It was a dream year: for the audience, filmmakers and trade. Content ruled like never before. Never mind the high admission rates: people starved for good entertainment lapped up the best and worthwhile fare by spending their hard-earned money. Nothing mattered — whether there were stars or lesser actors, good songs or not, big filmmaking names or otherwise — finally, it was the product and presentation that counted.
Filmmakers were finally compelled to notice that ordinary won’t wash. Not when there is access 24/7 to Amazon, Netflix, foreign films and — for Hindi film audiences — the visionary entertainers erupting relentlessly from the South. Tell us a story, any kind of story, but entertain us, was the new motto.
South shows the way
Take, for example, a film like 2.0. As Akshay Kumar rightly pointed out, Hollywood could never have brought in this standard of technology in Rs 450 crore. But Shankar, who also believes that technology must serve storytelling and not the reverse, did exactly that. As with his Robot and the Baahubali franchise, the pan-Indian audiences, having suffered the grandly vacuous Thugs Of Hindostan, took to it like the proverbial fish to water! Akshay Kumar was a bonus — any South name in his place would have worked!
Thugs… and, earlier, the still worse Race 3, showed that audiences were no fools. Yes, a trinity of factors: rabid fans of the two Khans, a festival release when everyone wants to watch a big movie, and shrewdly hiked ticket rates did make for ‘impressive’ collections, but the movies capsized like badly built Titanics, the word-of-mouth vicious, the investments lost. In fact, Thugs…, which was a tad less horrendous than Race 3, faced more fury — with both distributors and exhibitors demanding compensation from Yash Raj Films.
The subtle fury from the audience was no less: this time the smart co-releases did not just win over the lesser ones — they annihilated them! Badhaai Ho, probably the biggest superhit of the year in terms of return of investment, destroyed the clichéd Namaste England. Stree, a quirky black comedy, destroyed its mammoth competitor Yamla Pagla Deewana Phir Se…
And one of the finest movies of the year, Andhadhun, killed whatever little chances Loveyatri, a pleasant musical romance, had. As we said, ordinary would not wash anymore! The refreshing Veere Di Wedding gave no chance to Bhavesh Joshi Superhero, which was touted as a mainstream project from the hyped director Vikramaditya Motwane. And finally, Vishal Bhardwaj’s refreshingly light Pataakha stood no chance against top star Varun Dhawan’s Sui Dhaaga-Made In India, simply because the former had no face-value and was handicapped by the filmmaker’s dark film reputation!
A scrumptious buffet
The year began, for all practical purposes, with the third Sanjay Leela Bhansali project with Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone — Padmaavat. Clearing all its controversial hurdles, this Republic Day release shot past the 300-crore mark — the first film to do so without Aamir Khan and Salman Khan in it.
No one even noticed that the film was no musical, or that the songs did not match Bhansali’s musical acumen. The story worked alongside the grand scale — in that sense, it was Mumbai’s own, humbler version of 2.0! Sanju, helmed by the maestro of emotion-laden entertainment, Rajkumar Hirani, also slalomed past the 300-crore mark, removing any doubts about Ranbir Kapoor being the best actor from his generation. The masterfully directed biopic, Raazi, was the first of the few patriotic films, and probably the most successful. Alia Bhatt, like her rumoured beau Ranbir, has virtually no competition this year in the best actor sweepstakes.
A film that made Indians’ chests swell with intense pride was John Abraham’s Parmanu: The Story Of Pokhran, the gritty and authentically detailed story on India’s 1998 nuclear explosion saga. John was also lucky with his other film, the very 80s vigilante drama, Satyameva Jayate, and its anti-corruption theme.
Corruption was also battled in the dramatised biopic Raid, featuring Ajay Devgn. This was a blend of the sagas of three courageous income-tax officers from Uttar Pradesh. And if Ajay scored with Raid, another non-Khan topper, Akshay Kumar brought in two more winners: Pad-Man, directed by the gifted R Balki, was a crusade for menstrual hygiene in village women, while Gold narrated how free India won its first Olympic Gold Medal in 1948.
A light comedy with catchy music, Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety with an arresting turn by Kartik Aaryan, and the testosterone extravaganza Baaghi 2 from Tiger Shroff were also loved by the audiences as part of the buffet of 2018.
Two more films that impressed were the splendid Hichki and the moving 102 Not Out. With powerful messages for society, they boasted of magnificent performances by the protagonists Rani Mukerji and, in the other film — and in that order — Rishi Kapoor and Amitabh Bachchan. The former film, turned down(!!) in its original avatar by Abhishek Bachchan as the teacher with Tourette’s Syndrome, even crossed Rs 100 crore in China, a burgeoning market for Hindi films!
A dollop of bad luck
The severest example of bad luck was Mulk, the film with bravura performances by Rishi Kapoor, Taapsee Pannu and Manoj Pahwa. A sensitive film on how a nation must override religious parochialism, this Anubhav Sinha directorial was critically hailed but failed to sustain. The same week saw the witty entertainer sans face-value (read big names), Karwaan, headed by Irrfan Khan and Mammootty’s son Dulquer Salmaan. This delightful road drama just did not make the grade.
As said earlier, Loveyatri suffered because it did not have punch enough to cross to the realm of the extrordinary, but remained a simple, contemporary twist to a wholesome rom-com, complete with melodious music.
FryDay never got the screens and shows it deserved from the multiplexes that pre-decide what will work or not, and Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi and Baazaar simply could not excite the audience with their content. They also collapsed. Aiyaary, Fanney Khan, Manmarziyan, Pari, Batti Gul Meter Chalu, and October were the other prime flops of the year.
The best debutant actor by leagues was Sara Ali Khan, the girl who actually made Kedarnath watchable, and seems to be the only reason for its promising start at the box office. Jahnvi Kapoor (Dhadak, which did average business) also showed promise. We also liked the spark showed by Warina Hussein in Loveyatri. But Ishitha Chauhan (Genius) was, at best, passable.
Talking of male actors, Ishaan Khattar (Beyond The Clouds, Dhadak) has great promise as an actor, but his starry prospects may not be great. Aayush Sharma (Loveyatri) shows a better-rounded ‘hero’ persona, and Utkarsh Sharma (Genius) deserves better roles and films. But we would pitch for Rohan Mehra, son of the late Vinod Mehra, who sparkled in Baazaar, as our best choice.
Films would never be what they are minus our supporting artistes: we have already mentioned Manoj Pahwa in Mulk.
Standing very tall also were Saurabh Shukla (Raid), Renuka Shahane Rana (3 Storeys), Neena Gupta and Gajraj Rao, the pride of Badhaai Ho, Pankaj Tripathi in Stree, Vicky Kaushal in Sanju, and Boman Irani in Parmanu.
Director’s El Dorado
So many directors discovered their true selves in 2018 after flops or mediocrities: Amit Ravindernath Sharma (Badhaai Ho), Siddharth P Malhotra (Hichki), Abhishek Sharma (Parmanu), Shashanka Ghosh (Veere Di Wedding), Raj & DK (Stree). Umesh Shukla (102 Not Out), Sriram Raghavan (Andhadhun), Milap Zaveri (Satyameva Jayate), Ahmed Khan (Baaghi 2) and even Anubhav Sinha (Mulk).
2018 has showed that content is not merely king but an emperor now.
Budgets and scales are also important, and another message is loud and clear: we want big movies as well, but as Indian as Padmaavat, Sanju and 2.0. For nothing less will do.