Mainstream films work a certain way. Lead actors or rather ‘stars’ promise a number of people in the theatres and based on that, their remuneration is calculated. Once the lead actor (star’s) remuneration is done with, the film is accordingly allocated a budget. If it’s Shah Rukh Khan, even a film set inside one room is given Rs 50 crores, because the financiers know *any* Shah Rukh Khan will recover that budget in the first weekend. In case the lead is Chandrachur Singh – the financiers hand the same director an iPhone.
Saleability is prime in Bollywood. And there’s a constant tussle between balancing a film’s creative ambition, with making it more attractive for a wider portion of the Bollywood audience. However, 2017 has seen a change somewhat in the way money has been entrusted to some great ‘actors’. Not stars. Ranbir Kapoor might have given monster-hits in the past, but with Jagga Jasoos, Kapoor hung himself out to dry in his maiden production. The actor raised the film’s 100+ crore budget, and sailed through the film’s troubled production which lasted an excruciating 3 years. The end product, even though faulty, cannot be criticised for its lack of trying.
Maker of films like the Housefull series, Dishoom and Baaghi – Sajid Nadiadwala put his weight behind Bollywood’s Shakespert Vishal Bhardwaj, in what is without doubt the director’s most ambitious film till date. Rangoon with a cast like Saif Ali Khan, Kangana Ranaut and Shahid Kapoor was obviously no underdog in terms of star-power required to woo audience inside the theatres, but the film’s elaborate scale and the director’s vision to marry at least three films into one period saga, reflects very well on Nadiadwala as a producer. He offset the film’s failure with the success of Judwaa 2, later in the year – but that’s beside the point.
During the promotion of Simran earlier this year, Kangana Ranaut extensively spoke about becoming a stakeholder rather than just being the ‘leading lady’. She rewrote certain portions of the Hansal Mehta film and more or less singlehandedly raised money for a mainstream Bollywood film about a kleptomaniac immigrant, conducting one farcical heist after another. When was the last time you read that as a central plot featuring a legitimate Bollywood ‘star’? Simran might not have gone on to become one of the biggest hits of the year, but it certainly gave us a new ray of hope.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui has become the human equivalent of an ISI mark for a ‘project’ put together within Bollywood. Having him as a significant character enables a producer to access his fame from the hinterland, post-Wasseypur. Which explains his presence in films like Raees, Munna Michael and Mom. It is empowering to see that Siddiqui’s stellar acting credentials (or his star power?) enables the making of his smaller films like Haraamkhor, Babumoshai Bandookbaaz and Manto. Similarly with Irrfan and his outings with a Hindi Medium allowed him to make a Qarib Qarib Singlle.
2017’s saviour for Bollywood was without doubt Rajkummar Rao – with at least 3 champion performances and a web series that saw him transform into Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. The actor, who started off as a member of the supporting cast in many films including Dibakar Banerjee’s Love Sex Aur Dhokha and Reema Kagti’s Talaash, was finally centre-stage with the spotlight shining brightly on his intricate talent. Bareilly Ki Barfi‘s box office success alongside contemporary Ayushmann Khurrana, and the unanimous acclaim that both Trapped and Newton got, means Rajkummar Rao is no longer just an ‘arty’ actor. 2018 surely hold brighter things for him.
Bollywood has been subservient to its superstars for too long, and especially with the crisis that hit the studios last year, it is time to play our cards right. Both Salman Khan and Shah Rukh Khan tasted bitter failures in the form of Tubelight and Jab Harry Met Sejal respectively. Being sold for astronomical amounts to distributors, both actors had to compensate for the films’ underwhelming response. The industry has carried the burden of overpaid superstars for too long, and 2017 seems to be the perfect reality check for their entitled ‘stars’.
The decision to invest in an actor surely will have its own share of hits and misses, like we saw this year. But if this remains a continuing trend for Bollywood in 2018 too, then we’ll get to see films beyond the conventional fare of superstar bile. That might open up a few windows for our audience, and encourage our Bollywood producers to show their can-do spirit. Just like Vidya Balan in Tumhari Sulu.