Baahubali 2’s suc­cess has put Bollywood in the shade. Can the sum­mer re­leases get B’Town back in the game?

India Today - - INSIDE - By Suhani Singh

Looks like a tame sum­mer, go­ing by the Bollywood films slated for re­lease

Bollywood is feel­ingthe heat. The in­dus­try’s do­mes­tic rev­enue dropped around Rs 120 crore last year. from Rs 10.1 thou­sand crore in 2015 to Rs 9.98 thou­sand in 2016, ac­cord­ing to a FICCI Frames re­port pub­lished from in March this year. Worse, the per­cent­age of prof­itable Hindi movies sank from 52 to 36 per cent. And if that wasn't bad enough, Hol­ly­wood in­creased its share of the In­dian mar­ket to 10 per­cent, earn­ing rev­enue from dubbed Hindi, Tamil and Tel­ugu ver­sion. The be­gin­ning of 2017 hasn't been too promis­ing ei­ther. Be­fore the Baahubali jug­ger­naut, only two films saw a pos­i­tive re­turn on in­vest­ment - Jolly LL.B 2 and

Badri­nath ki Dul­ha­nia. The phe­nom­e­nal suc­cess of part two of S.S. Ra­jamouli’s Tel­ugu fan­tasy epic, which shat­tered box of­fice records, has only ag­gra­vated the need for the Hindi film in­dus­try to seek big re­sults.

How­ever, as the Baahubali storm sub­sides, Bollywood seems to be short on fresh ideas. It ap­pears to be a sum­mer in which pro­duc­ers hope that safe bets pay big div­i­dends. This cau­tious­ness is ev­i­dent in the ros­ter of films slated for re­lease in May and June. Yet an­other Chetan Bha­gat novel is be­ing adapted to screen—Half Girl­friend—while Amitabh Bachchan reprises an iconic char­ac­ter from eight years ago with a di­rec­tor strug­gling for form (Ram Gopal Varma’s

Sarkar 3). There’s an epic ro­mance, Raabta, which is rem­i­nis­cent of Ra­jamouli’s rein­car­na­tion ro­mance, Ma­gad­heera. Mean­while, Pari­neeti Cho­pra takes on her first lead role in two-and-a-half years, in Meri Pyaari Bindu. Even the in­de­pen­dent of­fer­ings are lim­ited to two as­pi­ra­tional sto­ries:

Be­hen Hogi Teri, in which Ra­jkum­mar Rao bat­tles for his child­hood sweet­heart, and Hindi Medium, in which Ir­rfan Khan, as a de­signer lehenga shop owner, is des­per­ate to get his daugh­ter en­rolled in an English-medium school.

The Show­stop­pers

When ideas fail to ma­te­ri­alise, there’s al­ways the sum­mer tent-pole, the big re­lease with a su­per­star spear­head­ing it. Af­ter mak­ing a plea for bet­ter Indo-Pak re­la­tions (and salut­ing Lord Hanu­man) in Ba­jrangi Bhai­jaan, Sal­man Khan is now aim­ing at In­dia’s big­ger neigh­bour—China—with his Eid re­lease, Tube­light, slated for June 23. “Kya tumhein

ya­keen hai (Do you be­lieve it)?” is the tagline, al­most mock­ing those who might won­der if the film could fail. That it is di­rected by Kabir Khan, who was re­spon­si­ble for what

was pos­si­bly Sal­man’s best film in the last decade, Ba­jrangi

Bhai­jaan, raises ex­pec­ta­tions. Set dur­ing the 1962 In­doChina war, the film also stars Sal­man’s brother So­hail, and fea­tures Chi­nese ac­tress Zhu Zhu as the love in­ter­est.

That said, don’t ex­pect po­lit­i­cal com­men­tary. Tube­light is aim­ing for big re­turns from China, and alien­at­ing its movie-go­ing au­di­ence will not achieve that. In­stead, the drama ap­pears to be an­other at­tempt at the Ba­jrangi Bhai­jaan for­mula: an un­der­dog hero (Sal­man Khan) and his bond with a child (Matin Ray Tengu) to prop­erly tug at those heart­strings, some hu­mour, a cross-bor­der set­ting to tap into pa­tri­otic sen­ti­ments and a uni­ver­sal mes­sage of “make peace, not war”. Tube­light will un­doubt­edly be look­ing to de­throne Aamir Khan’s Dan­gal, but the big­ger ques­tion is this: can it sur­pass Baahubali: The Con­clu­sion?

