The Hindi film industry, known universally as Bollywood, is under attack. Bollywood faces ridicule from Southern superstars over language, for running a star system based on nepotism and the irrelevance of ageing superstars green lighting out of touch content, which just provides fodder for OTT platforms.
When was the last time that fans felt the palpable excitement of a huge film release across theatres which was “house full” for days had a universal big cinema subject that struck a resonant note across families watching together. In film parlance, a “super duper” hit, which had songs that sent the musical charts buzzing, played continuously on radio and became an ear worm that you couldn’t seem to shrug off?
I actually can’t remember the last time I was enthusiastic for the movies. In another era, Southern superstars like Kamal Haasan and Rajnikant acted in Hindi films for a bigger share of audience adulation despite being adored in the South.
Now Southern actors like Mahesh Babu, the Telugu superstar, is blunt in rubbishing Bollywood saying, “Bollywood cannot afford me. It may sound arrogant but I did get a lot of offers in Hindi. But, I think they can’t afford me. I don’t want to waste my time”
This curt dismissal comes in the wake of recent South Indian films like RRR, Pushpa — the rise, and KGF chapter 2 — that were super hits pan India with spectacular box office collections in North India as well. These films have broken all the box office records set by various Hindi films.
Precious rarefied bubble
Ageing actor Ajay Devgn, who seems stuck in the rut of action films had a spat with Kannada actor, Kichha Sudeep over the status of Hindi as the “Rashtriya Bhasha” (national language), provoked B Bommai, Chief Minister of Karnataka, to weigh in on Sudeep’s side. Devgn was wrong that Hindi is the national language but, it showcased how Hindi film actors lived in a ignorant bubble, which makes it all about Hindi cinema.
It has been two years since actor Sushant Singh Rajput died and the word “nepo kids” struck dread in Bollywood hearts with all the mini dynasties ranging from the Kapoors, Chopras, Akhtars, Bhatts and Johars. The Khan superstar trio of Shahrukh, Aamir and Salman were also seen as promoting insiders and raising barriers for newcomers to get a break in the Bollywood dream.
But, have the powerful families promoting dynasts learnt a lesson? I offer you The Archies based on the comic, replete with insiders and “nepo kids”. Consider this: A film directed by Zoya Akhtar, a good director but, daughter of Javed Akhtar and sister of Farhan Akhtar for Netflix marks the debut of Agastya Bachchan, grandson of Amitabh Bachchan, Suhana Khan, daughter of Shahrukh Khan, Khushi Kapoor (whose sister Jhanvi Kapoor is also an actor), daughter of the late Sridevi and Boney Kapoor.
The Archies showcases the precious rarefied bubble that A listers in Bollywood inhabit. And they scream loudly about an India they are completely out of touch with.
Audience finds little connect
Most “Hindi” film actors read the movie script in Roman, including their dialogues. They are extremely fluent in English off-screen but, struggle to speak in fluent Hindi. As the talent pool gets smaller, these ‘Bollywood insiders’ trapped in the south Bombay (SOBO) bubble they inhabit, are unable to make films that speak to a cross section of India.
Directors like Karan Johar and Aditya Chopra, both second-gen directors seem to resonate to billionaire lives in Manhattan and Knightsbridge, not Thane and Dahisar. They makes movies about what they know — the life problems of extremely rich, beautiful people.
Ranbir Kapoor, scion of the Kapoor dynasty, said it best in Aai Dil Hai Mushkil, directed by Karan Johar, “private jet rich or commercial”. Now how many viewers in India are pretty “private jet” rich?
Movies are creative business and these dynasts are right in making films about what moves them. But, as flop after flop like Jersey, 83, Runway 34, Chandigarh kare Aashiqui, Jhund, Bachchan Pandey, Tadap, Attack, Heropanti 2 and others testify, the audience is restive, seeing no connect with this content.
Make good films again
Actors who are now in their middle 50s are often seen romancing actors young enough to be their daughters and unlike earlier, the audience is not buying. Superstars like Salman Khan are dependent on lazy content and the audience is no longer going crazy for Khan as they used to.
Actors like Ranbir Kapoor are committed to a film like Brahmastra, which has nearly been five years in the making. Even continuity and budget would struggle with the Kapoor and Alia Bhatt starrer.
Understanding the soft power wielded by Bollywood — with the Khans on top of the pecking order — has always rankled the right wing. The Khans don’t speak anymore, insecure about how it might be perceived. Silence kills creativity. Hence we are seeing the sunset of the Khan trinity, ageing quiet and refusing to make any waves.
So what next? Hopefully good movies and stars who make our hearts beat faster. Come on Bollywood, go back to being dream merchants and not dynasts. Talent cuts across audience segments. Make it happen again.