Sunny Deol is ruling the Hindi box office with Gadar 2; Jawan, a Shah Rukh Khan film, looks set to replace him; and Diwali seems all set to crackle with Salman Khan’s Tiger 3. Are we back in the early noughties? Did someone transport us to the past in a time machine? Suddenly, the Hindi film box office is doing well with sequels, OMG 2 and Dream Girl 2, and movies with ’90s stars. Even Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani was big on nostalgia, with its golden oldie songs, and a surprise romance between Dharmendra, 87, and Shabana Azmi, 72. It’s like comfort food. After experimenting with different cuisines, Hindi film audiences seem to be telling the filmmakers to stick to their strengths. Sunny Deol’s Gadar: Ek Prem Katha in 2001 was the year’s biggest hit and 22 years later, its loud love for India is stronger than ever. OMG 2 and Dream Girl 2 wisely decided to tread the same ground as their first parts even though they are not exact sequels, and audiences have rewarded the filmmakers with their loyalty. There is much celebration of a new `500 crore box-office club breached by Gadar 2 but that still does not mask the unfortunate truth: the Hindi film industry continues to be short of interesting narratives and innovative ways of storytelling. Merely because the movies are doing better than before doesn’t make them better movies, though OMG 2 with its powerful message of the need for alert parenting and the power of unshakeable faith was a film much smarter than its star, Akshay Kumar who had an extended cameo. The crisis of creativity in Mumbai films continues. A 65-year-old Deol and two 57-year-old Khans are the past, not the future. But it is clear that audiences don’t want Mumbai films to steer away from their staple of song, dance, romance, comedy and action, the great Indian thali. For a taste of something different, they can always watch streaming shows and movies.
Lean Marketing Machine
“No one is going to give me money to promote a film starring Nana Patekar and Pallavi Joshi, says Vivek Agnihotri. So he decided to market his latest film, The Vaccine War, by taking it to 12 cities in the US and 12 in India. The idea is to show the film, a dramatised version of the country’s war against the pandemic, to scientists, doctors, Covid workers, legislators, and policymakers, all of various ethnicities. It is a somewhat different strategy from The Kashmir Files in 2022, he says. “The idea then was to reach out to Kashmiri Pandits. I wouldn’t call it a marketing campaign. We would have a discussion, a visit to a holocaust museum, the screening and then dinner in various cities in the US. We wanted the movie to be validated by Kashmiri Pandits since it was about the horrors they had faced. It was a controlled and informed environment,” he says. He says he didn’t want the community to be disappointed by his film, like many were in the case of Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Shikara, which chronicled the same horror. “I make films for people,” he says, and “that is who I want to show it to. We have small budgets and no money to throw around like big Bollywood producers who visit malls and colleges.” By regularly releasing updates of his screenings in American cities on social media, Agnihotri hopes to build enough momentum for the film’s release this month. “We have disrupted Bollywood movie marketing.” It’s difficult to argue with that.
Scene and Heard
Mira Nair has become an informal school of actors, with stars such as Sarita Choudhury and Randeep Hooda having got their breaks in her movies. Now it turns out Hansal Mehta discovered theatre actor Gagan Dev Riar in her miniseries A Suitable Boy. He also played the bride’s father in Nair’s off- Broadway musical Monsoon Wedding. “I wanted to cast him in Scam 1992 in the role that was finally played by a scene-stealing Jaimini Pathak, because there was a clash of dates,” says Mehta. When it came to casting him for Scam 2003, he didn’t think twice. Neither did his casting agent Mukesh Chhabra. All Gagan Dev Riar had to do was to put on 20 kg and prepare for the role, and Abdul Karim Telgi was created for the SonyLIV series. Telgi was convicted in the stamp paper scam of `30,000 crore but died in 2017.