The list of failures at the box office is getting longer, stars no longer guarantee success and everyone is asking, can Bollywood bounce back and how?
By Rodrigues C
FILMMAKER Sabbir Khan’s journey into Bollywood began with his association with industry stalwart directors Mahesh Bhatt and David Dhawan. He also worked with producer Sajid Nadiadwala’s company, Nadiadwala Grandson Entertainment Pvt Ltd. Being the son of famous lyricist of the late 1960s and early 1970s Noor Dewasi, who gave the hit song ‘Aao Huzoor Tumko’ from ‘Kismat’ (1968), had its perks and opened doors.
Khan’s directorial debut ‘Kambakkht Ishq’ (2009), featured Bollywood star Akshay Kumar in the lead. His second film, ‘Heropanti‘ (2014), introduced new talent – Tiger Shroff to filmdom. Tiger’s father Jackie is a star and was well established in the 1980s.
Khan worked with the junior Shroff in his next two films, ‘Baaghi’ (2016) and ‘Munna Michael’ (2017). These were followed by ‘Nikamma’, which released in June 2022 and starred well-known Shilpa Shetty. Like many other Bollywood films this year, ‘Nikamma’ didn’t fare well at the box office.
On Saturday, (August 20) Kumar, who’s had the most flops this year, blamed himself for his failures, and said that he wants to make “changes, dismantle his way of working and understand what the audience wants”. Khan, who is currently directing ‘Adbhut’ for a digital/streaming/OTT release, took time out in between shoots to speak about Bollywood, which is going through a rough phase.
www.asianculturevulture.com (ACV): You are working with Nawazuddin Siddiqui on ‘Adbhut’ (translated as ‘Inredible’) now, what is this like?
Sabbir Khan (SK): I have worked with him in the past and we had fun collaborating. We share a warm relationship. I came up with something that he was excited about and it was a great journey.
ACV: Please tells us about the film…
SK: It’s a thriller; I can’t tell you much about it right now. Generally, film-makers don’t talk about a movie much before they get into the promotion of the film. We don’t know when it’s coming out. So, it’s too early to speak about it.
ACV: Since a lot of movies have failed at the box office in the recent past did you have to review the way your film is being made?
SK: I started making the film before the correction (in box office numbers) happened. The work on the film began before the pandemic. It was always meant to be an edgy thriller for a specific streaming (online) audience. Every industry goes through a correction phase. So, whether it’s the film industry or producing steel, running an infrastructure company, a multimedia company, you go through a correction phase. And that’s what is happening to us. We’ve had two years of lockdowns during the pandemic. People’s tastes and trends have changed as far as viewing films is concerned.
ACV: Have people’s tastes changed during the lockdown because they were watching entertainment at home?
SK: Yes. People have gotten used to watching movies at home. The remote control is in your hand and you can pause and play at will. Also, there are streaming platforms where for the price of one cinema hall ticket, you can buy an entire year’s subscription. People feel it’s not as interesting to go to the theatre anymore. They want to wait for the movie to release on the streaming platform. Also, post the pandemic, there has been a surge of groups of people going out, traveling and bonding in a big way then actually going to cinema halls. They feel the movie will release on OTT anyway. So, why not watch it on the small screen. They won’t go to a theatre unless there is a film that drives them to go there and show their love for it.
ACV: Two eagerly awaited Bollywood films of the year, ‘Laal Singh Chaddha’ (‘LSC’) and ‘Raksha Bandhan’ (‘RB’) have tanked at the box office.
SK: Not just these two films, so many things are just not working nowadays. A spate of films hasn’t worked. And it’s not just Hindi, even south Indian films are meeting the same fate. Telugu and Tamil industries are suffering. In fact, producers from various sections have called for a strike to sit down and understand the problems of the cinema-going audience. Just one or two films have worked, everything is going through the slump.
ACV: ‘LSC’ and ‘RB’ have made huge losses. Will films make profits if Bollywood’s top actors reduce their huge fees?
SK: Stars don’t visit your home to ask you to sign them. It’s the producers who reach out to the stars. Instead of reducing fees of these big stars, why aren’t filmmakers and studios empowering new talent? Is there a dearth of talent that we are seeing only five or six male or female protagonists? Why aren’t there 50 names? This is because everyone has been busy and not focussing on the fact that you have to empower new writers, filmmakers and/or actors. You have to flood the industry with new talent. All these stars that you are now clamouring for were once new faces, isn’t it? If we start changing the mindset, make strong films and decide we don’t need a star, a good actor will also lift up the material.
ACV: Should Bollywood look at the South Indian film industry for inspiration as far as filmmaking is concerned?
SK: Not at all. Just a few films such as ‘Pushpa’, ‘RRR’ and ‘KGF’ have done well. If you go back five or 10 years, there were films like ‘3 Idiots’, ‘Lagaan’ and ‘Rang De Basanti’ that took the country by storm. And people in the south asked if Bollywood has taken over. It doesn’t work like this. Sometimes, they make good films and we get inspired or vice versa. Haven’t they bought the rights of ‘Munna Bhai MBBS’ and ‘3 Idiots’ and remade them? There isn’t a south or north industry. It’s just the Indian film industry. I don’t understand what is the north south divide. ‘Bahubali’ is a beautiful film. Is it more beautiful than ‘Rang De Basanti’? Is ‘Lagaan’ less inferior to ‘KGF’? Is ‘Dil Chahta Hai’ not as good as a Mani Ratnam movie? I don’t know how to gauge that. This north south divide is only about people digging up something to talk about. Even if I was a lay person I would have loved ‘RRR’ as much as ‘3 Idiots’, enjoying the fact that they are both beautiful films. Why should I go with a mindset that these are south or north films? It only matters that they are Indian films.
ACV: What is the way ahead for Bollywood considering its future looks bleak at the moment?
SK: The future of Bollywood is golden. After every depressive phase such as World War 1 or World War 2 or the Nagasaki-Hiroshima bombing, you come out shining and so much better. Everyone will rise up, come up with better stories, spend more time making better films and come out with flying colours. I am a positive person. I always think positive.