Siddharth Anand’s War has become the fourth Hindi movie to breach the 300-crore mark at the box office this year, and such was the jubilation that a senior politician called it an indicator for the booming economy. Opening to mixed reviews, the film starring Hrithik Roshan and Tiger Shroff shattered the opening day box-office records by earning a reported Rs 53 crore on Day 1 alone. Only SS Rajamouli’s Baahubali has earned more.
As far as cinema’s concerned, 2019 hasn’t been as successful as 2018 (at least till now), when a reported four films had grossed in excess of Rs 400 crore. But in a year that has seen many ‘hits’… it’s been a rather listless year for Hindi cinema. The more we jog our heads around 2019, the harder it becomes to remind ourselves of a memorable Hindi film.
Blockbusters this year include films like Uri: The Surgical Strikes, Kabir Singh and Bharat. The first film was heavily criticised by some for its blatant propaganda and casual Islamophobia, while the second… split its audience for the way it chooses to portray toxic masculinity. The third was a Salman Khan film.
Compare this to 2018, where Bollywood at least had the odd Andhadhun, October or even Badhaai Ho. There were brave attempts like Mukkabaaz and Bioscopewala, that found an entirely original perspective even in most time-tested stories. There was also Nandita Das’s Manto and the Sohum Shah-starrer, Tumbbad, films that reinvented their biopic and horror genres respectively.
The closest 2019 has come to delivering an objectively great film, is Abhishek Chaubey’s Sonchiriya. An unflinching take on the dacoit genre’, Chaubey’s film closely examined the circle of inane violence. The film, shot with actors speaking in Bundelkhandi, mysteriously screened a dubbed Hindi version in several major cities. In spite of the glorious reviews, the film earned a measly Rs 6.6 crore by the end of the second week… and that was that. Nobody spoke about Sushant Singh Rajput until his next film, Chhichhore, turned his bad box office spell around. Manoj Bajpayee’s masterful turn in a brief role was forgotten, and was only discussed after Family Man dropped on Amazon Prime. Vishal Bhardwaj’s haunting score was forgotten in favour of a generic remix.
Another film that lit a candle in an otherwise dark 2019 was Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy. Starring Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt, the film was selected as India’s official entry for the Oscars. Oozing with promise of being the one definitive film on Mumbai’s gully rap scene, Zoya Akhtar’s film felt considerably short because of its vaguely generic rags-to-riches tale. It can also be argued that it’s 2019’s deficiency as a year for Hindi films that makes Gully Boy seem like a better film than it might be.
The blind bets like Ayushmann Khurrana’s social dramas, also didn’t quite deliver up to the box office expectations. Anubhav Sinha’s Article 15 was a ballsy film that went to places no Hindi film had previously gone to. And yet, never felt as harrowing as it possibly should have. As one of the reviews said it correctly – Sinha’s film begins to feel like a ‘guided caste tour’ by the end. Even Dream Girl begins with the (by now…) overwrought Ayushmann Khurrana formula, and climaxes as his most insincere film since Bewakoofiyaan (2014).
With less than a quarter left for the year to end, Bollywood isn’t making many promises. Apart from Saif Ali Khan-starrer Laal Kaptaan, it doesn’t look like any other film is trying to deliver a good time. There’s obviously Housefull 4, Dabangg 3, Commando 3, aimed at making a few extra bucks, if not decent cinema.
Ayushmann Khurrana’s Bala might become his first casualty at the box office, considering the fatigue around his brand of films. There’s also Seema Pahwa’s Ramprasad Ki Tehrvi, which might go on to surprise its audience with its brilliant ensemble comprising names like – Naseeruddin Shah, Vikrant Massey, Konkona Sen Sharma, Supriya Pathak & Vinay Pathak.
2019 is still waiting for that one memorable Hindi film, but for now, let’s rave about Hrithik Roshan’s 30-day transformation for War.