Unlike the end of a Bollywood film this moment of reckoning isn’t scripted. But here it is, ironically in the avatar of another movie, the Ranbir-Alia starrer Brahmastra could just be the pushback the world’s biggest entertainment industry needs. The drumrolls may not be out just yet, but the obituaries can be stuffed back in the drawers, at least for now.
As if the industry needed anyone to put out an orbit, it was busy writing its own, gloating in the long unchallenged run of its soft power and dismissing the audience as shrinking dwarves in a KJO movie set still smote by the optics. A pandemic happened, outlooks matured and yet, acting skills are inherited the ‘koffee’ on the ‘couch’ entitled.
Bollywood emerged out of a two year hiatus into the new normal as an anti-hero, battered like a villain and yet an ageing star who’s thunder had been stolen by OTT platforms. The cliched formulas of old fizzled as reputations began to be built overnight but on talent- raw and unadulterated.
The show must go on but the backdrop had changed. Spoilt for choice the audience became lazy, smarter and economical, they could openly troll an actor senselessly and yet watch an OTT release privately while not spending on overpriced tickets and popcorn.
The bed was made, Bollywood had to lie in it. As boycott trends became bigger than a Friday release, the industry’s lost aura was channelled by those who shamelessly question individual choices — from food to faith, publicly. ‘Cancel’ culture comes without any disclaimers, even a pregnant Alia Bhatt was heckled and stopped from praying at a temple.
One day it is Bollywood stars, another day cricketers and advertisements, the Indian version of ‘cancel’ culture has no resemblance to its western counterpart, it’s characteristics are fluid role playing. Selective films with tax free incentives have been released in the last months showing people what they should see, what they should hear. A little Brahmastra success can go a long way.
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But there are no rules in ‘cancelverse’, out of the bottle this genie is now a floating bee, stinging freely. Akshay Kumar’s hard-hitting question on mango in an interview aired to the nation almost took him across the line, then came four flops in five releases.
Ministers came for the private screening of his film Samrat Prithviraj, lauded it and him and yet Akshay and the filmmaker went crying all the way to the bank. When content is king, out of turn support and boycott are like a last year’s release, both are forgotten easily.
Akshay’s film Raksha Bandhan named not quite aptly from a bygone era competed with the vernacularly sharp OTT shows and was like watching Mary Poppins in the times of vampires and fantasy gore. This is where Brahmastra notwithstanding allegations of being ‘inspired’ scores, tapping into the mythological fantasy that is a universe inhabited by young movie watchers.
Silent Bollywood is now a script that needs no sequel. But it is unique, even when it is quiet it is not united. The way out is unanimous- make better content or lose the plot.
Brahmastra’s biggest gain is its success despite the boycott calls, by speaking through its art the movie has shut down those whose business it is to not let others mind theirs. In an era of unverified WhatsApp forwards, word of mouth is peak marketing.
Those who believe ‘cancel’ culture is a passing phase are in the wrong movie theatre, it has been fed and fattened on a diet of nationalism and ‘urduwood’.
Yet, its elementary, a good film will stand out and find its way. The pedestal though is more than shaky, Ajay Devgan may have to eat his words on South Indian remakes as Telugu films specially breath down Bollywood’s neck. But does the industry have in it to come out of its comfort zone, can it deliver art for art’s sake?
Bollywood wasn’t flagging the wrong horse though, there is a little bit of wistfulness still left in us, we don’t want it to go down so easily at least not without a last hurrah.
Brahmastra’s opening will shake up a moping industry out of its self- imposed inertia, the film has reportedly grossed 200cr, the last three films released collectively had a less turnover. But it may be too early to break into a dance, Brahmastra is one of the most expensive Indian films with a budget of 400 crores and Ayan Mukerji’s film still has miles to go before it breaks even.
Brahmastra, where it stands today and despite some negatives, is already a blockbuster. It is the silver lining in a dark cloud of flops starring the giants of the industry.
The slate though has been wiped clean, past performances and reputations have a shelf life and they expire till the next hit. In this existential crisis in no short measure of its own making, will it perish or survive — it is an answer only Bollywood has, for nothing succeeds like success.