Time was when almost every Hindi film was designed for all Indians. The few that had relatively niche target audiences were made with budgets to match, released with a sense of
proportion, and even then, sometimes surprised the trade with their excellent all-round collections. Classic examples of these were Dosti in 1964, Jai Santoshi Maa in 1975, Qayamat
Se Qayamat Tak in 1988, Maine Pyar Kiya in 1989 and A Wednesday! in 2008.
Today, thanks to the mix of multiplexes with corporate culture, a slew of films recover / are said to recover their investments even if not catering to the pan-Indian audiences. In most cases, the
audience is now so much split that films that are disasters in India are super-hits in different other parts of the globe (RA.One, for example), and those that do well in cities (like
Kapoor & Sons) fail to enthuse smaller centers. Of course, there is the ever-pervading issue of single-screens-versus-multiplexes that applies even within the metros and more generally
across the country.
So what is common between Jurassic World, Bahubali-The Beginning, Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Tanu Weds Manu Returns and The Jungle Book? We will see soon!
The bogey that confuses us is "evolution" of Hindi cinema. With new and young filmmakers, with education in global cinema or/and and exposure to it, raring to go the experimental (for us) way,
there is no glut of subjects that can be tackled. Not all these subjects are, however, universally appealing. Correction: they are definitely not appealing given the costs of admission tickets, F&B
and parking and transport nowadays. The 'plexes do not make things better, by keeping the same rates as big blockbusters even for smaller movies, and paradoxically cancelling shows when there is
barely any booking done!
Again, most of these 'different'/ 'realistic' / intellectual / (all of these) kinds of filmmakers are neither worried about the losses made by those who fund them (neither are the corporates in
most cases!) nor about audiences, even if their budgets are unreal!
As against this, mainstream filmmakers often seem to get caught up in the rut. Instead of cerebrally fighting the offbeat brigade with great and innovative entertainers, they tend to play
unnecessary safe by being repetitious. Conclusion: We summarily reject most of both kinds of fares!
And finally, there is confusion: What really works? And since the smaller films recover investments in most cases, we arrive at a hasty conclusion: Only fresh subjects like Neerja,
Piku and Kapoor & Sons work!
But the audience, apart from being partial to such well-made variety at all times (since movies began!), crave for big-screen entertainers that need a visit to multiplexes with their upmarket
digital sound and state-of-the-art projection. That, for them, has always been what the cinema-viewing experience has always been all about-and today is at its best. So what if ticket rates are a
hundredfold more than what they were 40 years ago, and ten times the value in the '90s?
And for these value-for-money entertainers, they always have, plan for, or manage the funds.
The giants of Hindi cinema
The true-blue giants of Hindi cinema, be it V. Shantaram, Raj Kapoor, B.R. Chopra and in parts even Hrishikesh Mukherjee, frequently dabbled in cinema that could be called niche today. But their
intention, however different the subjects, was always to cater to the same audience that loved their purely mainstream work. Hrishi-da, easily the least commercial of the four, imaginatively
cast big stars in real-life roles, spruced up his emotional/dramatic/offbeat content with great humor and embellished his films with good, popular music. The purpose was crystal-clear: from the
richest to the poorest, from the rank illiterates to the scholars, and from rural inhabitants to the elite, akkha (the entire) India had to like the film!
Most other filmmakers, too, no matter what the genre, made their films palatable to every class, because they put a premium on entertainment, which did not mean just crassness in words and visuals.
And that is where we are falling short today-woefully, alarmingly short! The audience is underrated, or taken for granted!
And therefore, since 2015 began, there have been only five pan-Indian super-hits. If that causes consternation, let us examine something a lot, lot more worrying: three of these films
are dubbed versions of non-Hindi movies! Of course, Hope always thrives, and we do expect the soon-to-be-released Housefull 3 to join the club, while Baaghi too is registering
very impressive numbers, but is yet to finish it's first week. And so, as of now, which are the Famous Five?
Bajrangi Bhaijaan: Released on Eid 2015, this Salman Khan production was as unlike the standard Salman-athons in the last ten years as stew from dal-roti. Kabir Khan staged a
coup by making a film that the lowest form of Salman Khan fans loved as much as his biggest haters did! Examine it carefully and it had all the principal and nutritious ingredients of the
best of classic Hindi cinema. And that resonated even across the stuck-up detractors of our popular cinema!
Tanu Weds Manu Returns: Fresh, different, real, refreshing, riveting and totally gripping, this was a super blend of classic Hindi cinema with a new-age approach to wholesome
entertainment at its core. Despite a comparatively small and single star (Kangana Ranaut) it did whopping business. And why not?
And now for the tragic irony-these are the only two Hindi films that have captivated the entire spectrum of Hindi film viewers in India and globally in 18 months! The others were the dubbed
Hindi versions of Hollywood extravaganzas Jurassic World and The Jungle Book (made in budgets we can only dream about!) and of that Telugu wonder, Bahubali-The Beginning!
As South actor Arvind Swami put it, "For a film to click across India, some association is needed with rest of the country. That's when we can hope for a dubbed Hindi film to succeed!" And that
identification clearly was there in hordes!
No, we are not referring to Irrfan's small Indian character in Jurassic World, or to the fact that the characters in The Jungle Book were based in the Indian jungles. If Mowgli had
been an American, African or Chinese, the film would have still worked!
Every film needs an Entertainment Quotient, an Emotional Quotient, and an Intelligence Quotient, and the first two are normally the drivers that make the difference between a normal movie and a
Sholay or Amar Akbar Anthony or Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. And these two Hollywood bonanzas (The Jungle Book was even premiered in India and made a bigger collection from its
Hindi version!) had these not only in sackfuls but also in perfect proportions!
As for Bahubali-The Beginning, the same points applied. At a technical level, it was world-class cinema, but it was these very same elements that made it big!
And sadly, these vital aspects are the ones being rapidly jettisoned in Hindi cinema. So the million-dollar question is: Are we losing the art and connectivity? Will anyone answer?
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