Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Summary - Hindi cinema 2010

In a year where most big budget films came a cropper or severely fell short of expectations, it was the smaller films and debutant directors who salvaged what was otherwise an extremely average year

The crisis of content continues for Bollywood and with every subsequent announcement of a sequel or a remake, the industry underlines the fact that is stuck in a critical and commercial rut. In many ways 2010 was a brave year, where many big budget films tried to experiment with their subjects and themes. But since most of them failed at the boxoffice – mostly due to their own limitations of script and execution – and in contrast many some low IQ comedy dramas hit bull’s eye, the message that might have registered is that too much risk isn’t worth taking. This is dangerous for an industry that is fast losing a grip on an audience that is simply tired of enduring sub-standard, nonsensical tripe week after week. Amidst this bankruptcy of ideas, what kept the quality meter from fully dipping were the small-budget films and debutant makers, who infused some fresh life into a cinema that seemed to be plunging deeper under the weight of its mediocrity.

The year of small wonders

There were very few films that were outrightly excellent in 2010. Still, the Anurag Kashyap- Vikram Motwane film Udaan should rank as a commendable effort, that essayed a poignant coming-of-age story of a teenager, who has to reclaim himself from the hostile environment he finds himself in. The setting of the film – the industrial city of Jamshedpur with its fumes and heavy sounds – is a metaphor for this cruel interruption in the young protagonist’s tender, artistically-inclined existence. Ronit Roy, as the boy’s brutish father was a revelation in the film, and overall too, Udaan sparkled with credible performances and many of the scenes would count among the best of the year. Another gem was Do Dooni Chaar, that went largely unnoticed at the boxoffice. Starring Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh, debutant Habib Faisal’s film was a satiric take on the teaching profession and the denizens of Delhi in general. His textured, witty writing extended to Yash Raj’s Band Baaja Baaraat, that proved to be one the better entertainers of the year, with spirited performances from its leads, Anushka Sharma and newcomer Ranveer Singh. Otherwise too, most of the good films that were released were the small budget ones. There was Road To Sangam, Phas Gaya Obama, Ishqiya, Tere Bin Ladin, Shahrukh Bola Khubsoorat Hai Tu, Peepli Live, Love Sex Aur Dhokha (LSD) – all of which experimented with different themes, and proved to be winners in their own right. Most of them did reasonably well at the boxoffice, but the high ticket rates and a general mind-set stuck on stars, continued to prove to be an impediment in their commercial success.

Big ones that didn’t make the cut

It’s one thing for small-budget films to aim to be different and non-mainstream. That in many ways is their raison d’etre. This year, however, many risks were taken by frontline production houses and directors, who attempted to push the envelope. The first name that comes to mind is Karan Johar who made My Name Is Khan with Shah Rukh Khan. Known for his frilly song and dance romantic sagas set in lush foreign shores, MNIK’s theme of a Muslim man’s appeal for justice and peace in a 9/10 world was a far cry from anything Johar had done before. The film -though ambitiously mounted and well-shot – needed a more masterful and mature handling to make a real impact. As it stood, it came across more as a bid for the Oscars. But nevertheless, a good departure for Johar and SRK even if the film didn’t make the cut. At the boxoffice of course, the film stayed afloat in India and did marvelous business overseas, courtesy its Muslim-sympathising theme and presence of superstar Shah Rukh Khan.
The other ambitious film that had a tough time with the mainstream audience was Mani Ratnam’s Raavan, attempting a captivating subversion of the Ramayana. Every bit an auteur’s work, Ratnam’s film had unmistakable moments of beauty, and a ravishing Aishwarya Rai at the centre. Southern star Vikram who played the second lead in the Hindi version, came with a smoldering presence that made every one of his scenes memorable. Sadly, Abhishek Bachchan as Raavan failed to register, as the actor floundered in an author-backed role that begged for a more solid actor who could portray effectively the various shades of this very complex man. Abhishek plays Raavan like a maniacal man-child, which would have been as valid as Vikram’s grim-brooder version in Raavanan if only he could have got into the head of the character.

Ashutosh Gowariker tried a well-intentioned historical film with Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Se, but the film was so sapped of energy and depth, it proved to be a complete critical and commercial failure. Sanjay Leela Bhansali doggedly stuck to his operatic style of filmmaking with Guzaarish, a film about a quadriplegic who wishes to die. The film was a major departure for Hrithik Roshan, who has mostly been seen in larger-than-life avatars. The film had moments of passion and beauty, but Bhansali seemed interested only in the emotional purging of his characters, without providing enough coherence or arch to his story.

What worked!

The big hit of the year was undoubtedly Dabangg, followed by Raajneeti, Golmaal 3, Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai, I Hate Love Stories and Housefull. Neither of them came in for any great critical appreciation, but each of them had something or the other going for them. The only film that evoked some hysteria was Dabangg, courtesy a gallant performance from Salman Khan and a chartbusting sound track.

The Hype vehicles that crashed

There’s a long list of films that made the audience suffer. But leading the pack are two Akshay Kumar starrers, Khatta Meetha (terrible!) and Action Replay. His Tees Maar Khan has also had extremely mixed reactions, but nothing to beat the earlier two, which were torture chambers. Anees Bazmi tried to pull off another Welcome with
No Problem, but failed miserably. The idea that any multi-starrer comedy – however forced and unfunny – can work at the boxoffice was finally debunked. Hrithik Roshan’s Kites had been in news for almost three years and was supposed to be the star’s grand introduction to the West. But its uneasy mish-mash of theme and treatment found no takers and the film was a resounding flop.

Overall, it was a year where big ideas could not be adequately backed with equally compelling scripts. Hopefully, Bollywood will find its balance next year.