Speak­ing of show­stop­pers, if there is one ac­tor who could make Ram Gopal Varma a rel­e­vant film­maker again, it is Amitabh Bachchan. This year, the duo’s eighth film to­gether—and their first in five years—will see them re­visit their most suc­cess­ful col­lab­o­ra­tion, the Sarkar se­ries. In

Sarkar 3, re­leas­ing May 12, Bachchan will es­say the role of Sub­hash ‘Sarkar’ Na­gre once more, a char­ac­ter in­spired by Balasa­heb Thack­eray, in a fran­chise that is Varma’s trib­ute to The God­fa­ther tril­ogy. But a lot has changed since 2008’s

Sarkar Raj. Thack­eray is no more. Varma’s stature has di­min­ished. The Modi wave has taken over the coun­try.

Seated in his of­fice, Com­pany—dec­o­rated with colour­ful stat­ues of Bud­dha, a black-and-white pho­to­graph of a naked woman perched on a horse and doors em­bla­zoned with con­fronta­tional quotes like ‘Those who see my dance as in­sane are those who can­not hear my mu­sic’—Varma says he doesn’t see the tit­u­lar hero as a politi­cian. In­stead, Varma de­scribes Sarkar as a fig­ure with con­sid­er­able power and a “dic­ta­to­rial at­ti­tude”, which al­lows him to take the law into his own hands. “Yes, my in­spi­ra­tion was Thack­eray, who with­out any po­si­tion in gov­ern­ment or be­ing elected, was some­one [who] with his own charm and con­vic­tion wielded such power over the masses,” he said. “A charis­matic power can come any­time—be it Ke­jri­wal or Modi.”

An­other iconic fig­ure that is ex­pected to lure peo­ple to cin­e­mas this sum­mer is Sachin Ten­dulkar. Sachin: A

Bil­lion Dreams, the long-ges­tat­ing pro­ject on the mas­ter crick­eter, fi­nally ar­rives on May 26. Di­rected by Bri­tish film­maker James Ersk­ine, the film walks the thin line between ha­giog­ra­phy and biog­ra­phy, and was made with the ac­tive par­tic­i­pa­tion of Ten­dulkar and his fam­ily.

All You Need Is (Lots of) Love

“Ro­man­tic com­edy is pos­si­bly the most dif­fi­cult genre,” says Ma­neesh Sharma of Fan and Band Baaja Baaraat fame. Sharma will gain his sec­ond pro­ducer credit with

Meri Pyaari Bindu, re­leas­ing on May 12, af­ter his work

on Dum Laga ke Haisha.“Pyaar ke baare mein kya naya

kiya jaa sakta hai (What new work can one do on love)?”, he says, is the peren­nial ques­tion trou­bling film­mak­ers. He isn’t wrong, as the re­sound­ing fail­ures of Katti Batti and

Shaan­daar demon­strate. But Sharma is op­ti­mistic about his own ro­man­tic com­edy. For starters, thanks to its fresh pair­ing—Ayush­mann Khur­rana as a pulp writer and Pari­neeti Cho­pra as an as­pir­ing singer—the film doesn’t carry the “bag­gage of cou­ple equity”, he says. “It is not a for­mu­laic film. It has a cer­tain tone and tex­ture. There is a sen­si­bil­ity and world which we have cre­ated.” The nar­ra­tive de­vice de­ployed here is the mix­tape, which is cen­tral to Ak­shay

Roy’s di­rec­to­rial de­but. “Hindi film songs evoke key defin­ing mo­ments from [the char­ac­ter’s lives],” says Sharma. “The inside joke in [Yash Raj Films] is [if you] pitch Ma­neesh a film with an au­dio cas­sette and one old song, it will be cleared,” says Roy, who has as­sisted Mira Nair and Farhan Akhtar and won a Na­tional Award for his 2011 short, The

Fin­ish Line. Roy says he con­nected with the “bit­ter­sweet, slightly emo­tional and funny” as­pects of Supro­tim Sen­gupta’s script. It helped that he had a friend-col­lab­o­ra­tor in Sharma, who en­abled him to “give his own spin” to it.

If Meri Pyaari Bindu at­tempts to add some zing to Bollywood ro­mance, Half Girl­friend, re­leas­ing May 19, has the all-too-fa­mil­iar hall­marks of a mushy ro­mance cour­tesy Chetan Bha­gat. There’s a high so­ci­ety Delhi girl (Shrad­dha Kapoor) and a Bi­hari Hindi-speak­ing boy (Ar­jun Kapoor) who meet at col­lege in Delhi. Love blooms swiftly, but is fol­lowed by a sep­a­ra­tion; the big C (cancer) pops up, which is fol­lowed by a chase, which cul­mi­nates in a trip to New York. With this film, di­rec­tor Mo­hit Suri—whose last film was the melo­dra­matic bore Ha­mari Ad­huri Ka­hani—re­turns to young ro­man­tic drama, a genre he knows well, as the box of­fice suc­cesses of Aashiqui 2 and Ek Vil­lain prove.

