Deconstructing Bollywood July 22, 2009Posted by southasiamasala in : Chemboli, Srinivas, India , trackback
Colourful dances, swirling chiffons and over the top emotions – images conjured up at the mere mention of Bollywood, India’s entertainment capital in ‘maximum city’ Mumbai. But it’s not all song and play in the land of dreams and aspirations. Filmmaking in Bollywood is a serious and often heart-breaking affair, replete with drama and high jinks. What every producer ultimately seeks is the holy grail of the local film industry: the recipe for a Bollywood Blockbuster.
Making sense of the madcap mayhem of the Hindi movie industry is no mean feat. The year 2008 saw the release of around 209 films of a sizable budget (one in the range of 100 to 500 million INR), pegging a conservative minimum estimate of Bollywood investment at a staggering 20 billion INR. A gargantuan figure, if we consider that the average per-capita income in India for 2008-09 is estimated to be around 38,000 INR .
Despite generous outlays, the figures for the collections from these significantly financed productions tell a tale not for the faint-of-heart. Around 74 per cent of these films were unmitigated flops, subject to a severe drubbing at the box-office. The fate of the remainder of releases is not too cheery either. Producers and distributors can take comfort in the fact that 20 per cent of the films did moderate business, thus managing to recoup the substantial investments that went into them. In the never-say-die spirit of Bollywood, we can expect these creative tinkerers to unleash their genius on the ‘aam-junta’ – the general populace – once again in the near future. No wonder reincarnation is pretty big in Bollywood!
Around two percent of the films released garnered commendable business, earning the title of a hit. Typically, these films originated from corporate production houses and boasted of star-power and inspired storylines, finding favour not only with the viewing public at multiplex and megamall (‘A’ centre) screens in metropolitan cities but also at single-screen theatres in smaller townships (‘B’ centre screens). These films were safe bets for producers and distributors targeting upmarket viewers.
Still, all was not doom and gloom on the collections front. There was cause for cheer with six super-hit movies – or three per cent of the year’s movie output – that celebrated 100 days of robust ticket sales. Interestingly, relative newcomers in the directorial arena like Abbas Tyrewala, debuting with his breezy, romantic comedy ‘Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na’, and Tarun Mansukhani with the comedy flick ‘Dostana’, enjoyed great success, perhaps indicating that a fresh perspective was the need of the hour.
Which brings us to the lonely, cold, and desolate top with only two winners: ‘Singh is Kinng’ and ‘Ghajini’ – the two big blockbusters of 2008 – similar in their success, and yet as completely unlike in theme and star power as siblings lost in a ‘mela’ – a town fair (this happens all the time in Bollywood movies!). ‘Ghajini’ was an intense action-thriller, with chocolate-hero turned action-star Aamir Khan’s eight-pack abs stealing the show. This dark tale of revenge and violence has earned the title of an all-time blockbuster in the annals of Bollywood.
In stark contrast, ‘Singh is Kinng’ featured ‘khiladi’ – player – action star Akshay Kumar in the role of the bumbling, yet well-meaning and good-natured Happy Singh, and chronicled the tale of his meteoric rise as a gangland boss. Happy Singh’s goofball antics had director Anees Bazmi and producer Vipul Shah laughing all the way to the bank. These two movies had it all: big stars, bigger music, merchandising tie-ins, and innovative viral marketing strategies – Aamir Khan even promoted his movie by giving ‘Ghajini’ styled haircuts to star-struck teenagers!
Ultimately, however, it is the ticket sales for the opening weekend that determines the fate of a movie and whether fortunes are lost or made. While the quintessential Bollywood hero can leap tall buildings in a single bound, smash concrete with his bare fists, and serenade a doe-eyed heroine in torrential downpour, he is still unable to fathom the mystery of what makes a Bollywood blockbuster: Is it the devoted love of a hero’s mother, a common trope in high-grossing films? Is it the silent tears of unrequited passion and sacrifice trickling down the heroine’s mascara-streaked features – a sure-fire means to tug at the hearts and wallets of an increasingly fickle audience? How quirky and grotesque should the villains be in order to enthral and entertain? There are no easy answers, and yet maybe the successes of 2009 like the zany ‘Kambakkht Ishq’ will reveal more about the holy grail of Bollywood.