Bollywood 2021: A sweeping change in cinema

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2021 was like no other year for Hindi cinema. Not even like 2020, which ended on a desperate note as films that could not afford to wait, had perforce to be released on OTT.

Ranveer Singh as Simmba and Ajay Devgn as Singham made cameos in Akshay Kumar’s Sooryavanshi ( Photo: Trailer Grab)

The biggest highs in 2021 were easily Sooryavanshi in the theatres (it neared Rs. 200 crore with 50 percent occupancy in four Indian states!) and Shershaah on OTT (Amazon Prime Video grabbed this winner). Films that did modest business in the theaters included BellBottom and to a small extent Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui. The hyped “hits” that actually underperformed included Antim: The Final Truth and Tadap.

Akshay Kumar & Vaani Kapoor in BellBottom (Photo: Universal Communications PR via Rajiv Vijayakar)

And, shockingly, for a Christmas outing (the season that has given us Welcome, Ghajini, 3 Idiots, PK, Tiger Zinda Hai and Simmba among other humongous hits!), 83, revolving around India’s other massive obsession besides movies—cricket, has also not got the expected numbers.

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The biggest disaster of the year was Bhuj: The Pride of India, the Ajay Devgn-Sonakshi Sinha-Sanjay Dutt behemoth that attempted to tell the incredible story of Squadron Leader Vijay Karnik in the 1971 Indo-Pak war. It released on Disney+Hotstar.

. Ajay Devgn played a real character of Squadron Leader Vijay Karnik in Bhuj: The Pride of India (Photo: Trailer Grab)

Other major calamities were Sardar Udham (the Udham Singh biopic) that was sincere but too long and boring, and released on Amazon), Satyameva Jayate 2 (which was a disaster in every sense and was a big-screen release), Bunty Aur Babli 2 and Radhe—Your Most Wanted Bhai, which showed that Salman Khan needed to reinvent if he had to maintain his stardom. It was released during Eid in two theatres in the country (!!), and with paid views on Zeeplex, Zee’s channel.

Vicky Kaushal essayed freedom fighter Udham Singh in Sardar Udham (Photo: Universal Communications PR via Rajiv Vijayakar)

Of course, Jersey will release on the last day of the year and we keep our mind open for this remake of a proven Southern hit.

On the OTT platform, Mimi did reasonably well. This adaptation of the Marathi National award-winner Mala Aai Vyaychaya (I want to become a mother) eschewed the melodrama in the original, made it lighter and modified the story. It was a winner on Netflix.

Kriti Sanon played a surrogate mother in Mimi (Photo: Rajiv Vijayakar

The OTT (Over-the-top) streaming platforms, which normally acquire the streaming rights of theatrical releases later, has now become a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it ensures a certain minimum profits for the producers and no one can accurately disprove claims of a “success” or a “hit”. It thus saves filmmakers from losing their invested money while expanding their market to 100 or more countries.

But on the flipside, it serves as a “recycle bin” for projects that should not have been made at all in the first place, like (in 2021), cinematic excesses like the horror films Roohi and Chhorii, the atrociously implausible Haseen Dillruba, the insipid State of Siege and the poor Dhamaka—each worse than the other!

A plus point, however, was that it served to release deserving fare that would have been too niche and thus commercially not acceptable in terms of investing in movie tickets—especially during the pandemic.

Ranveer Singh in ’83 (Photo: Courtesy Spice PR via RAjiv Vijayakar)

The fare that thus deserved a watch included Pagglait (on a newly widowed asserting herself), Hum Do Hamaare Do (where a young man without a family adopts parents!), Rashmi Rocket (which seemed a normal sports saga but was a hard-hitting social post-interval), Bob Biswas (a fairly gripping spin-off from the 2012 ace Kahaani), Tribhanga (a high-voltage cauldron of a dysfunctional family’s emotions) and Shaadisthan (a fresh take on gender equality). These films are strongly recommended for those who have missed any of them out, even if some of them have no traditional “face” value.

