Group President, Group Managing Director & Editor In Chief: Dr.Shelly Ahmed

Sunday, September 18, 2011


By M H Ahssan

It's raining blockbusters at the box office, with three movies crossing the Rs 100 crore mark this year. To keep the mood upbeat, there are several high-profile films waiting to hit the theatre. Is it going to be Bollywood's best year in a decade?

The year 2010 was awful for Bollywood. Big ticket films were flopping and producers were hard-pressed to search out for other avenues (like TV, music, satellite and overseas) to bring down the quantum of losses. It wasn’t clear whether the industry would find the will and gumption to reorganise and re-strategise in order to survive the big slump in fortunes. The first quarter of 2011 did not see much difference, but once Salman Khan’s Ready hit the theatre it became another story altogether.

The film had a gargantuan marketing budget. Salman, otherwise a reticent actor, became the star campaigner. Song and dance numbers of the film were splashed across channels, creating a buzz and hype previously seen only for Amitabh Bachchan’s movies in his heyday or Rajnikanth’s films even today.

The resurgence
The downpour of blockbusters we are witnessing today began with Ready which, despite being substandard and like all Salman enterprises totally kitschy in content, could beat 3 Idiots to become the second-highest grosser in the opening weekend after Dabangg. It appropriated Rs 41 crore in the first three days of its release. It also recorded the biggest non-holiday weekend take, surpassing Raajneeti. But such films don’t have longevity and, as expected, Ready took a downward turn once the initial hype and hoopla got over. Yet, such was the marketing of the film that it went on to cross the Rs 100 crore mark despite witnessing a great slump after the first week.

Then came Ajay Devgn’s turn to roar at the box office. Singham, in its very first weekend, raked in approximately Rs 31 crore on an all-India basis — the highest ever first weekend collection for an Ajay Devgn-starrer. In fact, Devgn was trying to resurrect his action-hero persona after a spate of successful comedies and he too hit the bull’s eye, crossing the Rs 100 crore mark within no time.

Singham was ably supported by Zoya Akhtar’s Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, which despite a fabulous star cast, was a surprise blockbuster. The film was expected to do well but not as well as it eventually did.

It was, however, Salman again who took the Bollywood’s profit chart to an unassailable height. His second film of the year, Bodyguard, which was released on August 31, went on to become the third highest all-time grosser after 3 Idiots and Dabangg.

In between one witnessed megahits like Murder 2, riding on cheap publicity for some sizzling ‘hot’ scenes between Emraan Hashmi and Jacqueline Fernandez, and Delhi Belly. Sunny Deol’s Yamla Pagla Deewana and Sanjay Dutt’s Double Dhamaal, too, did well at the box office.

The mechanism
According to veteran trade analyst Vinod Mirani, “Eid appears to be the festival day — and Salman the perfect poster boy — for Bollywood. Last year it was Dabangg that broke all records at the box office. And, this year it was again Salman’s Bodyguard that set cash registers ringing.”

So, why is the box office showering such whopping returns all of a sudden? Trade analyst Taran Adarsh gives credit to the “triumph of craft”. He says, “Innovative marketing strategies, catchy promotions and outdoor advertising have drawn the audiences to the theatre.” Aamir Khan, based on his experience with movies like Peepli Live, Dhobi Ghat and Delhi Belly, says that “creative and cerebral themes” — and not necessarily the “formulaic films peppered with song and dance” — are most likely to work at the box office.

Mirani disagrees. “The recent spate of successes at the box office is because filmmakers have understood that the age-old formula of songs, dance and action must be tweaked to suit the new generation of cine-goers. So, we have the same basic formula in a newer package of peppy songs and superficially-stylised action. The villain, too, has to have enough menace to make the hero look good,” he says.

There’s, however, a method in this madness. Today’s blockbusters are more akin to what a trade analyst calls “cloudbursts” — exploiting the potential of a film in the very first week by providing it the widest possible release. Bodyguard, for example, was released across 2,600 screens in the country. Digital technology has helped cut down on print costs, making such wide release affordable. No wonder, by the time people realised Bodyguard was an ordinary movie, it had already crossed the Rs 100 crore mark!

The box office trends of the past few years suggest that films releasing between January and May usually fare poorly. Mirani says, “This is because of cricket (IPL, etc) taking precedence over everything else. Traditionally, the monsoon brings people at the theatre. Most of the big-budget films are released during this season and towards the end of the year — Eid, Dussehra, Diwali, Christmas. This explains why year-ends mostly bring huge returns for films at the box office.”

The industry is now looking at RA.One, Don 2 and Agnipath to consolidate the 2011 success story.

The phenomenon
After his successes with Yash Chopra, Karan Johar and Farah Khan, Shah Rukh Khan was hailed as the star with the Midas touch at the box office. But today the picture is different. Shah Rukh hasn’t had any release this year. Hence for him to retain his pre-eminent status, his films — RA.One and Don 2 — will have to do phenomenally well.

Salman, on the other hand, is sitting pretty with a plethora of blockbusters to his credit. Wanted, Dabangg, Ready and now Bodyguard have taken his standing in the film industry to a new high. In fact, if Bollywood is in such a good shape today, the credit largely goes to him, along with Ajay Devgn.

“Salman is an all-rounder — he is a comedian, action hero and romantic lover boy in one single power-packed package. After all, mainstream Hindi films don’t need much acting; it’s all about promoting an image suitable to that of the star. That augurs well for Salman at the box office provided the films he does give him ample scope to brandish those elements,” says Mirani.

Salman hasn’t shown any thespian talent. He is a non-actor, who even cannot shake a leg to save his face. Yet, whenever he comes on screen, his presence is magnetic. Why is it so?

Salman represents a certain kind of macho masculinity that Indian males aspire to achieve. But what goes most in his favour is the fact that he combines rural appeal with urban aesthetics, something that his predecessors like Govinda or Mithun Chakraborty lacked. It’s this ability to evade the urban-rural divide that has allowed him to connect with both the masses and the classes, and retained his charm for 23 long years. In fact, Salman of today can be compared with Rajesh Khanna at his peak; people are ready to tear their shirts at the very sight of him. It seems, as one of the commentators has observed, of the two other Khans, Aamir has the greater acting skill but not the aura; Shah Rukh has the style, but not the reach.

What also goes in Salman’s favour is the fact that people find him genuine. Whatever he does on screen basically shows off his innate character to good effect. From his romantic films (Maine Pyar Kiya, Hum Aapke Hain Kaun) to comedy (Partner, No Entry, Judwaa) to the demented (Tere Naam), Salman never embodies the character; he always plays himself with a panache that endears the masses.

Salman is a success story that cuts across all classes, defying logic, traditional wisdom and even aesthetics. But one should not bother to analyse him. As it’s raining blockbusters in Bollywood, one just needs to remember him — and give him the credit which has been due for the past 23 years.

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