Troubled times

Bollywood

Troubled times


Salman Khan and Kareena Kapoor in ‘Main Aurr Mrs Khanna’,

As marketing took over creativity in cinema (just as it did in film music in the 90s to that entity’s acute detriment), media strategies were planned in advance even for big-time flops, with an impressionable in-the-dark-to-ground-realities media lapping up and hyping all (mis)information doled out by filmmaking companies!

Says trade analyst Amod Mehra, “For some years now, the concept of a ‘media hit’ has come in, and so Dev D, Wake Up Sid (this film did well in Mumbai) and Kaminey were termed as hits, though the numbers just did not add up.” And when the figures do not add up, what needed to be done was done: clever manipulations of — in that order — the media, facts and figures.

Unspooling (pun intended) the truth hidden in reels of cobwebs, we arrive at four films that truly did well, and yet were only hits. Unless 3 Idiots, the last release of the year, breaks the jinx, 2009 will go into history as the year when no Hindi super-hit happened. In trade parlance, a super-hit must gross at least thrice the money for which it has been sold. And this year, only one film fits — the dubbed version of Hollywood’s 2012.

On a cost-to-profit ratio, the biggest hit of the year is Yash Raj Films’ New York, the drama revolving around 9/11. On the footfalls front, Wanted, the Hindi remake of the Telugu blockbuster Pokkiri, takes the lead, especially at single-screens. Both these films performed well overseas. The only other hits were Love Aaj Kal and Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani, with Paa, All The Best, Raaz — The Mystery Continues and De Dana Dan notching up the average category and Kambakkht Ishq losing out only on the pricing factor. The Hindi version of Oscar winner Slumdog Karodpati managed to make a small profit while the English one fell flat.

And yet, apart from the long filmmaker-exhibitor face-off that took over two months and led to a glut of releases coming together and further spoiling the market, 2009 was a bleak year with at least 20 biggies alone turning turtles and every faceless film — some critically appreciated and a few genuinely good movies like Chintuji, Yeh Mera India and Sankat City — failing to register. Critical appreciation came also for Little Zizou and Quick Gun Murugun, but accolades at sundry festivals were instant portents of bad cinema, as in Firaaq, Gulaal, Baabaar and Mohandas.

“The four biggest disasters of the year were, in that order, Main Aurr Mrs Khanna, Chandni Chowk To China, Luck and Blue, with the last-mentioned a lesser catastrophe because of a decent opening during Diwali week,” notes analyst N P Yadav. “You can take the rest in any order, be it London Dreams, Rocket Singh, Kurbaan, 8 X 10 Tasveer, Billu, Delhi-6, Aladin, Jail, What’s Your Raashee? or all the others.” Thus from over 110 original Hindi films, just eight made money.

The superstars of Hindi cinema never had it so insecure, but only Shah Rukh Khan and Akshay Kumar are said to have moderated their fees. There were extraordinary performances in several films like Paa, New York, Wanted, Kaminey et al and Hindi films grew in technique, technology and sound (packaging), but mass-connect and content (which are related terms the ivory-tower brigade choose not to accept) were overwhelmingly poor.

“Time was when a filmmaker would not dare to forget the audience, regardless of the genre of the movie. He would give due importance to script and music, because if his film flopped he could literally be on the streets. But with all the new revenue streams happening, an incompetent filmmaker can afford to ignore the consumer. This must stop for the health of the industry,” says another analyst who wishes to remain anonymous.

But all three sources are unanimous in stating that bad music or its improper use was a major reason for the high flop ratio of the year. “Successful films like Wanted, Paa, New York and All The Best would have been ten times more successful with better music!” thunders Mehra. Adds Yadav, “But the music must also be well-employed with a proper lip-sync. Though average, the music of Wanted was the only one to be used properly on screen. But Love Aaj Kal, Kaminey and Radio, the latter having the best music of the year though it was a terrible film, wasted their songs.”

Good music could have even rescued some flop films, feels Yadav, who adds, “Even here, pricing comes in. The sales of A R Rahman’s albums never justify their high selling prices or his fees, and he remains hugely overrated in every sense. On the other hand, even if his films flop, Himesh Reshammiya’s albums make big money in physical as well as digital formats. Pritam’s music had a major role in the great openings and eventual successes of Ajab Prem... and Love Aaj Kal, and he is the only freelance composer with a mass-connect today.”

“This year, people never forgave sub-standard music,” concurs the third analyst and quips, “Almighty willing, the right lessons about music, script and audience needs will be learnt in 2010. Otherwise, the world of Hindi films — at least — may end in 2012!”        

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