Bollywood in 2013: When content stopped being king?

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As a new year is upon us, reflections are bound to take place. 2013 marked 100 years of Indian cinema and what a year it has been. Arguably, nobody would have predicted that 2013 would be such a record-breaking year for Bollywood. However, there are records but there is also quality. In 2013 (and also maybe in the years coming upto), it very much seemed as if the more the year progressed, the more box office figures became what needed to be surpassed as opposed to perfecting audience reactions or expectations and making actual content(films) to be proud of.

The latest and last record-breaker of the year came in the form of the much-awaited ‘Dhoom 3’ which crossed 200 crores at the domestic box office almost at the same time as hitting the 300 crores mark in the worldwide market. One only needs to read reviews and opinions of audience members (those which are not biased) to see that the film, in terms of content, was less than satisfactory. Of the three films that now make up the Dhoom franchise, hailed by Yash Raj Films, it is safe to say that this one has proved the most successful but one can’t help but ask why. If box office figures are the order of the day then, yes, that’s a valid argument but has making films really become all about money?

‘Dhoom 3’, marketing wise, did something very rare in pre-promotion. It was to keep up the suspense right up until the movie’s release. Where most films these days release various song promos, trailers of various sorts as well as merchandise to drum up interest and make a movie a brand, ‘Dhoom 3’ revealed minimal about itself to its fans. The franchise would indeed bring in its ardent viewers regardless because they would undoubtedly be swearing by it as a brand no matter what. However, with Bollywood in its 100th year, does ‘Dhoom 3’ (as just one example) make a mockery of its audiences? Have audiences really become that easy to impress what with content becoming arguably the least important entity more so in the mass-catered genre?

The film that started Bollywood’s record-breaking spree this year was Dharma Productions produced ‘Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani’, starring Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukone in the main lead roles. One only needs to know the real-life history between the two protagonists in order to understand partly why this movie had a great opening. They are two actors that the audiences would have been eager to see on screen because they look good together, they have a personal history and also because this was the first time they were to be seen in the same frame post their much publicised break-up. Coupled with the fact that the music of the movie was an instant hit, thanks to Pritam’s compositions and director Ayan Mukerji’s alluringly fresh vision, ‘Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani’ was the perfect package, to put it mildly. Despite the packaging, the movie was indeed the most worthy to break the records this year because the content was there. However, the same – sadly – may not quite be the case for the other films which went on to do the same.

‘Chennai Express’, once again, proved that breaking records required more than a film which would tug at the heartstrings or be critically acclaimed. Arguably, if this movie was made with a newcomer, it probably wouldn’t have seen quite as much success as it did. However, with Shah Rukh Khan returning to the action genre and the gorgeous Deepika Padukone’s ‘bokwas dictionary’ to look forward to, the audiences just couldn’t keep away. Rohit Shetty directed this one and he is also known for his massive films with untold numbers of cars doing somersaults and bloodshed between hero and villain. Khan played a 40-year-old character who fought the baddies as if he had the energy of a guy in his 20s but this film was his all along. Releasing on an Eid holiday also helped it much and it became a film which the box office would have found easy to remember.

When ‘Krrish 3’ released in November, it too took advantage of the Diwali weekend. With much confusion surrounding it’s actual release date, the film eventually hit the theatres on the Friday so that it had the full weekend ahead of it to make its prime business. A Hrithik Roshan film was releasing after a gap of almost two years and Priyanka Chopra was there with him. For the first time there was a female mutant and sci-fi like you wouldn’t believe would work in Indian cinema some day. There was also a supervillain, as if a normal villain just wasn’t enough. Once again, this film broke box office records but would it have been because of the product alone? Or would it have been a combination of star power, franchise allure and pure yearning for the actors in question?

The last mention in this already money-making argument is none other than ‘Dhoom 3’ (again) but for another reason than the above mentioned. Aamir Khan as a filmmaker, actor and marketeer is always trusted in whatever he does. One need only look at the critical acclaim even his less involved projects have taken on to know that ‘Dhoom 3’ was going to be the same. What made this one different was it’s lack of transparency but what made it the biggest box office hit of the year was more than just Khan. Understandably, with such an accomplished actor as protagonist, it would have been hard for such a movie to be a complete failure. However, what – quite cleverly – ‘Dhoom 3’ did was bring this actor to the audiences in overalls and costume they weren’t used to. Here was Khan as an action hero, as a heist expert and as a… tap-dancer. What the film also did was put a very gorgeous Katrina Kaif in its most cleanly packaged songs and she did what she was there to do – lure in the male audiences who would have found it difficult not to succumb to the male gaze. What was left was very little aside from this. With stunts that were almost laughable and a story with many holes to it, the trusted comedy duo of Abhishek Bachchan and Uday Chopra who have safely seen the franchise through right from 2004’s ‘Dhoom’ were sidelined for the two actors who were most bankable – Khan and Kaif. So, once again the question comes to light: did ‘Dhoom 3’ achieve box office success because its content was unmissable?

In 2013, there have been films in a more art type of genre which have sought to take the industry and the perception of cinema that little bit further. However, it is sad that films which are more reported about, more talked about and more remembered are the ones that smash the records at that all-important box office. From 2014, it would be a healthy and much-needed change to see films made by makers who want to create an everlasting legacy for cinematic brilliance than to make a dent in box office record collections. Will it ever happen? Has content really stopped being king in Indian cinema?

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