Small is big
Till a few years ago, big budgeted films meant sure-shot success at the box-office. And why not? Opulent sets, expensive designer wear, fancy cars, foreign locations — all of these had aspirational value and it lured the audience to theatres. But the recent success of films shot in the bylanes of the country, has broken that belief too.

Says Zeeshan, “Today films are not the only medium to sell dreams. The audience has their mobile phones through which they can see bigger dreams and we have to compete with that medium (the Internet).”

Actress Zareen Khan believes the audience has become smarter and we cannot bluff them with fancy stuff. “The moment they watch a film, they know if they want to accept or reject it, irrespective of the budget.” To which producer Sandip Singh, who co-produced Bhoomi (releasing on September 15) and films like Sarbjit, Rowdy Rathore and others, adds, “The viewers just care about a good story and that’s the reason why small-budgeted films with good content are doing well.”

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