Change is in the air for cinema

The flux that Indian cinema has been going through is no longer a new story but creative scripts assure exciting times ahead, writes Rajiv Vijayakar

Andhadhun

Fact One: 2019’s biggest hits are diverse cinematic fare: Uri: The Surgical Strike, Kabir Singh, Chhichhore, Mission Mangal, Total Dhamaal, Dreamgirl and Gully Boy in the top slots, with Simmba, released on December 28, 2018, roaring away for many weeks this year and co-existing with Uri.

Fact Two: The year’s first nine months have seen 12 films netting over a 100 crore in theatres in India alone. This is the highest number seen ever.

Fact Three: The 100 crore net revenue earned by any film indicates theatrical footfalls, and 35 of the 84 films (which is a little less than half) in this club have come in the last three years alone, beginning January 2017. What’s more, the 2016 Christmas release Dangal, a biopic on wrestler Mahavir Phogat from Haryana, earned over Rs 387 crore net from Indian theatricals, besides its astronomic overseas score, and had most of its run in early 2017.

Baahubali 2: The Conclusion
Baahubali 2: The Conclusion

These three hard facts are enough to convey the message that Hindi cinema is changing significantly, with the films released during this period so diverse that such a list would have been inconceivable in earlier times — and that the audience is welcoming such a change wholeheartedly.

A spectacle like Baahubali 2: The Conclusion, a historical opus in Padmaavat, action extravaganzas of contrasting scales like Tiger Zinda Hai and Baaghi 2, diverse comedies like Total Dhamaal, Golmaal Again and Judwaa 2, the action comedy Simmba, family dramas like Bareilly Ki Barfi, issue-based and socially-relevant stories like Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, Badrinath Ki Dulhania, Hindi Medium, Jolly LLB 2, Stree and Badhaai Ho, thrillers like Andhadhun and Badla, biopics as varied as Pad-Man, Sanju, Toilet: Ek Prem Katha and Hichki, and cinematic versions of real sagas like Mission Mangal, Parmanu: The Story Of Pokhran, Raid, Uri: The Surgical Strike, The Tashkent Files and Gully
Boy
, such is the fare that audiences have relished in these 33 months.

Stree
Stree

Cause & effect

About 15 years ago, an upcoming screenwriter professed that from then on, only the best-made “mainstream” film would work. People, he said, had begun to opt for “content-rich” (read different) cinema. He was too early in his prediction — by at least 13 years.

His perception was understandable: those were the days when “content-rich” movies, just like the new wave/arty films of the 70s and 80s, meant boring, too 
experimental, almost “over-niche” cinema helmed by pseudo-intellectuals who either did not know the all-important Hindi film audience or, more frequently,
looked down on them and simply did not care for them.

A couple of fluke successes in the early millennium and rave reviews later aver to his statement. It took this long for Hindi cinema to find the correct balance between
entertainment and “content”. Today’s definition of content would be that which makes the audience feel the same — content. As writer-director R Balki (Cheeni Kum, Paa,
Pad-Man, Mission Mangal
) puts it, “The audience has never changed: it is the myopic view of filmmakers that has ended. That is what has changed Hindi cinema for the better.” He goes on to elaborate, “Indian audiences always wanted variety. They have never looked at a template, though filmmakers were under that delusion.”

Vinod Mirani, veteran trade analyst, adds, “Of late, I have been saying that the time when big stars called the shots is almost over. I agree that filmmakers have changed more than the audience, and they are opting for younger or newer names among actors.”

What’s in vogue?

Too much cinematic water has flown under the entertainment bridge in the last two decades. The classic melodrama that was a staple ingredient of audiences
for ages, continues to be in vogue, but in the modified avatar of a soap on television, a genre that will still continue despite all the naysayers.

Gradually, the difference between mainstream (as perceived for decades) and off-centre fare has been blurred to a thin, almost invisible line where any subject, bold or otherwise, realistic or larger-than-life, light or dark, has been condensed to two adjectives — worthwhile and worthless.

However, conditions apply: what is worthless in one medium can be great on another — for example, with ticket rates being so high, most people would prefer to
wait and watch The Tashkent Files or Article 15 on a TV channel or by streaming them rather than spending big money in theatres. The changing origins and qualifications of people who are making and acting in films, and the professionalism that has come in every field from financing downwards, has led to this paradigm shift — towards welcoming change.

As Balki says, “I fully believe that entertainment is about engaging the audience. And they were engaged then as much by a Manmohan Desai as by Hrishikesh Mukherjee.” Today, the names have changed but the fact remains. We ask if it is not true that audience receptivity has also helped filmmakers make films that are realistic and in non-template formats? After all, even a Hrishikesh Mukherjee in the past had to conform and sign big stars and ensure a certain number of songs, which is not the case anymore.
If an URI had been made then, it would have probably starred a big name and had five popular songs.

Balki argues that new faces were even launched then. Amitabh Bachchan, he reminds us, was launched in the offbeat Saat Hindustani and made his first mark in
the unusual Anand, also starring Rajesh Khanna.

Simmba
Simmba

“That has been a tradition even down South. Huge names like Mammootty, his son Dulquer, Mohanlal, Dhanush and Suryaa have started out with offbeat films,” he points out.  “And I hope music returns to Hindi cinema. It is our cinema’s only suspension of logic and is our most lovable USP that gives it our own identity, though it is okay to make a film without songs.”

And how significant is the fact that this three-year phase features almost half the highest-grossing films in the last 12 years? “Oh, Indians love cinema. Whether
they are sad, happy or confused, they will watch a movie,” he laughs.It is a clear, not ambiguous, conclusion that what has changed is cinema
rather than the audience.

The audience, pleasantly surprised after a long phase of flux, has welcomed the equilibrium in this homespun cinema that is identifiable in
culture, origins and cinematic structure, and gratifies our emotional and entertainment quotients.

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