The next few weeks will showcase what Bollywood has been doing while south Indian movies have been stealing its mojo. This week sees the release of movie-with-a-message Jayeshbhai Jordaar where Ranveer Singh wades into Ayushmann Khurrana’s territory and tries to deliver enlightened entertainment. June 3 will see the release of Prithviraj, where Akshay Kumar dresses up in the costume of a Hindu warrior and takes on the evil Muslim invader to save his dharam. Both films are produced by Yash Raj Films, which clearly wants a varied slate of films. But such schizophrenia within one industry is unsustainable. It can’t do both—pander to the establishment to keep its nose out of trouble, and seek succour from the woke world to keep its liberal credentials intact. The establishment it seeks to appease doesn’t want the kind of conversations its smaller, more aware movies are sparking, whether it is about dysfunctional families or gender fluidity. So, is the death of Bollywood inevitable and will it collapse under the weight of its own contradictions? I am happy to report that it will happen to all the regional industries. Streaming services have created a new subtitled generation that is used to watching entertainment from all languages, so the pan-Indian film is a given. It will just be a function of how big the release is, in how many screens and how many languages. RRR, for instance, was released across 8,000 screens globally while KGF: Chapter 2 was released across 10,000 screens. Not every southern film gets that kind of treatment—as SS Rajamouli told me, the story determines the marketing. So Acharya, despite the unbeatable combination of Chiranjeevi and his son Ram Charan, was not dubbed and was released in a comparatively smaller way across 2,000 screens. Ditto for Mahesh Babu’s Sarkaru Vaari Paata which is releasing in Telugu alone this week. The actor chose to restrict the release of the movie to primarily the Telugu-speaking market in India and overseas. Being dubbed in Tamil and Telugu will definitely give Prithviraj an expanded footprint but a lot depends on the number of screens it is released on, and whether the story appeals to all. The artificial divisions between regional film industries will exist only in the minds of those who want to squabble over language. The best story, which appeals to all, will win whichever neck of the woods it comes from. And actors won’t have to quarrel with each other on Twitter to take a position on the national language. They’ll simply learn their lines in whatever language works at the box office.
Sometimes, all it takes is just one role for an actor to be recognised widely. Saba Azad made her debut in 2008 with Dil Kabaddi but it is as Pipsi in the beloved SonyLIV series Rocket Boys that she has really taken off. Says Azad: “You know you’ve done something right when people start calling you by your character’s name instead of your own. The show was clearly about the two men but even so the critics were very kind to Pipsi. My favourite though were the calls and messages I received from fellow actors. There is nothing quite like the appreciation of one’s peers, it gives you the faith and strength to keep going.” The independent musician, trained dancer, and former Jana Natya Manch performer is currently working on an independent film. There is also the second season of Rocket Boys, which was shot simultaneously and will be out soon.
Scene and Heard
Playing Komolika in Star Plus’ Kasautii Zindagii Kay 2 was the only way Aamna Sharif found she could return to the world of acting after a break to have a baby. Komolika was vindictive and evil—so evil that she even planned to kill a newborn baby. But it gave Sharif a popular face on television and her career back. She now appears as Roma in Voot Select’s Kashmir-based drama Aadha Ishq. Diversity and inclusion are buzzwords currently but Sharif says it wasn’t exactly easy to step back into work. “I was told my career was over. It made me question myself and shook my conviction. I cannot tell you how many people I messaged for work,” she says, adding that she will always be grateful to Ekta Kapoor for casting her as Komolika and giving her a new lease of life.