Bollywood stars not drawing audiences in post-Covid India?

They are also not alone at the bottom of the heap — they were preceded by the ignominious failures of ‘Shamshera’ (Ranbir Kapoor and Sanjay Dutt) and Ranveer Singh’s ‘Jayeshbhai Jordaar’…writes SOURISH BHATTACHARYYA

After disaster struck the two Independence Day long weekend releases — Aamir Khan’s long-awaited, mega-hyped ‘Laal Singh Chaddha’ and the Akshay Kumar-starrer ‘Raksha Bandhan’ — a wag commented that Bollywood has become like the Congress: it has only its past to live on and stares at a dim future, unless a miracle happens.

For Aamir, ‘Laal Singh Chaddha’ has been his worst commercially since his 2000 film ‘Mela’, despite getting a five-day holiday weekend, starting with Raksha Bandhan on August 11 and ending with Independence Day. And it has been his second successive flop after the ‘Thugs of Hindostan’, which bombed despite the additional presence of Amitabh Bachchan.

For Akshay Kumar, ‘Raksha Bandhan’ has been his third successive dud — starting with ‘Bachchan Pandey’, which got wiped out by ‘The Kashmir Files’, and ‘Samrat Prithviraj’, despite the film being endorsed by the BJP top brass and made tax-free in three states.

Neither of the two films has been able to recover even a part of the money that went into producing them — and much of this money, in fact, was spent on the fees of their leading stars.

They are also not alone at the bottom of the heap — they were preceded by the ignominious failures of ‘Shamshera’ (Ranbir Kapoor and Sanjay Dutt) and Ranveer Singh’s ‘Jayeshbhai Jordaar’.

It is as clear as daylight that Bollywood stars are not drawing audiences in post-Covid India, whose worldview has been altered by storyline-driven original content streaming on OTT platforms. And for the first time in its history, Bollywood has neither a bankable star, nor a formula that works, not even music, which used to be its USP till not long ago.

At least ‘Laal Singh Chaddha’ has had the biggest opening in the overseas market after the other commercial failure, ’83’, and it may just be able to recover some money in China, where Aamir has a big fan following, but ‘Raksha Bandhan’ has sunk without a trace.

In fact, according to the trade media, among the films that have had the highest opening weekends this year, two are pan-India productions — ‘KGF 2’ and ‘RRR’; one is the sleeper hit, ‘The Kashmir Files’; and three are Hollywood releases, ‘Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’, ‘Thor: Love & Thunder’ and ