The Curious Case of a Bombing Movie
‘Bombay Velvet’ is now officially a box-office disaster, from what I read of trade reports.
Not that I trust them too much, but what most of the trade pundits have been doling out couldn’t necessarily have been a false down-putter now, can it have been? With people up in arms against the film’s infamous independent film director Anurag Kashyap, who’s known most for ‘Black Friday’, but started earlier on – with a film called ‘Paanch’, which was never able to get the due it deserved.
Or did it?
Because from what we’re now led to believe, Kashyap might just be the worst director to have ended up in the Indian Hindi-language film industry. ‘Bombay Velvet’ is the worst film ever, say some. Ranbir Kapoor’s disappointing choice of films is looked down upon by some others. An acquaintance pointedly questioned, “Why is Ranbir Kapoor choosing films like ‘Roy’ and ‘Bombay Velvet’?”, to which I could only remark something that set my mind running, itchy enough to write what you’re looking at right now:
“Actors should take risks. Else we’ll be left with a businessman who was once one of the best Indian Hindi film actors we knew in the nineties, and decided to stick where the money took him because nobody paid to watch all the best films he starred in.”
Let’s rewind to almost a month earlier. I was down and out, entering my flat after a long, hard day at work, and I found my Dad inside, intently watching an Indian Hindi film on television. Not that the scene’s any different; my Dad’s a fan of any and every kind of film, particularly the ones that are exceedingly masala-driven (and probably dubbed to the language from an acquired South Indian film). Except, today he was watching a drama film. A drama lasting three hours and a half driven by one – and only one – genre shouldn’t have been his way to pass his time ordinarily.
But this was different. He was watching Ashutosh Gowariker’s ‘Swades’.
We really adore the film. I was in the eighth grade when I first watched the film on the big-screen with a packed audience – and I remember thinking to myself, this film will be a box-office hit. Little did my naive, teenage sense know that it was not to be. I bought the music, and I bought the film on Digital Versatile Disc (DVD) much, much later – if only to show (what little of) my solidarity I had – and could provide – with the film. I keep going back to the film for many a reason – and not simply because of my patriotism for the country, because I’m not the least bit a nationalist than I am more of a human being longing for a more globalised utopia in the crevices of my head.
But that’s not why I’m writing the article, am I now?
The Infamous Blame Game
The reason I’m writing this article is to let you know how much I despise all the hatred the “intelligentsia” gives them all. I have a lot of friends who despise Shah Rukh Khan simply because he “does bad films.” He’s growing old and romancing younger women, some say. He doesn’t act his age, some others remark. But the most I’ve heard from the relatively (and I literally mean “relatively”) saner lot is the fact that he produces extremely terrible films. Ah, but of course he does, my head resignedly agrees.
But then, why does he produce bad films? That is the big question here.
Because as we hark back to the Shah Rukh Khan who kick started his career with the television show ‘Fauji’, we’re introduced to one of the most promising actors, ever so bold in his step-taking and his career choices. From comedies like ‘Kabhi Haan Kabhi Na’ to twisted drama-thrillers like ‘Maya Memsaab’ and (let’s guess how many people remember this one) dark comedies like ‘Oh Darling! Yeh Hai India!’, he built himself up on the unconventional with each and every film of his. And even when there was a drastic image change with ‘Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge’, Khan continued to experiment. With films like ‘Dil Se…’and the likes to boast of, his consistency with experimentation, although dying, was still present. All the way till Shimit Amin’s ‘Chak De! India’ that is.
Why did he stop? Why did he start investing – as a producer – in films without as much as the kind of strong content his fans grew up seeing him in?
Kind of a big question, that; isn’t it? Big, yes. But it comes with an answer that’s both simple and – in the long run – incredibly depressing: Khan turned into a producer. And of late, he’s been making just the kind of films people in general want to watch, and pay to watch. And looking at the track record of his last few productions – ‘Happy New Year’, ‘Chennai Express’ et al – I don’t think I’m entirely wrong now, am I? I mean, ‘Chennai Express’ literally broke all the records nobody imagined it would break, and that’s just because it wasn’t simply a masala film. It was a very strategic masala film, with elements carefully placed in to woo the hearts of almost every kind of person; even the ones with a negative pre-approach to the film, who enter the cinemas primarily out of curiosity.
And that’s exactly the same for ‘Happy New Year’. Break it down, and you’ll find an incredibly dumb film that you’d want to stay away from. But that’s the thing about Khan, and his long-time directorial collaborator Farah Khan – they knew they were making a dumb film all along (cue the tongue-in-cheek self-awareness throughout the film’s runtime), and they decided to simply make the best out of it. And we all know how incredibly successful the film is right now.
Because “we, the people” decided to give them all our monies. And we continue to.
But they’re bad movies…
People love a particular image of a person. And once that person decisively moves on from that comfort-level of an image, things just go awry. They get haywire. And so, when an actor gets stuck in a particular image that’s possibly the only one that can actually give them all the bucks they need, they have to either commit to the claustrophobic image fully, or alternate between the image and their own personal passion of what they’re doing. It is, after all, us who did not get to the theatres to pay for Salman Khan when he decided to star in a film (‘Phir Milenge’) that was actually relevant to his art. The rest of his career path is only for us to see.
Indeed, he doesn’t – and hasn’t ever – moved from his image that much. He has however done his bit of experimentation in roles we keep forgetting about, and we all need to know that before we go ahead and decidedly judge an actor for the kind of films he does.
“But they’re terrible movies,” I once remarked to my Dad in my own ballistic anger over this. This is when my Dad calmly responded by adding to it, “Which people want to watch and pay for.”
This is why we have certain industry professionals like Akshay Kumar on the one hand and Homi Adajania on the other, who alternate. Producer-actor Kumar’s strategy is simple: star in a rather disproportionate masala film that gets you money, and follow that up by investing in your upcoming quasi-experimental project that’s way different from your last, in tone, in content and in feel. Adajania, heading through pattern on the same lines, does the exact same thing. From the hard-hitting darkly comic drama-thriller ‘Being Cyrus’, he moved onto the mainstream with ‘Cocktail’, and followed that up with his classic stylistic tendencies in ‘Finding Fanny’.
‘Agent Vinod’ is regarded as Sriram Raghavan’s weakest film till date. Which it is. But when you look at the semantics of it all, you’re made to understand that unfortunately, he received a lot more backlash on it than he deserved. For he only intended to make a mainstream film that was equal parts pastiche, commercially viable and technical filmmaking genius. It is not an excellent film; that’s a given. When you do, however, take a look at it in context, you’re made to understand the harsh realization that this film was so much better than all the extremely irrelevant box-office record breakers that came by prior to this – or later.
Plus, we should realise that we – as an audience – voluntarily decided to pirate ‘Johnny Gaddaar’ to watch and praise highly. That, unfortunately, isn’t support. It’s the prime opposite of support. And the industry needs money to keep running.
The reckless and judgmental audience that we are…
Ultimately, it’s quite unfortunate for me to point this out, but I truly deem us to be an audience that doesn’t deserve good cinema from the people who make them. Because neither do we pay to support the actually good films, nor do we wish to understand how the industry works on the whole. We do, however, have our own armchair commentaries on how actors should choose good films to succeed. Or directors should stay “true to their calling”.
Well, Anurag Kashyap did – with ‘No Smoking’ and ‘Bombay Velvet’. What’s left of it right now doesn’t need to be re-iterated now, does it?
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