New Realism Hits Hindi Cinema in 2016
I am tempted to follow the cliché of most film hacks who at the end of the year look back to recall the best and the worst of the cinema of their favourite language.
I will follow the cinema made in Mumbai during the year 2016.
Indeed if anyone is complaining that we had a bad year in the film market, then he is a perennial pessimist and should walk away now into the setting sun forever. It is the game of big time gamblers hitting the jackpot in film making, which keeps on bringing the veterans and the first time entrants into the business of film making despite the possibility of failures.
Today it is not important in the industry to recount how many films were made during the year. In fact that number for 2016 may still be around 1850 plus for all films made in the country, of which Hindi cinema may account for about 210 films; what is more important is how many film gave back financial returns and saved the various film enterprises which launched their projects during the year.
Happily the annual report of fiscal performances for the outgoing year has something to cheer. But as experiences suggests, we cannot pull this string of good lucks into the New Year.
The report card of the Hindi film industry suggests that for the first time, audiences taste turned for receiving better cinema, and allowed room for truthful narrative to emerge and charge the senses of its patrons with new cinematic experiences and knowledge. Therefore let us scan the canvas of creative activities in the film world.
Sitting on the top of the pile of success is the monster hit from Aamir Khan.
Dangal is not only a new water mark in the thematic subject of sport cinema, it is an enigma in itself as how such a subject could catch the fancy of whole families in the country and of the outside world for repeated visits despite the current scarcity of loose money for entertainment.
The film has broken all financial and artistic records in entertainment business in India and is expected to finally coast to a lifetime earnings exceeding Rs 500 crores, leaving behind such great money earning films like PK. Aamir Khan may also be forgiven for his folly committed in the early part of the year when in a Talk Summit he had stated his family now feared living in the country. The remarks were construed as anti-patriotic by a section of the society.
Salman Khan’s Sultan garnered a lifetime earnings of Rs.301 crores and added one more hit film for both wrestling and in the category of sport film. Sultan was fiction, unlike Dangal which was a biopic on the achievement of the Phoogat sisters in the Commonwealth Games of 2010, and much more!
Not to be left behind in the realm of biopics and realism, was the life retold in M.S.Dhoni: An Untold Story. This is undoubtedly the first very successful film of any cricket star, though during the year another film Azhar on another cricket captain of the national team was also made and released which failed to achieve the heights which the Dhoni film managed. The Dhoni film achieved this distinction because it was indeed a story ready to be told of an ordinary man who rose from the ranks and made it to the top. That M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story did a business of Rs 134 crores is a remarkable achievement in itself in all departments of film making.
The year saw a new film producer emerge in the Hindi film industry in the self of Akshay Kumar Bhatia. His team selected the real-life story of an incident long gone past in public memory save for those who underwent the trauma of a life time. This was the evacuation of people of Indian origin who were living in Kuwait and who became the target of Saddam’s Iraqi army when it invaded the island nation in the Gulf. Film Airlift recounted the biggest air evacuation undertaken by any country in the world. While the film panned the role of the Central Government forcing MEA to issue a public statement to explain itself before the Indian people, the film itself collected Rs 129 crores and found itself moving in many nations to tell the story of one expatriate Indian businessman who suddenly discovered his patriotism and become an Indian citizen again. Special effects in the film added to its authenticity.
Akshay Kumar hit a second major success to narrate another real-life story of Commander K.M.Nanavati of the Indian Navy and his family tragedy which occurred four decades ago. The film incidentally was a remake of another successful biopic in which Sunil Dutt had played the role of the star struck naval officer, now enacted by Akshay Kumar. Film Rustom collected Rs 128 crores from the market and as we go into print there is a rumour that someone in Mumbai is planning to make a third version of the real story. Good luck to him if he starts the project finally.
Three films which caught the fancy of its audiences and remained works of fiction also made their marks in the film appreciation of its patrons. Ae Dil Hai Mushkil remained the ‘weepy’ of the year featuring unsuccessful young love. Letting its audiences cry out in the movie halls helped its producer-director, Karan Johar to collect Rs.113 crores. This film also troubled Karan Johar as the regional party, MNS, sought its ban in India citing the participation of an artist from Pakistan. Johar had to succumb to the blackmail, to get his film released and gave in writing he will not employ any Pakistani artists in this future films. A full scale comedy, Housefull 3, saw success at Rs.109 crores of business, while the only super success in a crime movie Shivaay saved Ajay Devgun from the blushes despite the film not impressing the film reviewers in the country.
