SUMMER OF 2017
Baahubali 2’s success has put Bollywood in the shade. Can the summer releases get B’Town back in the game?
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.
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