Crew, Laapataa Ladies: Why some women-led films work at the box office, while some have to wait for Netflix | Bollywood - Hindustan Times
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Crew, Laapataa Ladies: Why some women-led films work at the box office, while some have to wait for Netflix

ByDevansh Sharma
May 25, 2024 06:09 AM IST

This year has shown us how a women-led film like Crew can emerge as a blockbuster, yet another one like Laapataa Ladies has to wait for its Netflix release.

A piece of news has been floating on social media that Kiran Rao's satire Laapataa Ladies surpassed Sandeep Reddy Vanga's Animal in terms of views on Netflix India. While the metric and scope of comparison are quite ambiguous, the hope – that a small, woman-led gentle film can outperform a big, testosterone-fuelled A-rated movie – travelled far and wide. Laapataa Ladies didn't get the recognition it deserved when it released in cinemas back in March, but found a delayed audience upon its digital premiere.

Crew and Laapataa Ladies are both streaming on Netflix India
Crew and Laapataa Ladies are both streaming on Netflix India

(Also Read: Laapataa Ladies gets a second lease of life after OTT release, fans share favourite scenes from Kiran Rao film)

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Contrast its trajectory to Rajesh A Krishnan's all-female heist comedy Crew, which dropped on Netflix India this past Friday. The film, starring Tabu, Kareena Kapoor, and Kriti Sanon, took off to a bumper start when it released in cinemas on March 29. It earned 9.5 crore and 20 crore at the domestic and global box office respectively, becoming the highest women-led Hindi film to achieve the latter feat. Meanwhile, Laapataa Ladies couldn't even touch the miniscule 1 crore mark figure on its opening day in India.

Laapataa Ladies producer Aamir Khan has maintained that the only reason a film doesn't work at the box office is when it's not a good one. He considers his last release as an actor, Advait Chandan's Laal Singh Chaddha, a failure as well — despite it not getting a fair shot owing to the #BoycottBollywood trend and it eventually finding a lot of love on Netflix India. Does that imply that Laapataa Ladies isn't a good film because it didn't work at the box office? Those who lapped it up on Netflix may not agree with Aamir's unidimensional stance.

Laapataa Ladies is a sharp yet simple commentary on marriage
Laapataa Ladies is a sharp yet simple commentary on marriage

Does box office success then have everything to do with stardom? Tabu, Kareena, and Kriti are A-list stars, which may have propelled Crew to the skies. On the other hand, Laapataa Ladies was acutely devoid of stardom – it starred three newcomers and several character actors, its biggest star being Bhojpuri icon Ravi Kishan. But Kiran Rao consciously chose to do away with stardom as she didn't want her tiny film to get weighed down by the expectation riding on a star. It's the primary reason why she chose Ravi over Aamir, who also auditioned for the part and was a co-producer on the film.

But inadvertently, Aamir's stardom may have cost the film a fair chance at the box office. The promotions started fairly early, ever since it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival back in September last year. Kiran also ensured that before every media interaction, the reporter watches the movie. She also held multiple pre-release screenings across the country in the run-up to the wider premiere. But everywhere she went, the conversation about the film was hijacked by her unusual equation with Aamir, her husband-turned-friend, co-parent, and colleague. It didn't help that the film's campaign immediately followed the wedding of Aamir's daughter Ira Khan, in which Kiran took part like a close family member.

Aamir Khan's ex wife Kiran Rao and their son Azad at Ira Khan's wedding
Aamir Khan's ex wife Kiran Rao and their son Azad at Ira Khan's wedding

Stardom usually works in favour of a movie. For instance, Aamir's supporting role in Advait Chandan's 2017 blockbuster Secret Superstar helped the movie greatly. But in the case of Laapataa Ladies, stardom or the conscious lack of it ended up jeopardising the theatrical fate of the movie. Instead of pulling people into theatres, Aamir's stardom, and the vices that come with it, made them more keen on finding faults in his relationship with Kiran. It was only when Laapataa Ladies trended on Netflix India, entering its Top 10, that people watched it without any bias or misconception.

Would Laapataa Ladies have been released directly on Netflix India, like many other women-led films? Kiran and Aamir were clear that they wanted their film to penetrate the masses, instead of preaching to the converted, which only a theatrical release could facilitate. Are the masses then only interested in watching star-driven event movies like Crew? Or a pop-patriotism thriller like Yami Gautam-starrer Article 370? It wouldn't be fair to infer that, given the constant appreciation Laapataa Ladies has been amassing on Netflix India. Maybe then it boils down to the concept of the female hero, as defined by Alia Bhatt and Vidya Balan, to different degrees.

Tabu, Kareena Kapoor, Kriti Sanon’s Crew released on March 29.
Tabu, Kareena Kapoor, Kriti Sanon’s Crew released on March 29.

In an interview after Gangubai Kathiawadi's resounding success (highest-grossing woman-led film post pandemic), Alia said to Film Companion that while the masses are craving for heroism on screen, that heroism is gender-agnostic. Heroism is a style of filmmaking, a moment, instead of a gender. Vidya Balan also claimed recently on Unfiltered with Samdish that it's a great time for women actors because finally, Hindi cinema is opening up to the possibility of a female hero. And unlike its male counterpart, the female hero comes without the baggage of a rulebook or a perception that's been formed over decades.

We need a hero to bring people to theatres. We also need a new kind of hero to get them interested enough to prefer a story over a piece of gossip. The hero may be three air hostesses trying to con a wealthy businessman who's looted the country. The hero could be Jaya from Laapataa Ladies living a life of lies to stand by her truth. It could be a Phool, who doesn't even know that she's the hero of her own story. Or it could even be a Deepak, who doesn't victimise himself at the cost of women's freedom. Male heroes are essential to women stories – whether it's Kapil Sharma or Diljit Donsajh who lend their talent and star power to a women-led film like Crew. Or an Aamir Khan – who opts out of a fun, heroic role only to silently back a film helmed by his ex-wife, despite all the noise around their equation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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