I would club the next two films which recorded success for their film maker, as ‘sleeping hits’. They were not expected to become ‘hits’, but they did in great style.
New comers, featuring only one film each, still collected for Baaghi Rs 77 crores, while the biopic Neerja based on the valour of Neerja Bhanot of Chandigarh in the plane hijack incident of the 80s, was truly the real sleeper hit. It ran and ran and ran against the sayings of all skeptics and collected Rs 76 crores.
The next film we are recalling has been branded in the film industry as a flop. Even its main star Shah Rukh Khan says that film Fan is a forgettable project for him. But the film collected Rs 85 crores for its producer. Some people only dream of their films crossing one hundred crores as grosser. But another film which SRK accepts as one of his best performances in any film; is still not a commercial success or counted among the top grosser. This is Dear Zindagi, another weepy of the year. We count also Kapoor and Sons, another film as a surprise package for initially no one thought it would make the grade, but the unusual story treatment was well received and the film collected Rs. 73.59 crores at the box office.
There were three outstanding films cinematically which failed to impress the businesses. An extraordinary performance by Manoj Bajpai in Aligarh enacting the role of a Varsity professor who ended his life for the social harassment caused to him, failed to win sympathies though the acting of Manoj Bajpai got him the Best Actor Award for his role in this film, in a foreign film festival. The second film was Udta Punjab which focused on the drug problem among youth in Punjab. The State government fought against its released during an election year, but the courts helped the film and it found its patrons in cities in North India but elsewhere it could not run beyond the first week of its release. It still remains the best anti-drug film made in the country. Then there was Kahaani 2, a much misunderstood film pushed as a sequel to the same named film two years ago.
Another film with a serious social theme was Pink featuring Amitabh Bachchan in the main lead. It collected Rs 65 crores, considered a poor business. The film will remain in film archives as one of the best feminist film made in India. Many think this film should be teaching material for police training on how not to handle women issues when they report to the first line of reception.
Cinema is created in at least 18 spoken languages in the country. Some languages see only one film representing it in a region, while in other regional languages a large number of films are being made annually with Telugu, Tamil and Malayalam films leading the list followed by Bhojpuri, Manipuri and Marathi films.
Last year saw one Marathi film break the one hundred crore ceiling in profit booking for any Marathi regional film. The film in question was Sairat which had a Dalit-Upper caste conflict as its story base and was inspired by a real life incident in West India. Its unpredicted success has spawned inquiries for being remade in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam versions. Another great film emerged from Karnataka. Thithi remained generally unknown beyond its natural language zone despite the many awards it garnered abroad. It is one of the finest of Indian cinema for the year 2016. Another biopic which impressed the critics but was rejected by popular vote was the story of the serial killer of Mumbai, Raman Raghav. Raman Raghav 2.0 was produced by Anurag Kashshap. It excelled in its atmosphere of horror and menace and perhaps that became the cause of its commercial failure.
With over 210 plus films made in Hindi language, and the number of very successful films which we have listed, the remaining films made, failed to give any returns on their investment. Some films failed to garner even the minimum support. The end of the year currency demonetization robbed the industry of its profits it anticipated in the holiday season, save for film Dangal for which there will be a debate in the coming months why it proved such a monster hit.
Without a doubt the Year belongs to Akshay Kumar for many reasons. The winner too is the change in audience preference when it is shedding its liking only for melodramas, songs and dances. Last year Indian cinema made fresh inroads into non-traditional audiences and rescued the film industry in neighbouring Pakistan, by drawing more viewers into the cinema halls. A late year temporary ban on the import of Indian films has been lifted and it is hoped that there will be a reciprocal gesture on the Indian side also.
Internationally Indian cinema failed to impress the film festival juries. In the recently concluded IFFI in Goa its films drew a blank. India also failed to make it even in the long list of films for the Oscar for foreign films when its official entry was rejected.
We have not made any mention of the ‘duds’ of Hindu cinema. If you have a favourite film you can add to our number, but we have not listed the failed efforts; why add salt to the very hurt feelings and to the failed dreams of the dreamers.