Returning champions: Bollywood is back, says Anupama Chopra - Hindustan Times
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Returning champions: Bollywood is back, says Anupama Chopra

Jul 29, 2023 02:54 PM IST

It is marvellous to see Hindi films dominate the box office again. Blockbusters are good news. But could smart, small films land too?

Is Bollywood back? Judging by Ormax Media’s India Box Office Report for the first half of this year, it would certainly seem so.

Pathaan (above left) has swept the box office, but streaming platforms are still doing a better job of nourishing good writers, as gems like Kohrra (above right) show. PREMIUM
Pathaan (above left) has swept the box office, but streaming platforms are still doing a better job of nourishing good writers, as gems like Kohrra (above right) show.

Cumulative box office earnings for the months from January through June in India stand at 4,868 crore, the report says, which is 15% less than the same period last year. But Hindi cinema’s share is 37%, up from 33% in this period in 2022.

An increase of four percentage points might seem like a slim margin to celebrate, but last year, 32% of those Hindi box-office earnings came from dubbed South films such as RRR, KGF: Chapter 2 and Kantara.

This year, Pathaan is the top-grossing film across India, accounting for 13% of total collections. The other Hindi films in the top 10 so far include Adipurush, The Kerala Story, Tu Jhoothi Main Makkaar and Kisi Ka Bhai Kisi Ki Jaan. All films made in Hindi.

More potential blockbusters are coming. There’s Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani (directed by Karan Johar; starring Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt) due out this weekend. Jawan (directed by Atlee; starring Shah Rukh Khan) in September. Tiger 3 (directed by Maneesh Sharma; starring Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif) in November. And Animal (directed by Sandeep Reddy Vanga; starring Ranbir Kapoor and Rashmika Mandanna) and Dunki (directed by Rajkumar Hirani; starring Shah Rukh Khan and Taapsee Pannu) in December.

There is reason to hope that the box office will cross the coveted 10,000 crore mark, with Hindi cinema grabbing the lion’s share.

This is indeed cause for celebration. I am a lover of the theatrical experience and of Hindi films, and it is thrilling to see viewers thronging halls again, for Hindi hits made in Hindi.

As a Hollywood studio executive said to me earlier this year, if the pandemic couldn’t kill the movies, then nothing will.

But there are still lessons to learn. When I compare the artistry and storytelling of Hindi content on streaming platforms and Hindi content in cinemas, there is little doubt that streaming is far ahead.

Take Trial by Fire, co-written and co-directed by Prashant Nair; School of Lies, directed by Avinash Arun; Kohrra, directed by Randeep Jha; Farzi directed by Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK; Scoop directed by Hansal Mehta; Dahaad directed by Reema Kagti and Ruchika Oberoi; and Konkona Sen Sharma’s short in Lust Stories 2. Each of these narratives offers complex characters, and a layered and gripping story.

From the non-linear screenplay of Trial by Fire to the atmospheric cinematography of School of Lies, the craft is impeccable. As are the performances. Is there anything in theatres so far that has matched the searing intensity of Rajshri Deshpande as a grieving mother in Trial by Fire, or Suvinder Vicky as the scarred police officer in Kohrra, or Manoj Bajpayee, heartbreaking in both Gulmohar and Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai?

Pathaan delivered that crazy movie high that only a movie on the big screen can. One of my favourite scenes of the year is the end-credits sequence in which Shah Rukh and Salman, only marginally pretending to be Pathaan and Tiger, decide that they will continue to do what they do because “desh ka sawaal hai (we’re doing it for the country)”.

But these superstar-driven event films cannot carry theatres through the year. We also need smart, small films to land.

In the end, success will boil down to writers and how each format nourishes them. Right now, it looks like streaming is doing a better job. I hope Hindi cinema, as it gets back on its feet, takes its cue.

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