A very unusual scenario is going around when it comes to cinema in India, particularly Bollywood. The social media has made heroes out of certain filmmakers. In fact, a few of them consider them demigods! Filmmakers like Anurag Kashyap, Imtiaz Ali and Vishal Bhardwaj have a loyal and enviable fan following. Their films are discussed, dissected, analysed by these fans constantly. They try to dig aspects which even these filmmakers must not have thought of! Their films are eagerly awaited. In fact, prior to the release, their films make the maximum noise online. Looking at their discussion and excitement, one expects their films to shatter all box office records.
Shockingly, that never happens. In fact, in the previous month, all these three directors had a film each and all of them were unsuccessful at the box office. Laila Majnu was not directed by Imtiaz Ali but was produced and presented by him and had his trademark stamp all over. The response at the press show was mind boggling with most of critics (also a part of the fan clubs of these makers) going gaga over the film. The netizens too hailed the film upon its release. But the ground reality was totally different. The film had disastrous collections on the first day. Still, a film that opens badly can grow from the second day. But in case of Laila Majnu, that just didn’t happen as the paying audience on the whole had given the film thumbs down.
Last week, Vishal Bhardwaj unveiled Pataakha which again got thumbs up from his fans and critics. The film is not bad – but it goes downhill in the second half. And this is not just our view – a lot of aam junta who were gracious enough to see the film – felt the same. And this reflected in its collections. The cost of the film is reportedly around Rs. 20 crore and its lifetime would struggle to reach the Rs. 10 crore mark.
Now, coming to Anurag Kashyap, considered god’s gift to humanity by his fans, he presented Manmarziyaan in mid-September. It was his lightest film to date but again had its share of glitches. It was repetitive and also quite bold for our audiences. But these views fell on deaf ears of the fans. They went on and on raving about the film. Funnily, they even sang praises for Abhishek Bachchan, who is often their butt of jokes! This film too left the audiences divided. While some liked it, a lot of them gave it thumbs down. It will turn out to be Anurag Kashyap’s biggest grosser at around Rs. 27 crore although that’s not a feat. But commercially, it’s a flop venture.
And this has been a problem with all these filmmakers. Their films are not making money. Anurag Kashyap has directed 14 films till now, out of which 1 film – Paanch didn’t release. So out of 13 films, only 2 – Gangs Of Wasseypur and Dev D – were not flops, although at best they were average grossers. The rest of them were outright flops. The same goes for Vishal Bhardwaj – he has directed 10 flicks and only 2 of them – Kaminey and Haider – were average while the rest are debacles. As for Imtiaz Ali, he started off well and reached his peak with Jab We Met and Love Aaj Kal. But from Rockstar onwards, he went downhill. He alienated a large section of viewers as his films started to become too niche and hence, appealed only to a miniscule nmber of people. In the midst, he was given a big film to handle, Jab Harry Met Sejal. He made a mess out of it and it earned a paltry Rs. 64.33 crore. Lead actor Shah Rukh Khan’s reputation took a beating like never before. Laila Majnu gives one a déjà vu of his earlier films like Rockstar. It’s second half is bizarre and it’s not a surprise that it bombed so badly.
One might argue that a film’s value should not be judged by the amount of money it makes. But one can’t write off the box office as its crucial and sometimes, gives a strong indication that something somewhere is going wrong. Observing the trends makes trade and experts aware if a film has sustained well after a poor opening or has simply crashed. Most of these films fail to sustain, even at lower levels. This shows that the audiences on the whole haven’t liked these films. The fans also say that niche films always struggle to find audiences. Well, agreed but then why is so much money being spent on their films? The producers might be recovering costs by selling the satellite and digital rights but the distributors and even exhibitors suffer.
In fact, ideally, the budgets shouldn’t be more than Rs. 7 to 8 crores, including P&A, looking at the box office performances of their films. Yet, it’s a mystery how they always manage to find investors. They don’t just find people who are ready fund their films, sometimes they are even giving responsibility to helm films that require Rs. 100 crore to break even. And it’s not a surprise that each of these filmmakers made a mess with all the money going down the drain. Imtiaz Ali delivered a commercial disaster in the form of Jab Harry Met Sejal. Last year, Vishal Bhardwaj also blew off crores of rupees with his film Rangoon, shot and mounted on a lavish scale. Fox Star Studios, meanwhile, burnt their hands, by entrusting Anurag Kashyap to direct the niche big-budget flick Bombay Velvet. The losses were so massive that it’s said that it is one of the or maybe THE biggest disaster of Hindi cinema!
What’s amusing is that these filmmakers refuse to see the writing on the wall. Maybe, they are so swayed by their fans that they begin to feel that they have made masterpieces. Nandita Das, who made a similar niche film Manto recently, wrote a column complaining that exhibitors and distributors have not given enough shows to her film. As expected, the fans lapped it up and even a few people from the industry supported her. It’s strange that these people don’t realize that their films don’t get shows is because audiences is just not interested in their films! Manto was released in around 500 screens. But the occupancy was shockingly low in most of the centres and this reflected in its collections. If the occupancy was really good, the collections would have a bit better, obviously. In fact, exhibitors would have given it more shows too. Last year, the niche flick Newton released simultaneously with massy films, Bhoomi and Haseena Parkar. As expected, Newton got limited shows on the first day. But Newton won the public appreciation and became hot as it became India’s official entry to the Oscars. Bhoomi and Haseena Parkar meanwhile were poor and didn’t find appreciation. In no time, the shows of these films were drastically reduced and those slots were given to Newton. The rule is simple – if a film, whether of the masala or film festival type, is making money, it will get its due in cineplexes. Or else, it will be removed.
But the fans would never understand it seems. They’ll continue to blame the ‘system’ rather than the filmmakers for making such niche and difficult-to-understand films. It remains to be seen how long the trio will be able to get money for their films because at this rate, the funds are surely going to dry up sooner or later.