(L to R) Tara Sutaria, Sushant Singh Rajput and Kangana Ranaut
It has been a year of cataclysmic change, not merely in the world but also in the film industry. Movies, streaming services and digital-first content creators have changed the game in entertainment in India. Covid-19 has made the established stars in every field anxious. The after-effects of Sushant Singh Rajput’s death have initiated a lot of value-based changes. The halo associated with particular production houses, such as Yash Raj Films and Dharma Productions, has been shattered in the court of public opinion even as the film industry as a whole has been held morally guilty of his death. Freed from the addiction of waiting for films every Friday, audiences have started to question certain established practices, chief among them being the launches of star children and the private parties of the privileged people. It has led to a posthumous adulation that Sushant should have lived to see. As Abhishek Kapoor, who directed him in two films, Kai Po Che! (2013) and Kedarnath (2018), says: “Where was all this love when he was alive? He was never allowed to see it. The entire machinery worked in such a way that they just negated all that love. He was a fabulous actor with some palpitating energy. And then he went away, all this love poured out. Why did a man like that kill himself? Everyone knows he was being slandered. While shooting for Kedarnath, we used to sit every day and read something or the other in the newspapers. He was working, getting slandered, and working. No one went through what he did.” Something was going on in the system that was weighing him down, he adds. “I could see articles in newspapers that were running him down. We were fighting that while shooting Kedarnath. And I had trouble with dates. I had to put money from my own pocket to complete it. People didn’t want it to be completed. But somehow, we finished it,” he says. This business is run on actors, he adds, and they decide the kind of films that will be made. “The studios have Excel sheets led by actors. If you have an actor like Sushant who is not being controlled by anyone and is challenging the system, they’ll rip you apart,” he says. They did. After his passing away, the irony is that Kedarnath is doing fabulously on Zee5 and the ‘Namo Namo’ song is a chartbuster. It hurts Kapoor who knew him so closely but perhaps Sushant’s legacy will be the permanent change one sees in the star system in Bollywood, the questioning of which began with Kangana Ranaut’s comment on nepotism on Koffee With Karan. A movie like Tadap, for instance, which launched the latest star child, Ahan Shetty (son of Suniel Shetty), made more noise at the box office for the performance of its heroine, Tara Sutaria, even though it had the backing of a big producer like Sajid Nadiadwala and was a remake of the Telugu hit RX 100 (2018). Mediocrity is not likely to be tolerated now, no matter what the surname. The other area which is now in the news is the parties hosted by Bollywood’s pretty people, with social media constantly criticising them, either for being Covid-19 superspreaders or for being occasions to indulge in drug abuse. Never has the industry faced this level of backlash, even though there have been cases of alcohol addiction in the past, and not merely among its men. The saving grace is the greater attention being given to newer actors and the fan support they get now, whether it is Kartik Aaryan or Nushrratt Bharuccha, two stars who broke out this year, or quieter character actors such as Vijay Varma and Kani Kusruti who did stellar work in Disney+Hotstar’s OK Computer and SonyLIV’s Maharani. And the more professional streaming services which are less interested in the stars and more interested in the stories are the icing on the cake.
Mediocrity is not likely to be tolerated now, no matter what the surname. The other area which is now in the news is the parties hosted by Bollywood’s pretty people, with social media constantly criticising them, either for being Covid-19 superspreaders or for being occasions to indulge in drug abuse
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One star whose equity has been enhanced this year without having appeared in a single movie scene has been Shah Rukh Khan. The extraordinary outpouring of sympathy for him after his son Aryan’s arrest by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) may have been somewhat orchestrated by his online fan clubs, but some of it was organic as well. His considered silence while the machinery of the state was arraigned against him in full force was a smart move. He allowed his lawyers to speak; watched quietly while Maharashtra minister Nawab Malik fired shots at NCB officials; and behaved like any other concerned father, working tirelessly to get his son released without committing any illegality. Subsequent to his son’s release, he took time off from long-pending shoots to reorder his routine with counselling sessions and motivational talks. Everyone understands parental pain because everyone goes through it at some point. Shah Rukh was the perfect study in stoicism, a lesson for all parents in crisis.
Rise of the Auteur
Aanand L Rai, Dibakar Banerjee, SS Rajamouli, Raj and DK and Kabir Khan. This year (and the beginning of the next) has seen the rise of the auteur, filmmakers with a distinct imprimatur. Rai’s small-town romances, Dibakar’s social commentary, Rajamouli’s lavish spectacles, Khan’s personal-is-political, and Raj and DK’s middle-class originals are styles that are now deeply embedded in the audience consciousness. All have distinct ways of working as well. While Rai is in love with his characters, Dibakar seeks out the malevolence lurking beneath polished exteriors, Khan looks for the natural diversity that is part of the Indian ethos, and Raj and DK— this year’s breakout masters with a thrilling second season of The Family Man—think of angles that others don’t. For Khan, politics is always a backdrop to his work. It’s about a human drama, but it’s not possible for a filmmaker not to display his ideology in the film. “Otherwise, what makes you different from other filmmakers? It’s not necessarily out there overtly but it is there in the subtext, the best place to be in mainstream cinema. Those who want to enjoy it at face value can do so, and those who want to dig deeper or access those layers will find the film more profound. In 83, there is a lot of subtext for me, and I thought it was very important to re-introduce the idea of patriotism.” Rajamouli’s way of working is intriguing, especially since he collaborates with his writer, who also happens to be his father, the writer KV Vijayendra Prasad. For his latest film RRR, he had a character development questionnaire for each of his two lead stars, Ram Charan and NT Rama Rao Junior. He and his father would sit with them for two-three days answering and refining each of the 150-odd questions administered by a member of his staff. “As we answer the questions, we clear our doubts and any misunderstandings we may have. We started this practice with Baahubali, and it’s quite a tedious and exhaustive experience. But at the end, we have a very clear idea of the characters, their action and reaction. That helps us a lot. So, when it is time for action, they just need to learn their lines. Everything else is already set in their minds and ours. It is just the fine-tuning.” He leaves very little scope for improvisation, and is quite clear on how it is to be captured. He also does a lot of computer-aided pre-visualisation. “Eighty per cent of the film is in front of our eyes before we shoot,” he says. His relationship with his father while writing is professional. “We never argue about the principal storyline. But when it comes to detailing, we have a difference of opinion,” he says, “but I always put him in his place,” he adds with a laugh. The director-auteur is supreme.
Rai’s small-town romances, Dibakar’s social commentary, Rajamouli’s lavish spectacles, Khan’s personal-is-political, and Raj and DK’s middle-class originals are styles that are now deeply embedded in the audience consciousness
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Did You Know?
The Netflix blockbuster South Korean show in 2021, Squid Game, is estimated to be worth $900 million. And the total worth of the Indian film industry? According to latest estimates, the industry revenue was a mere $1.9 billion in 2019, the last year before Covid-19. Our entertainment industry has to travel a long distance before it can be positioned as a global power