Once upon a time, news of films like Total Dhamaal making it to the Rs 100 crore club would have made a lot of us genuinely sad. Anger was also fair game; it would, and does, bubble up sometimes too. When films like Kick, Dhoom 3, or Luka Chuppi, the ones that belong to the ‘logo ko chuna laga ke paisa lootne wala’ school of filmmaking, become blockbusters while films like Mukkabaaz and Sonchiriya struggle to get full house shows across the country, one needs to feel, at least slightly, devastated.
The problem is that we have, reluctantly perhaps, accepted that nonsense sells…in addition to hypernationalism, hypermasculinity, and sex. But aren’t we, the audiences, to blame too?
Things had started to look up about a couple of years ago.
Relatively unsuspecting and “smaller” films like Hindi Medium, which became one of the highest grossers of 2017, and a bunch of others like Bareilly Ki Barfi and Tumhari Sulu performed fairly well at the box office the same year. 2018 belonged to well-written entertainers like Stree, Badhai Ho, Raazi, and Andhadhun. Things had started to look good…finally. Or so some believed. Nevertheless, it was a huge leap from what things used to be as recently as 2015.
In 2015, the highest grossing Bollywood films of the year after Bajrangi Bhaijaan were Prem Ratan Dhan Payo and Dilwale – arguably two of the most annoying Khan films of this decade. Most of us squirmed watching their trailers. But, the logic remained that they were Khan films, so obviously they were going to rake in the moolah.
However, the logic that only films with big stars make the big bucks doesn’t really work anymore.
In 2017, Shah Rukh-starrer Jab Harry Met Sejal barely managed to break even at the box office. Whereas, Salman stumbled with Tubelight the same year, and Aamir’s winning streak faltered at the box office in 2018 thanks to the abysmal Thugs of Hindostan. They all managed to recover on their budgets of course, but the mysterious aura of a Khan film being infallible somewhat suffered from how they struggled.
We cannot solely blame the Khans for giving birth to the 100 crore club, where massy films go to bathe luxuriously in their mediocrity. Technically the “club” as we know it today, came into being with Aamir Khan’s 2008 Memento rip-off Ghajini, but it has been kept alive and thriving by them all – from the Devgns and Kumars, to the Johars and Kapoors. They regularly put out films low on content, sometimes even lower in logic, and walk away with the last laugh – with thunderous success at the box office.
Serendipitously enough though, they have some competition now from the makers of films like Stree and Badhai Ho.
But then something again changed this year.
This year, in 2019, films with questionable politics like Uri and Manikarnika have appealed to the masses. But, so has Gully Boy, a film that is simultaneously “bohot” cool and anti-establishment at the same time. Then out of nowhere, Total Dhamaal got the biggest opening of 2019. You don’t even need an actual shooting location, a coherent script, or even a real director, if Total Dhamaal is anything to go by, to become a hit. How does that happen?
Do the people who willingly give their hard-earned money to watch banal AF films like the Dhamaal series, deserve the kind of garbage Bollywood likes to reproduce and distribute templates of, every year?
We live in a country where different segments of a 1.3 billion population can go watch different kinds of films in multiplexes, and practically make any film a member of the 100 crore club, if they really want to. The concept of the singular nature of the “masses” is a flawed one. The “masses” are as quicksilver in nature as Kangana Ranaut’s feminism and patriotism combined. Essentially, the “masses” are not a fixed entity. It could be a million different people one day from the next thronging the different movie halls making successes out of different films.
And, still films like Sonchiriya are left out in the cold.
We are finally getting a variety of films from Bollywood, many of them with niche stories in massy spaces. They have popular actors, big producers, good stories – simply willing the effervescent “masses” to come in and offer them patronage. And still we are unwilling to do it. The patrons of films like Total Dhamaal and Luka Chuppi are doing their bit. The rest of us clearly aren’t. So, why get sad? Are we doing enough to change the narrative? Are we putting our money where our mouth is? If not, then we can stop with the faux-outrage.