MUMBAI—The first six months of 2019 have largely continued on the same track as last year. The audience continues to want a healthy mix of different cinema and daring stuff and also remain in the mood for periodic fun.
2018 ended on a high with the thunderous success of “Simmba” that released Dec. 28. The audience took to another boisterous entertainer of a different kind, “Total Dhamaal” six weeks later. While “Simmba” emerged a huge hit, the latter could not match its budget (Rs. 113 crore) in Indian theatres but just about covered costs with worldwide business and all the rights despite making Rs. 154.23 crore nett in India.
It was on Jan. 11 that we saw the release of a small film, “URI: The Surgical Strike” that was released at a cost of Rs. 45 crore, including making and P& A (publicity and advertising). With Indian nett business alone at Rs. 244 crore, in terms of return on investment, it is an all-time blockbuster. It narrated the real saga of India’s retaliation to the Uri attacks with due dramatization.
The film capitalized on the mood of the nation, but the nation was equally unforgiving to those biopics that were of people the pan-Indian audience thought as largely negative: “The Accidental Prime Minister” (on Manmohan Singh) and “Thackeray.” The latter was released as a bi-lingual but shockingly underperformed even in Marathi.
Patriotism was rewarded (albeit gradually) with “Kesari” (another real but dramatized story) but could not make “Manikarnika: The Queen Of Jhansi” work. For its expensive budget (including the needless reshooting), the film did not even collect Rs. 100 crore. With a production budget that crossed that figure, as per conventional business modules it should have got in much more than double that revenue! A convoluted drama that did not generate empathy, thus proved to be its undoing.
Politically again, “PM Narendra Modi” became an average success, when released on the day the election results were out, doing business of about Rs. 25 crore on a budget of Rs 8 crore. However, it was “The Tashkent Files” that proved to be the proverbial turtle this year as it recently completed 75 days (!) and thus survived and outlasted “Kalank” and “Student Of The Year 2” (both duds) as well as “Avengers: End-Game!”
Made on a piffling budget of Rs. 2.55 crore, the film has clocked up over an estimated Rs. 18 crore, placing it as a super-hit vis-à-vis its cost. The mood of the nation again – to expose and settle scores with those who and wronged them for decades – saw it soar.
Another small, but not that humble film, that did immensely well, showing that the audience needed their periodic fix of lightweight ‘dhamaal ‘was “Luka Chhupi.” This fresh yet banally-scripted romantic comedy featuring a fresh actor combo (Kriti Sanon with Kartik Aaryan) almost neared Rs. 100 crore in India. The film, however, did show that the audience craved for newness and even boldness now: this movie boldly discussed living-in as a credo in a small town.
“Gully Boy,” an early hit, was an earthy saga revolving around Underground Rap musicians. It struck a big chord as executed by writer-director Zoya Akhtar, the lead pair Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt and the strong supporting cast. The music was not chartbusting material, yet perfect for the film.
“Badla,” once again proved that newness was a must: this gripping whodunit with a whopper of a twist made Sujoy “Kahaani” Ghosh a winner again. For good measure, this was a solo hit for Taapsee and, 12 years after “Black” for Amitabh Bachchan, and it slim budget enhanced its success quotient.
That naughtiness and even a modicum of deviance was “in” was proved respectively by the respective successes of the superb rom-com, “De De Pyar De” featuring Ajay Devgn, Tabu and Rakul Preet Singh, and the totally unexpected business done by “Kabir Singh.” The former explored a divorcee’s love story with a girl in the same age group as his daughter, and the latter spoke of a deviant, almost maniacal medical student and doctor.
The latter film, which is nearing Rs. 200 crore in around 10 days after a blockbuster opening of Rs. 20-plus crore is the total surprise of the year. It has made Kiara Advani a saleable name to reckon with, and given Shahid Kapoor his first-ever solo super-hit 16 years after his lead debut!
“Kabir Singh,” “URI:…” and films like “Badla” and “Luka Chhupi” conclusively prove that the star, however big, will not be of consequence if his FILM is not up to the mark. Salman Khan’s “Bharat,” which has crossed Rs. 210 crore in India, is still struggling to avoid the “underperformer” tag to it. Once again, it is the discrepancy in costs and returns that will do this film in if it cannot be declared an average performer at the box office after its run is over.
And as we go to press, Anubhav Sinha’s socially-relevant “Article 15” is showing encouraging collections, though it is too early to pass the final verdict on this June 28 release.
The duds of the year were led by two Karan Johar messy mélanges: “Kalank” with the year’s biggest cast and setup, and “Student of the Year 2” that however, gave us two bright talents in Ananya Panday and Tara Sutaria.
The atrocious “Mard Ko Dard Nahin Hota,” the ennui-inducing “Ek Ladki Ko Dekha To Aisa Laga,” the incredibly dull “Notebook,” a disastrous “Photograph” and the badly-made “India’s Most Wanted” and “RAW (Romeo Akbar Walter)” were the main other duds.
It also became clear that foreign directors could never deliver in the demanding pan-Indian circuit: Chuck Russell’s “Junglee” and Ken Scott’s “The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir,” like Majid Majidi’s 2018 “Beyond The Clouds,” conclusively showed that the exacting Indian audience was never a sucker for mediocre entertainment – mainstream, middle-of-the-road, niche or even arty.