Variety

Hundred crore act

Shashi Baliga | Updated on December 27, 2012

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Laugh it off? A still from Joker

Nothing defined 2012 so much as the Hunt for Hundred. Was a film good, bad, torturous? Who cared? Okay, was it a hit? Hit? You mean did it hit hundred?

Hundred as in hundred crore, the only parameter that seemed to matter in 2012.

They tracked collections manically, they counted screens feverishly, measured one opening day against the other, they were hungrier than Sachin Tendulkar hovering on his 99th century as they waited desperately for that last, crucial crore to drop in.

And then - Celebrations! Success party! Full-page ads in the papers! Much public preening and private relief. They were heroes after all. They were men, not small-time Rs 50-crore boys; they could bring home the bacon. Money and machismo: it was an unbeatable combination.

Through the whole of last year, the industry’s big guns (save, perhaps, Aamir Khan) seemed to have abandoned all other considerations but that three-figure target. The fact that Talaash failed to register Rs 100 crore in domestic collections is now a major talking point. Was it the anti-climax of the denouement that did it in or was it its unconventional noir treatment? Did the lack of an item number (which now seems to be mandatory) shave off crores? That a film which made few concessions to the box-office and had no real masala elements did not reach the Rs 100-crore mark has been interpreted as a vindication of the k-o at the b-o approach.

But look at the films that made it to the Rs 100-crore club: what a disappointing lot. Except for the brave Barfi!, the rest were packages fashioned clearly for the box-office, the rest be damned. You could argue that Agneepath, Jab Tak Hai Jaan and Ek Tha Tiger were sincere movies at least, but that does not mean they did not make compromises that clearly did not help their cause.

Just these eight films collected over Rs 1,000 crore. (You can also safely add Dabangg 2, which seemed well on its way to the magic figure when we went to press.)

That’s enough money to keep the wheels of the industry well-greased. That’s vitally important, of course. But when that objective overrides all else, the problems begin. When a filmmaker like Kabir Khan caves in to gloss and a loss of logic as he did in Ek Tha Tiger, you start to worry. Is this the man who made Kabul Express and New York? When Prakash Jha throws in an item number and has his tough-cop heroine prance about in sexy shorts in the middle of Naxal country, you mutter Et tu, Jha. When Dabangg 2 squanders a glorious opportunity to reprise one of our genuinely quirky characterisations, you wring your hands. When Paan Singh Tomar has to struggle to find a release, you despair. But then, as Scarlett O’Hara might have told us, there’s always another day, another Friday, another film.

So there was hope as well. And it was left largely to the more inventive, smaller-budget films to show the way. As our list of best films of the year shows, almost all were small-budget wonders. Only one mega Khan features in the list: Aamir. And only two movies - Talaash and Barfi! - had high-cost top-rung stars. Kahaani did have Vidya Balan but, remember, she was signed for the film before The Dirty Picture and her sudden (but deserved) rise up the film ladder.

What’s even more encouraging is that most of these films had wonderful ensemble casts. Nawazuddin Siddiqui was the rock star here, with incredibly fine-tuned performances in Kahaani, Talaash and Gangs of Wasseypur. More hope flowed in from actors like the marvellous Adil Hussain as Sridevi’s husband in English Vinglish, Dolly Ahluwalia in Vicky Donor, Parambrata Chatterjee and Saswata Chatterjee in Kahaani.

The fact that OMG Oh My God! could take in over Rs 80 crore proved that you could hit the big-time without relying exclusively on star power in the manner that Dabangg 2 did. That Barfi! could cross the Rs 100-crore barrier was an even bigger shot in the arm.

These successes did much to balance the insidious effect of the dumbed-down brigade. So Bollywood ended 2012 with record collections, some terrific films, lots of new faces and much positive energy no matter which end of the film scale you stood. It was the worst of years and best of years.

DUDS AND DISAPPOINTMENTS

Heroine: The hype was so deafening, the movie would have had to get close to Kaagaz Ke Phool to live up to expectations. As it turned out, it all ended with a whimper. Heroine showcased all of Madhur Bhandarkar’s failings — and none of his strengths. Poor Kareena Kapoor threw her heart into it, but whoever said there was justice in Bollywood?

Agent Vinod: When the best parts of a spy thriller are its songs, there’s obviously serious trouble. Not even Saif Ali Khan’s zany Pyaar ki pungi or Kareena Kapoor’s mujra could save this sleek but utterly silly movie. This was a suitcase bomb all right.

Joker: If lead actor Akshay Kumar decided he didn’t want us to see this movie, who were we to contest his expert opinion? Akshay refused to promote his movie, we refused to watch it. All we missed were tacky costumes, a hare-brained plot and… nothing else really.

Chakravyuh: Ever since Prakash Jha started using stars instead of actors in his movies it’s been strictly downhill. Raajneeti was nowhere as good as his earlier movies but it was so successful that the wishy-washy, star-heavy Aarakshan followed… and bombed. With Chakravyuh we had hoped that going deep into Naxal country would help Jha regain his old touch. Alas, nothing felt real — especially those cops’ uniforms, which looked like they were designed by Karan Johar.

Shanghai: Whatever happened to Dibakar Banerjee’s humour — gentle, sly, clever or acerbic? There was little evidence of it, or any of his other skills in one of the year’s big disappointments. It all seemed so facile, superficial and ill-thought out: adjectives you’d never use for any of his earlier movies. Armchair activism works in TV studios but, however well-intentioned, gets you nowhere in Bollywood.

Published on December 27, 2012

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