Hindi Cinema: An unusual first six months of 2022

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Alia Bhatt in Gangubai Kathiawadi, one of the few hits of the year. Photo: Universal Communications.

The first half of the year 2022 began in a downright strange manner—there was no theatrical release at all in January! The only movie that released was Subhash Ghai’s 36 Farmhouse, a thriller, directly on ZEE5, and that too, on January 21! The film was received, as per the platform, in a favorable manner.

In fact, the first theatrical release of the year came as late as on February 11—Badhaai Do, which fell flat as the Indian audiences could not jell with the film’s sensibilities! The film was a sequel-in-spirit to the brilliantly-crafted and socially-incisive super-hit, Badhaai Ho (2018).

Even worse was the fate of Karan Johar’s Gehraiyaan, starring Deepika Padukone no less, released the same day on Amazon Prime Video. Clearly, both films did not suit Indian tastes, but for a teeny-weeny segment. Looop Lapetaa, a dark drama released a week earlier on Netflix, also faced rejection, while the rest of February saw two thrillers also dismissed on OTT platforms—A Thursday and Love Hostel—the second Bobby Deol film co-produced by Shah Rukh Khan for OTT after Class of 83 two years ago.

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And that brings us the crux of what 2022 has stood for—deviant fare of any kind was a no-no, whether in the movie hall or at home! Bachchhan Pandey and Dhaakad in the theatres or Cobalt Blue and Thar on ‘stream’, were spurned outright.

But does quality sell?

In the current scenario, where the world has gone through so much chaos and disturbance, a modified scenario is emerging: ticket prices and the resultant value- for-money quotient have become infinitely paramount than ever before. And the value-for-money angle is not just restricted to strong content but face value as well.

The vital question is: Why should a middle-class family spend a couple of thousand (tickets, food and beverage and parking) rupees on movies that can well be watched at home just four weeks later? This was the direct cause of the outright failures of decent films like Janhit Mein Jaari and even the superb Runway 34 starring superstar Ajay Devgn with Amitabh Bachchan. Runway 34’s issue was, ironically, its budget, which could not have been curtailed, and this went against the movie, which is now facing acclaim on OTT!

Ajay Devgan in Runway 34, a deserving film that has now got acclaim on OTT but did not work in theatres. Photo: Universal Communications

On the other hand, while I do not know the true response (as with all OTT released movies!), Sharmaji Namkeen (Rishi Kapoor’s last release), Dasvi, Jalsa and even Kaun Pravin Tambe? will not be termed “flops” even if they were not taken to the skies.

In theatrical outings, probably the only exception to the rule was the inexplicable thunderous performance of KGF 2, a total potboiler that somehow connected with the masses in every language—in Hindi alone, the film out-grossed the highest grosser, Dangal (2016) by over Rs. 50 crore in India alone. The film could spawn an eternal debate of what about it that clicked so much: at base it was just a phantasmagoria of violence, added to over-the-top emotions, with faces unknown to pan-Indian audiences. And yet it collected, in Hindi alone, over Rs. 430 crore and continued to run in theatres despite premiering on OTT!

At the other end was The Kashmir Files, a searing, real saga of what had happened to Kashmiri Pandits all of 30 years ago. Made on a flimsy budget of just Rs. 15 crore, it did a worldwide gross collection of Rs. 338 crore even before it was streamed! The film conclusively proved that audiences were ready to visit cinema halls for a truly great product that was devoid again of stars, great music or entertainment quotient when the emotional aspect was so strong!

As against this, a well-made (if too long) Jersey suffered mainly because the film’s successful original was accessible to audiences on stream! This gives filmmakers a crucial lesson: in the days of accessible movies with subtitles as well as language changes on stream, remakes will not work unless majorly modified!

The rest of 2022 was totally predictable for a shrewd Hindi film observer and student, though a valuable object lesson to away-from-reality filmmakers and the entire industry! Respect audiences, give them much-needed quality and the right mix of emotions and entertainment and you have a winner. Gangubai Kathiawadi, RRR and Bhool Bhulaiya 2, along with 2021’s Sooryavanshi and Pushpa—The Rise Part 1, which ran well into this year, were the films that conclusively proved this.

In contrast, poor and overhyped fare like Jhund, Anek, Jayeshbhai Jordaar, Samrat Prithviraj, Bachchhan Pandey, Heropanti 2, Attack Part 1 and Nikamma were ruthlessly junked.

Again, exceptions proved the rule: veteran trade analyst Komal Nahata had stated a month ago that in these times, there are only hits or flops. The concept of a film doing average business is passé, he felt. But along came Jugjugg Jeeyo that will now settle into that very slot!

However, while the bulk of the Hindi industry seemed to be at variance with audience tastes, it was time for the media to generate another myth (we love to create and thrive on misconceptions and false assumptions!)—that it was the South that knew what worked for pan-Indian audiences now! This was a premise based only on the consecutive successes of Pushpa…, RRR and KGF 2. But as if on cue, Radhe Shyam, Valimai and Beast came along to dispel this myth! And even well-made South movies like Major and Vikram did not fare too well in Hindi.

Says Taran Adarsh, also a veteran trade analyst: “We can’t categorize films as Hindi, South or Hollywood—good films will run! What has happened now is that Hindi filmmakers have forgotten the art of making larger-than-life cinema as they want to appeal to the multiplexes, which give them maximum revenue! They are  looking instead at some niche belts of audiences. The reel hero has gone missing! It is this blend of stylized emotion and action of Pushpa…, RRR and KGF 2 that worked. Larger-than-life, mass-appeal cinema is what is needed today! But shoddy scripts in this genre will not work! And the serious or niche kind of subjects can go on OTT.”

And that encapsulates Cinema First Half 2022 in a nutshell. Musically too, the year continued to be poor, with only RRR (from the South) boasting of good music. Music, another past USP that could have transformed the fate of movies like Jugjugg Jeeyo for the better, has temporarily (I hope) been jettisoned.

So will they now learn the right lessons? Over to Second Half 2022!

 

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