Almost six months have gone by in 2017 and Bollywood hasn't delivered even one film worth celebrating.
It wouldn't be an overstatement to say that the first six months have been excruciatingly abysmal for the industry, which prides itself as one of the most prolific in the world.
Forget any subliminal dramas, Bollywood hasn't even seen the odd, critic-proof masala entertainer yet, a trend that is seriously worrying, but is likely to break with the upcoming Tubelight, which might just become a critic's darling, just like Bajrangi Bhaijaan did.
In comparison, we had at least six really, really good films by now in 2016.
We had Akshay Kumar's evacuation drama, Airlift, which was both a commercial and critical success, we saw some terrific performances in Hansal Mehta's deeply profound Aligarh, we shed copious tears in Ram Madhavani's Neerja, and saw a reflection of all our flawed families in Shakun Batra's astoundingly fantastic and consistently well-performed, Kapoor and Sons.
And just when you thought that the year couldn't get any better, Abhishek Chaubey's drugs-drama Udta Punjab came around, fighting tooth-and-nail with the Censor Board, to give us what would go on to be the best performance of the year (Alia Bhatt). Other titles that attracted attention for the right reasons included Radhika Apte's Phobia and Kalki Koechlin's Waiting.
2015 had an even better line-up in the first 6 months: Baby, Badlapur, Qissa, Dum Laga Ke Haisha, NH 10, Hunterrr, Margarita, With A Straw, Piku, Tanu Weds Manu Returns, and finally, Dil Dhadakne Do.
A superb, eclectic mix of both: mainstream commercial entertainers interspersed with indie gems that stood out despite the competition.
If you want to rewind a year further, it also threw undeniably interesting surprises. We are talking Aankhon Dekhi, Queen, Highway, 2 States, Dedh Ishqiya, and Miss Lovely.
So what went wrong this year that we're struggling to find a title that can be singularly face-saving?
While Shah Rukh Khan's Raees and Akshay Kumar's Jolly LLB 2 have been listed as the 'highest-grossing' films of 2017, none of them managed to create the kind of buzz that transcends numbers and becomes a bonafide phenomenon on its own. That honour is only restricted to Baahubali 2-- a Telugu production.
Shashank Khaitan's Badrinath Ki Dulhania, one of the better-performing films, had a polarizing critical response, with HuffPost's Piyashree Dasgupta panning it severely and expressing shock at how it even made it to theatres in 2017, given the film's problematic approach towards 'feminism.'
One of the most anticipated films of 2017 was Vishal Bhardwaj's brilliantly cast Rangoon, but it tanked terribly at the box-office and elicited mixed reactions from the critics. According to a report in Forbes magazine, the producers suffered a 'sizeable loss' as the film could recover only half the cost of its production.
Forbes attributed Rangoon's dismal box-office performance to the timing of its release (it released along with Oscar-nominees, Lion and Hidden Figures) but in actuality, the film itself was a confused mess. The film's leading lady, Kangana Ranaut, owned up to its failure, telling Mid-Day, "We missed our shot at creating a glorious film by a small margin." Despite having top acting talent and a National Award-winning director in Vishal Bhardwaj, the film remains one of the most shocking failures in recent memory, almost as bad as Anurag Kashyap's Bombay Velvet.
And that remained true for Dharma Productions' Ok Jaanu as well. A remake of Mani Ratnam's wildly successful Ok Kanmani, the remake featured Aditya Roy Kapur and Shraddha Kapoor as a young couple discovering the pleasures and the contradictions of love. Despite being a literal remake, Aditya and Shraddha just couldn't match up to the infectious charm of Dulquer Salman and Nithya Menen, who toplined the original cast, and the film eventually underperformed at the box-office.
Irrfan Khan's Hindi Medium was a rare exception, a well-executed drama with a relevant social subject that also ended up making money for its producers, despite releasing on the same day as the more 'commercial,' Half Girlfriend.
Film critic Anupama Chopra agrees that it's been quite a sad year for the movie so far.
Over a telephonic conversation, Chopra said, "It's been a tough six months but it's also hard to pinpoint exactly where we went wrong. For instance, Meri Pyaari Bindu and Philauri, both are films where you can see a sincere effort being made to tell a story, but they just didn't fly. Nothing earth-shattering (other than Baahubali) really happened. I feel our filmmakers need to put in more efforts to seduce the viewer to step out and enter a theatre as there are so many alternatives available, like streaming platforms, that one needs a very convincing reason to invest in a cinema ticket."
She further added, "But I am an eternal optimist and there are still six more months to go so a lot can definitely change."
Not all is entirely lost though. A slew of sharply directed independent films have ensured that the losses and lacklustre performance of tentpole entertainers have been offset by the quiet brilliance of these little gems.
Among the indie brigade, we had some terrific titles.
They may not have set the box-office on fire (rarely does an indie film manage that feat) but did award us with some intricately brilliant performances and introduced us to an array of promising directors.
Rajkummar Rao stood out in Vikramaditya Motwane's Trapped, a survival drama that wowed critics while Vikrant Massey shone brighter than any Bollywood star in Konkona Sen Sharma's phenomenal directorial debut, A Death in the Gunj (still playing in theatres). Konkona also established the fact that not only is she a gifted actress but can also spin her magic behind the camera.
We'd like to see more of both, please.
The ever-reliable Nawazuddin Siddiqui, to nobody's surprised, gave a yet another natural performance in Shlok Sharma's unbelievably funny Haraamkhor while Swara Bhaskar had a terrific turn in Anaarkali of Aarah.
Most importantly, in April, the Venice Film Festival-returned Mukti Bhavan released. A meditative take on life and death, the film introduced us to the young genius of director Shubhashish Bhutiani, whose next film is eagerly awaited.
Overall, it was a tough six months for mainstream Bollywood, a phenomenon which put spotlight on the smaller films. Despite lacking the kind of marketing budget afforded by the studio releases, these films reminded us that stars aren't the essential ingredient of a great film, the story is.
Now, it'd help if they made some solid money as well.
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