But Half Girl­friend isn’t the only ro­man­tic of­fer­ing with a pre­dictable look and feel. Di­nesh Vi­jan’s di­rec­to­rial de­but,

Raabta, re­leas­ing June 9, makes use of one of Bollywood’s favourite tropes—rein­car­na­tion. The film has al­ready made head­lines for its un­canny re­sem­blance to Ma­gad­heera, the ill-fated Mirzya and even Ge­orge Miller’s Os­car-win­ning

Mad Max: Fury Road. “I’m a fan of Ra­jamouli. I wouldn’t dare copy him,” said Vi­jan. In­stead, Vi­jan, best known as a pro­ducer of Love Aaj Kal and Cock­tail, sees his film as an ad­di­tion to the long tra­di­tion of rein­car­na­tion sto­ries such as Mad­hu­mati, Karz, Karan Ar­jun and Om Shanti Om. Star­ring Sushant Singh Ra­jput and Kriti San­non, with Jim Sarbh as the spoiler in their Bu­dapest-set love story, Raabta was writ­ten by Sid­dharth-Garima, the duo be­hind Goliyon Ki Rasleela...Ram-Leela.

Just for Laughs

Within this crowded pack, there are also a few films pre­sent­ing a dif­fer­ent world­view. Saket Chaud­hary’s Hindi

Medium, re­leas­ing May 12, looks at the strug­gle of Chandni Chowk-based par­ents (Ir­rfan Khan and Pak­istani ac­tress Saba Qamar) to get their daugh­ter into an English-medium

school. Chaud­hary is hop­ing that the predica­ment will res­onate with fam­i­lies who find them­selves be­ing scru­ti­nised heav­ily for a chance of their chil­dren mak­ing it into an es­teemed school. The film, says the writer-di­rec­tor best known for Pyaar Ke Side Ef­fects, “is not a crit­i­cism of English but more about how we have cre­ated an ed­u­ca­tional in­equal­ity. The tags of ver­nac­u­lar, gov­ern­ment and pri­vate school end up de­ter­min­ing the qual­ity of ed­u­ca­tion, rather than [the child’s] own ca­pa­bil­ity.” In Hindi Medium, un­like real life, wealth is no guar­an­tee of school ad­mis­sion. Chaud­hary and his cowriter Zeenat Lakhani, dur­ing their year-long re­search, came across sto­ries in which chil­dren were re­jected on the grounds that their par­ents didn’t have the nec­es­sary ed­u­ca­tional qual­i­fi­ca­tions. “They keep chang­ing the cri­te­ria de­pend­ing on whether they want to take you or not take you,” says Chaud­hary. “Ad­dress and job be­come cri­te­ria.”

The way the cou­ple con­fronts the sit­u­a­tion re­sults in a black com­edy—they pre­tend to be poor so they qual­ify for the eco­nom­i­cally-weaker sec­tion quota. “A good, branded school doesn’t equal a good ed­u­ca­tion. Par­ents un­der­es­ti­mate the role they play in rais­ing a child,” says Chaud­hary.

An­other com­edy re­leas­ing this sum­mer, Bank Chor, on June 16, fol­lows three buf­foons-turned-thieves. Di­rected by Bumpy, aka Vivek Bhushan Mathur, the film fol­lows a bank heist gone wrong thanks to the id­iocy of the trio (Riteish Desh­mukh, Vikram Thapa and Bhu­van Arora). Com­par­isons to Dog

Day Af­ter­noon are in­evitable, but Mathur says that un­like the clas­sic bank heist film, his has “no so­cial com­men­tary”. “It is just a fast-paced nar­ra­tive with its share of laugh­out-loud mo­ments,” he says. Be­cause Bank

Chor is pre­dom­i­nantly set in one lo­ca­tion, it was ideally placed to ex­ploit vir­tual re­al­ity (VR) and aug­mented re­al­ity (AR) spe­cial ef­fects. “There are sec­tions in the film which give you an idea what it’s like to be inside the bank,” he says. The 360 de­gree view al­lows for more “im­mer­sive sto­ry­telling”.

Sto­ry­telling is the key. It’s the sto­ries that pre­vail and res­onate, with the im­agery an added bonus. Hope­fully, there will be a few this sum­mer that make an im­pact.

TUBE­LIGHT RE­LEASE DATE: June 23 Make peace, USP: not war

SACHIN: A BIL­LION DREAMS RE­LEASE DATE: May 26 USP: The Lit­tle Mas­ter, up close and per­sonal SARKAR 3 RELASE DATE: May 12 USP: Bachchan as the cal­cu­la­tiong gang­ster

MERI PYAARI BINDU RE­LEASE DATE: May 12 USP: The rom-com with the mix­tape is fi­nally here

BANK CHOR RE­LEASE DATE: June 16 USP: Three buf­foons try to rob a bank

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