Emraan Hashmi in ‘Chehre’. Image Credit: Supplied

Bollywood actor Emraan Hashmi is acutely aware that a pandemic is not conducive to releasing his new Hindi-language thriller ‘Chehre’ in cinemas worldwide, but he’s looking at the bigger picture.

“There’s no doubt that these are not the ideal times, but we are missing the point here because now it’s about supporting our theatre owners. There’s a certain co-dependency between us and our cinemas,” said Hashmi in a Zoom interview with Gulf News.

“Earlier, there’s always this perception about getting those magical box office numbers on our opening weekend, but the rules of the Bollywood game have changed drastically,” Hashmi added.

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A still from 'Chehre'. Image Credit: Supplied

The actor, whose credits include films such as ‘Gangster’, ‘Murder’ and ‘The Dirty Picture’, has hit the nail on its head. The business of Bollywood has witnessed a seismic shift since the pandemic struck India and theatres shut down for long periods.

Major Bollywood studios pushed the release dates of their star-studded films into 2022 or are cobbling together a hybrid model of release where their films are available on streaming platforms and in theatres simultaneously. Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar was one of the first few actors to take the leap of faith when he released ‘Bell Bottom’ exclusively in theatres recently. Next up is Hashmi and Amitabh Bachchan-starrer ‘Chehre’, directed by Rumi Jafry, which will release in UAE cinemas on August 26.

Anand Pandit, the producer of ‘Chehre’, was convinced that the film deserved a theatrical release. Traditionally, Bollywood filmmakers have always considered theatrical releases better than rolling out their films on streaming platforms. But the resistance seems to have eroded with the pandemic forcing them to reconsider various revenue generating models for cinema.

“We made this film for the big screen experience. When you have an actor like Mr Bachchan and Emraan Hashmi sharing the screen space for the first time and the genre is a suspense thriller filled with veteran actors like Annu Kapoor, Raghubir Yadav, and a younger generation of actors along with them, we decided to wait and release it in the big screen,” said Pandit.

‘Chehre’ sees Hashmi play a business tycoon who gets embroiled in a psychological game with a sharp, kooky lawyer played by Bachchan. It was scheduled to release on April 9 but the makers had to push forward the release due to the savage second wave of COVID-19 that struck India, the primary market for Bollywood filmmakers.

“It’s heartening that producers like Anand Ji have taken this initiative… Earlier, there was this perception about getting good box office numbers … But I don’t see it [releasing ‘Chehre’ in theatres] as taking a bullet … I am not worried about getting that magical box office opening numbers … Let’s not delude ourselves into thinking that our business has not been affected. Every business entity out there has been affected … But just because it was shut, it doesn’t mean that you can’t take small steps to get things back to normal,” said Hashmi.

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A still from 'Chehre'. Image Credit: Supplied

So has the famous star-system in Bollywood, where a movie’s appeal is strictly pegged to actors with immense star-wattage, diminished?

“I have always been an actor who supported content and I have always wanted to push that bar, try something new and experiment when it came to my films … Star system in Bollywood might seem like it’s fading a bit at this point in time, but I don’t think it will go away completely. This is just a tiny bump on that road,” said Hashmi.

Producer Pandit is equally convinced that the star-system in Bollywood, where popular actors with a huge army of fans dictate plot and presentation, is unlikely to disappear.

‘The Game’ is one of my favourite films and it features in my top 10 favourite thrillers... Like that film, the script of ‘Chehre’ was captivating. It’s unlike any thriller that you have seen in our country.

- Actor Emraan Hashmi

“A star has that power to bring eyeballs, so it will never completely vanish. But the good thing now — because of the OTT [Over-The-Top] services — non-star films are also being accepted. Nowadays, even films with unknown actors are becoming popular, but you can’t deny that star-system still has a lot of sway here,” said Pandit.

Actor Hashmi also believes that the perception that the star-system has dwindled is just a perception.

“You really shouldn’t question a star’s relevance in these times … Between watching a film in a theatre with a star or taking the health of my family into account, the latter supersedes any star … But that doesn’t mean the star has lost his or her sheen. These are unprecedented times,” said Hashmi.

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‘Chehre’ sees Hashmi play a business tycoon who gets embroiled in a psychological game with a sharp, kooky lawyer played by Bachchan.

The team of ‘Chehre’ believes that solid content back by a sturdy actors is a good start. Thrillers that are designed to play mind games with the audiences have done exceptionally well in the past. For instance, actor Michael Douglas and director David Fincher’s ‘The Game’ continues to attract its own loyal fan base.

“‘The Game’ is one of my favourite films and it features in my top 10 favourite thrillers … That film is always there on my subconscious level, because this film reminded me of it. It took me back to one of my favourite films … It was such a new and normal approach. Like that film, the script of ‘Chehre’ was captivating. It’s unlike any thriller that you have seen in our country,” said Hashmi. He said ‘yes’ to this project right after the riveting narration.

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A still from 1997 movie 'The Game'. Image Credit: Supplied

Plus, working with veteran actor Bachchan was an added bonus.

“All the actors in this film are fabulous, but Mr Bachchan’s work ethic floored me. The way he approaches his work after so many years in this industry is a joy to watch. He’s a mega star, but he approaches every film with a certain amount of humility,” Hashmi said. “He’s always looking to learn something new … No wonder he’s so hugely successful … It was a joy to watch him act.”

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‘Chehre’ releases in UAE cinemas on August 26.