Allu Arjun in Pushpa: The Rise—Part 1 (Photo: Universal Communications PR via Rajiv Vijayakar)

Finally, Atrangi Re has lived up to its title (Atrangi means strange or weird).

Excellence—almost

Regardless of commercial performance, however, I would personally rate these alphabetically-listed six movies as the finest films of the year gone by.

BellBottom (Directed by Ranjit M. Tewari / Starring Akshay Kumar, Vaani Kapoor, Lara Dutta & Huma Qureshi)

This was the incisive saga of a 1980s anti-terrorist operation that spanned India and Dubai. The highlight was the script that integrated true stories of several such operations in the 1980s, the reproduction of Dubai airport and its surroundings in Scotland (where the film was shot during the first lockdown) and, of course, a final twist in the last frame.

Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui (Abhishek Kapoor / Ayushmann Khurrana & Vaani Kapoor)

Vaani Kapoor in Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui (Photo: Universal Communications PR via Rajiv Vijayakumar)

What seemed like a routine rom-com metamorphosed into a bold story on how a man undergoes a sex-change operation into a woman and battles society to find love. Vaani Kapoor was outstanding in the main role, and Khurrana excelled as well.

83 (Kabir Khan / Ranveer Singh & Deepika Padukone)

An involving saga of Indians making history in cricket, the film’s highlights were the “cricketers”’ performances led by Ranveer Singh as Kapil Dev, and the one-liners that dotted the script as much as the way cricket and the emotions played out.

Rashmi Rocket (Akarsh Khurana / Taapsee Pannu & Priyanshu Painyuli)

A routine sports story—albeit fictional—took on a new meaning as the protagonist (remarkable turn by Taapsee Pannu) went all out to fight gender inequality in the field of Indian athletes.

Shershaah (Vishnu Varadhan / Sidharth Malhotra & Kiara Advani)

Few biopics in Hindi cinema were as rousingly made as this one on Captain Vikram Batra, the glorious martyr in the Kargil conflict. Malhotra achieved what a string of good performances earlier could not for him—stardom! Arguably, the best directed film of the year.

Sidharth Malhotra in Shershaah (Photo: Hype PR via Rajiv Vijayakar)

Sooryavanshi (Rohit Shetty / Akshay Kumar, Katrina Kaif, Ajay Devgn & Ranveer Singh)

Highlighting also the power of a multi-hero film that audiences miss after the 2000s era began, this was a Diwali firecracker that exploded big at the b-o. It also showed the way big-screen viewing would now be for the audience—entertainment had to be value for money.

Shahid Kapoor plays a cricketer who returns to the game for his son in Jersey (Photo: Everymedia PR via Rajiv Vijayakar))

Six Best Male Performances

Akshay Kumar as Sooryavanshi, Ayushmann Khurrana in Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui, Ranveer Singh in 83, Sidharth Malhotra as Shershaah, Vicky Kaushal as Sardar Udham and Pankaj Tripathi in Kaagaz led the roster.

Six Best Female performances

Kajol in Tribhanga, Kangana Ranaut in Thalaivi, Kriti Sanon in Mimi, Sharvari in Bunty Aur Babli 2, Taapsee Pannu as Rashmi Rocket and Vaani Kapoor in Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui were the “toppers”.

Six Best Character Artistes

Amitabh Bachchan in Chehre, Ashutosh Rana in Pagglait, Chandan Roy Sanyal in Sanak, Neena Gupta in Sardar Ka Grandson, Raj Arjun in Thalaivi and Ratna Pathak Shah in Hum Do Hamaare Do made up the top six. A close runner-up was Paresh Rawal in Hum Do Hamaare Do.

To sum up, 2021 saw a sweeping change in cinema, thanks to the combination of lockdowns with the OTT. It has ushered in the unchangeable future where theatre-watching will be for a specific kind of movie that justifies the big money spent on the latest Dolby sound and extraordinary visuals. The niche movies can be watched, at one’s time, at home, thank you.

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