By Vinod Mirani
It is customary to sum up the state of the entertainment industry twice a year, at the end of June and, later, at the end of the year. So, how has the year 2022 been for the industry so far?
If one were talking only about the film industry, nothing to write home about for this period. The first six months have proved to be dismal as all films with major stars and big budgets have failed.
With the Covid-19 threat still looming and cinemas mandated to close and open off and on or work under severe conditions, moviegoers were expected to be wary of going to the cinema. But that was only a consolation that both filmmakers and the cinema owners liked to believe in.
This was not the reason and it was proved soon enough when big films did not draw audiences, but, finally, when people did pour into cinemas, it was because of a small-budget docudrama, ‘The Kashmir Files’.
Released on just 500 screens and collecting Rs 3.5 crore, the film went on adding more screens with every show, each day, and ended its run with Rs 253 crore.
Akshay Kumar does the most number of films every year and has also delivered flops in that proportion, two to be precise. Director Chandraprakash Dwivedi, who had been nurturing his dream script, ‘Samrat Prithviraj’, for years, found the right backer, Yash Raj Films, for his ambitious project, but landed at the wrong actor’s address to play the main lead.
Akshay Kumar just did not have that persona, nor the bearing, to play a character the masses knew little about, though it was mammoth in the mind of its maker.
The king warrior, Prithviraj, has merited at most a couple of pages in our school history books. To add to that, the same history books end his two-page story showing him as a loser. It was not a film to be made and not with Akshay if you wanted to build a new image of Prithviraj.
Akshay Kumar also delivered another dud in these six months. The film was ‘Bachchhan Paandey’, which had its antecedents in the Tamil film Jigarthanda (2014), which, in turn, was a version of the South Korean film, ‘The Dirty Carnival’.
From what I have seen of two recent South Korea remakes, ‘Bachchan Pandey’ has no emotions, cause or whatever else to appeal to our audience. Just violence does not help carry a film through. Salman Khan’s ‘Radhe’ being the other example. Considering the number of films Akshay Kumar does every year, he may still come up with one success, which will be instrumental in keeping his film career going.
And then there is Ajay Devgn’s ‘Runway 34’. Which audience did this movie aim at? The Hindi audience did not connect with the subject. If you think you can better Hollywood with their own themes, remember you are not making a film to prove a point. How many Indians are familiar with airplane travel, let alone an airliner in trouble? Was a big disaster. And for the urban moviegoers familiar with the theme, there are plenty of episodes of air crash investigations on television.
So, the stars are gradually falling out of contention. They seem to have lost touch with the masses as well as trends. Once in a while, people either want something like ‘The Kashmir Files’, an eye-opener, which stirs up your soul, or they want something that would attract them to cinemas and be worth their while.
They seek entertainment and, sadly, that genre is becoming scarce. And actors such as Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgn and others, do not realize that their main audience is the youth. So, if you want to be the lead man, make sure your film caters to the youth.
Two films catering to the youth this year so far have been ‘Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2’ and ‘Jug Jugg Jiyo’. Considering its budget, ‘Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2’ can be termed the only major commercial hit this year so far. ‘Jug Jugg Jiyo’ had a decent opening weekend, but could not hold thereafter. The much-hyped ‘Gangubai Kathiyawadi’ proved good mainly for Alia Bhatt, whose performance was acclaimed.
The biggest hit of the year was a film that gelled with all, namely, ‘The Kashmir Files’. So, if you want to make something off the routine, do not make ‘Runway 34’ or ‘Bachchhan Paandey’. The other dud was action star Tiger Shroff’s ‘Heropanti 2’.
So, what is it due to which Hindi film stars have lost the goodwill of the masses, especially the film lovers? One of the reasons is the indifference of the stars when people expect them to stand up and voice their views in the media, including social media. Leading stars don’t commit themselves to anything, even on national issues.
And the few who air their views do not matter to the people who want their idols to open up. The stars also don’t take a stand when one of their own, like Kangana Ranaut or Sushant Singh Rajput, is wronged.
Besides, the stars seem to be making more money from endorsing brands than they do from acting in films (despite knowing that the brand endorsements come to them because of their film careers) and they seem as callous in accepting commercial assignments as they do in taking up films.
Salman Khan sells cooking oil and sewerage pipes. Akshay Kumar sells anything from pan masala to toilet cleaners to colas. Amitabh Bachchan and Ranveer Singh sell just about everything under the sun whether it goes with their image or not.
Bachchan selling detergent? Tough to imagine him doing laundry! And every star is trying to sell an underwear brand. They may be getting crores for the job, but have ended up making innerwear costlier for the user. In the good old days, it was the vendor who suggested a better brand and we did not have to take the word of a star, who himself may be using branded imported stuff!
I had mentioned this anomaly the first time when Abhishek Bachchan was endorsing the Idea mobile network. I wondered how an actor whose films don’t sell Rs 100 tickets, can sell anything else?
This greed for money, no matter where it comes from, has overexposed the actors, harming their careers. The ad films are so pathetic concept and content wise that no star can help sell the product. What happens in the bargain is that he loses his credibility and that reflects on his career.
And, after all this, guess who is the most sought-after actor-cum-model, whom the brands and the prospective customers love? A mere character artiste, Pankaj Tripathi! He gets the message across convincingly.
It is not as if people don’t want to watch films. How did ‘The Kashmir Files’ and ‘Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2’ become hits, or why did the dubbed films from the South draw crowds and collect crores in the Hindi market? It means you are not making films that would be of interest to the people.
And, finally, if you think that OTT platforms are harming your business, then those are also a part of the entertainment universe, and if people are opting for their content, it may be because they are not getting what they want at the cinema.
Films and cinemas have survived the television, video and digital waves; they will also learn to live with OTT.