It’s been a startling year for the King Khans and Kapoors of Bollywood, with major star-studded films falling short of expectations and barely living up to the hype. Be it Shah Rukh, Salman, Amir or Amitabh Bachchan, it has become clear that the audience will no-longer just accept entertainment for the sake of it.
There was a time when a dimpled SRK, arms out against the sunset would have sufficed. Where witty dialogues, an item number, catchy tunes and star appearances would have drawn the crowds to the theatres, won them over and become the biggest films/hits of the year. But there’s been a shift in the audience’s viewing abilities and perception – be it due to the rise of online platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime providing endless options of content to consume, or the growing interest and investment in short films and independent cinema at film festivals. While the audiences have changed, the industry ‘leaders’ don’t seem to have caught up yet.
Films like Thugs of Hindostan, Race 3, and now Zero have proven that big budgets, star casts and VFX can’t get you to ride the wave high anymore. The increase in the production of quality content and story-driven plots have posed a challenge for our Stars where what was once categorised as independent films have made their way to the mainstream.
This year we saw films like Manto, Badhai Ho and Stree that didn’t bank on a major star cast but put the content front and centre, bringing art and creativity back to filmmaking. We’ve had films tell an uncomfortable story about sex trafficking, a satirical take on death using dark humour, tales of love and sex in a spaceless city and even female masturbation showed on the big screen (however, we still have our problems with Veere Di Wedding).
“But everything doesn’t have to be intellectual, provocative or heavy. Sometimes you just want entertainment!” Of course, it’s true. But there’s a difference between entertainment and mindless content. Andhadhun was one of the most entertaining films we’ve seen come out of Hindi cinema in a while – experimental and humorous, keeping us on the edge of our seats with its twists and turns. Race 3, on the other hand, could not be salvaged no matter how many heavy punches and kicks Salman threw about in slow motion.
It is this very same idea of ‘just entertainment’ that has, over the years, given us the multiple Golmaal movies and everything else Rohit Shetty puts out as a spectacle of excesses. The audience wants to think, wants to be challenged, and are now finally opening themselves up to films in various formats and languages.
The growth, or merging of independent cinema with this new mainstream, if that’s what you can call it, has provided a space for more people to come up, experiment and showcase their talents, and it’s only going to grow from here. Sure, the Amitabh Bachchan-starrers and Salman Khan hits will probably still rake in the 100s of crores they make, Thugs of Hindostan still made approximately INR 50 crore on its opening day. However, box-office numbers are no long the sole barometer for the mass audience to judge quality of films. From the monetary perspective they may still be doing as well as they would be otherwise, but it is the art of the film’s making that is failing to meet the audience’s expectations. We may still continue to sit through SRK’s next big movie, but we’re beginning the recognise and point out the flaws and faults of the films instead of just accepting it at face-value as a “ *insert superstar name here* starrer hit”.
This is not to say that any of these Bollywood stars have lost their bases – as a life-long SRK lover, the fandom is very real – but we have better expectations, now more than ever. This generation too replaced the previous heroes and heroines that ruled Bollywood back in the day, such is just the nature of Bollywood. This is not a call for them to step down and aside, but in fact, one to step up.
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