Why Rs 1000-Cr Movies Should Have Alarm Bells Ringing
Part two of the Jawan package
As this article is being written, there’s news that Shah Rukh Khan-starrer ‘Jawan’ has breached the Rs 1000-crore mark in gross earnings in the domestic and overseas markets combined. The movie achieved the feat in 18 days flat – a record. ‘Pathaan’, the actor’s earlier release this year, also had a Rs 1000-crore plus collection. Trade pundits predict Shah Rukh’s next ‘Dunki’, directed by Rajkumar Hirani, the man with the Midas touch, to go even higher in earnings.
Clearly, Shah Rukh’s releases this year have raised the bar for the film industry incredibly high. The commercial merit of any other movie coming out next would henceforth be judged against the benchmark set by these. Even the artistic accomplishment of cinema wouldn’t escape the pressure of the benchmark. Now that even the layfolk have started talking about collections and opening records, it’s worthwhile getting deeper into the trend that is entrenching itself as normal.
Should we be celebrating Rs 1000-crore movies or should we be looking at them with a tinge of alarm?
It is not everyday that a movie draws in so many people into theatres. It’s a reason to rejoice when we have two doing it in a short span of time. Not long ago, experts were making gloomy forecasts about the industry, claiming the audience had lost interest in the big screen experience, thanks to the OTT boom, shrinking fan fascination with stars and mediocre content routinely peddled by filmmakers. Single theatres in small towns had started shutting shop and multiplexes were struggling with poor earnings. The Covid pandemic was the proverbial last straw on the camel’s back. It pushed an already struggling industry to the point of no return.
Amid the scenario of gloom and doom, Hindi cinema desperately prayed for the audience to return to the big screen, but had no clue to how to make the miracle happen. Hindi versions of Southern movies such as RRR and KGF (Chapters 1 and 2) did exceedingly well but redemption for their Hindi counterparts was nowhere in sight. Then came ‘Pathaan’ riding on the star power of Shah Rukh, Sunny Deol-starrer ‘Gadar 2’ and ‘Jawan’. ‘Gadar 2’ didn’t enter the Rs 1000-crore club but was able to pull in audiences in droves to theatres. After ‘Jawan’, the sinking industry appears to have rediscovered balance. Stars have regained their glitter. The general impression is that nothing can go bad again.
So far so good. Let’s look at the flip side. Now that the benchmark is set, all filmmakers would strive to hit it, if not go beyond. It would be a matter of vanity for big names in the filmdom, including actors and directors. Budgets would bloat, so would dependence on technology rather than creativity. All this would come at a cost: compromise on quality.
Since going massy is the key to commercial success these days, everyone would try taking that route. Massy means going back to crowd-pleasing tropes again and again, and creating more and more of what are called ‘siti maar’ (whistling) moments. We notice that trend in the mainstream southern film industry already. The emphasis on appealing to the lowest common denominator in the audience continually entails sacrifices on the intelligence quotient. Logic, realism and rationality take a back seat in story-telling. So does creativity, the end result of it being filmmakers shying away from offering interesting ideas and concepts to the viewers. The dumbing down from both sides would kill experimentation.
Veteran actors Nana Patekar and Naseeruddin Shah in recent interviews voiced concern at the trend. They opined that the film audience won’t mature this way and stay unreceptive to new ideas. By peddling cheap thrills all the time we could be infantilising them, never allowing them to grow beyond children’s comic book level. To be honest, none of the above mentioned movies was great in terms of content. As creative imagination goes, they were pretty ordinary. If all subsequent movies take these as the standard template then we are in for bad times.
So the euphoria over Rs 1000-crore movies needs to be tempered. It is good that the audience is back in theatres; filmmakers now have the responsibility to keep them engaged with good cinema and help them evolve. It would be a win-win for both.