MUMBAI—11 films made it to the finishing line that separates popular endorsement from audience rejection. Their success levels were different, as was the esthetic caliber, budget et al., but there was so much to learn from them for the industry.
Padmaavat (Director: Sanjay Leela Bhansali)
Conviction and passion paid off, along with the extravagant scale and mounting that made Sanjay Leela Bhansali execute it all on a grand canvas, the 3D only adding to the opulence. Never did any filmmaker in Indian film history face so much trouble during and just before the release, including salacious allegations that it insulted a great queen in Rajput history. The film was banned in so many states for spurious reasons, some of which later retracted their ban.
Prasoon Joshi, the helpful censor chief, changed the title from “Padmavati” to “Padmaavat,” the name of the book on which it was based, and made some cosmetic cuts. Bhansali dared to show real-life lovebirds Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone as reel foes, and the story ensured they never shared a frame. Shahid Kapoor got his first-ever 100-plus crore grossing film, though it was Singh and not even Padukone who carried the film on his shoulders. Yes, the film lacked the musical excellence of past Bhansali films. Arguably, it might have crossed 350 crore at least in India with a hit score.
Pad Man (R. Balki)
Akshay Kumar took on the story of a real-life hero from South India who made economical, sanitary pads, transplanted it to a North Indian village for the pan-Indian identity needed to spread the message of menstrual hygiene. And R. Balki made a deft and emotionally gripping film. This time, the opposition to the film was subtle – rural men in many places forbade their women to watch this progressive film, and in a patriarchal society, they had to heed them. That affected business and Akshay had to go without a 100 crore film after five consecutive lead films that achieved that score. However, the undercurrent of humor saved the day. And the film has brought in significant changes in society.
Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety (Luv Ranjan)
A small film crossing 100 films minus a star, based solely on content, has had very few precedents in Hindi cinema. This sweet and spicy T-Series confection achieved this. The “bromantic” comedy ended with a whopper of an unconventional twist, and combined with popular songs (three being re-creations!) and Kartik Aaryan’s popularity, there was no stopping this family drama with a difference Moral: Stars are not indispensable if everything else is right!
Baaghi 2 (Ahmed Khan)
And this was reconfirmed when “Baaghi 2,” solely on the promos, took a phenomenal opening and maintained power to become yet another film that went past the century. In fact, it crossed the Rs. 150 crore mark, a position earmarked almost exclusively for our superstars. Tiger Shroff shot back into starry focus after two duds, and ladylove Disha Patani made for a sympathy-earning co-star with her reel death. For once people did not mind the sketchy storyline and the lack of substance – their thirst for entertainment was satiated with the over-the-top action in this vendetta drama suffused with grand action.
Hichki (Siddharth P. Malhotra)
Now this one was as sweet as an exceptional Indian dessert, topped by an incredible performance from Rani Mukerji and the kids who played her unruly students. A biopic of a real teacher abroad, with the gender-flipped, it initially showed little hope because of a mediocre and predictable trailer. But the film was something else, and director-co-writer Siddharth P. Malhotra proved his talent after a mediocre debut in “We Are Family” eight years earlier. Everything happens for the good, and after a leading actress hemmed and hawed about playing a teacher with a tic, the time was right for Mukerji to take the film on after motherhood – and make the film an outright esthetic and commercial charmer.
Raid (Rajkumar Gupta)
The film’s team claimed that it was a dramatized story of a courageous income-tax officer from Kanpur, whom Ajay Devgn met to understand the nuances. However, this writer has two classmates in that city who work in that department, and they revealed that the protagonist who Devgn essayed died in Mumbai in 1990!! They added, however, that the film was a mix of the daring exploits of not one but THREE officers in different times and parts of Uttar Pradesh! What made the film score were Devgn’s and Saurabh Shukla’s solid performances and Ritesh Shah’s exemplary dialogues, along with the crackerjack pace and searing realism.
102 Not Out (Umesh Shukla)
As a plot, for those who never watched the original Gujarati play, “102 Not Out” was the most unpredictable, given the premise doled out of a 102-year-old father wanted to put his cantankerous 75-year-old son into an old-age home. The uneven tenor of the humor probably prevented the film from doing far better business despite the crucial messages given in the end. But Rishi Kapoor outclassed even Amitabh Bachchan with a stupendous performance.
Raazi (Meghna Gulzar)
The complete surprise in terms of its quantum of connect and therefore success, this super-hit that marked Meghna Gulzar’s first hit ever showed how a family of Indian Muslims could place their nation above everything, despite the high personal cost to them. Without either sermonizing on patriotism or bashing Pakistan, the film made a point, never mind if the script, despite being based on a real woman who passed away recently, was too simplistic like a typical entertainer. And yes, this film proved, if that was needed at all, that Alia Bhatt was the next big thing.
Parmanu: The Story Of Pokhran (Abhishek Sharma)
How single-minded devotion to cinema, painstaking passions for detailing and clever scripting can make a wonderful film was made amply clear by this patriotic drama that narrated the story of India’s first nuclear test. The casting was wonderfully done, the atmosphere gave every Indian watcher a swollen-with-national-pride chest, and the performances were spot on. Every Indian identified with this glorious saga that catapulted India, despite opposition from superpowers, into the select league of nuclear nations, thanks to a leader with vision and a dedicated team of scientists, engineers, and the Indian Army.
Veere Di Wedding (Shashanka Ghosh)
Here was another case of bad promo and good movie. For some weird reason, they chose to highlight the liberal use of expletives in the trailer, but those who went to watch it because or despite the trailer were in for a pleasant surprise: this chick flick was immensely entertaining and bold in the progressive sense. Naughty – yes, audaciously uninhibited – definitely, but crass or cheap – no sir! For the three-flops-old director Shashanka Ghosh, it was, finally, salvation. And another real-life mother after Rani Mukerji, Kareena Kapoor Khan, helped carry the film.
Sanju (Rajkumar Hirani)
Rajkumar Hirani had said that what he chose from Sanjay Dutt’s candidly-revealed life story was his relationship with his father, friend, and even mother. He used his trademark approach of warm humor and strong emotions to highlight these in a super-package of entertainment. A superb script, cerebral direction, and his razor-sharp will to show the positive side of life helped make the film his fifth blockbuster, though it was his first biopic. The icing on the cake, in fact, the cake could not have been anywhere as good minus it was Ranbir Kapoor as Sanjay Dutt.
Vicky Kaushal as his friend and even Paresh Rawal as his father gave standout performances. “Sanju” incontrovertibly showed that a humongous talent in charge of all the three crucial elements of any film – script, direction and editing – can create magic on screen. And even those who think the worst of Dutt cannot but marvel and cheer at Hirani’s consistent genius.