Someone ought to make a film on how Bollywood looks at the calendar. At the beginning of every year the trade is divided into two distinctive groups consisting of those who look at the emotions and those who let economics guide them. There are two things common amongst the two namely, (a) both know each other’s strengths and weaknesses but pretend otherwise and, (b) both make promises that would help guide them through the year only to be broken.
Both groups pretend that the first quarter of the year is the most important as the fate of films released during this period would set the pitch of the entire year. Both know this isn’t how it’s going to play out for January, like most things Bollywood, usually strikes a very boring middle ground, which is pretty much how every year plays out.
The first two weeks of January are extremely unlucky when it comes to new releases and most films released during this period are flops – Mela, Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani, Chandni Chowk to China, Halla Bol, Chance Pe Dance. The second-half of the month is a lucky striking ground and has seen films like Luck By Chance, Yamla Pagla Deewana, Ishqiya and some critically acclaimed films like Dhobi Ghat. The first month of the year attracts all kinds of films and for once views them as equals. Many small films think that no big producer would try and release their films so close to the New Year’s Eve and hope to make the most of it; the big producers think that the euphoria of the new year would help boost their films and then there’s a lot in the middle who applies simple logic of ‘a good film will always run.’ January has seen big films like Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani, Mela, Sunday and Veer sink at the box-office, it has witnessed surprise hits like Kaho Na Pyaar Hai, No One Killed Jessica and obscure names like Impatient Vivek, Waiting Room or Tulsi trying to make hay while the sun shines.
A close look at the films that release in January shows all the promises that Bollywood makes every year. These pledges range from making it better than the last year, becoming more meaningful, cleaner, and little more wholesome and not over estimating itself. A handful of these vows are fulfilled but old habits die-hard and a 50/50-success rate of films, irrespective of size and intentions forces Bollywood to overlook the promises. They might not be completely forgotten but are certainly put on hold till the next year. One of Bollywood’s most illuminating features is its almost unrelenting inability to change. It’s not like it’s not capable of changing but the more it tries to change the more it remains the same. One could blame the simple arithmetic of business that tomorrow should be better than today for the situation and in such a case if something worked yesterday, why wouldn’t you simply replicate it to work the same magic? Perhaps that’s the reason when a Ghajini-like template cracked the 100 crore market, it couldn’t help but inspire a tirade of similar experiments like Dabangg, Singham and Rowdy Rathore. Look at the progression of the films and you’d see just how consistent the filmmakers were in not changing something that was a winning formula.
The big-budgeted films might be getting bigger and therefore, forcing every star to try taking the same path for their 100-crore film but meaningful cinema is increasing in numbers. A small breed of mainstream cinema is dedicated to telling a story and keeping the fantasy real; it’s the growth of this segment that promises to balance the 100-crore cacophonies.
The names of Sujoy Ghosh (Kahaani), Dibakar Banerjee (Shanghai), Tigmanshu Dhulia (Paan Singh Tomar), Shoojit Sircar (Vicky Donor) have now become calling cards similar to a big star. Now, that the audiences have turned up, hopefully they wont run of out of their 2012 stories that promised to make 2013 worthwhile.
Born a cinephile and a close observer of society, the author is an award-winning documentary filmmaker/writer. He is a regular contributor to leading Indian publications and is currently working on his first book. Find out more about him here.
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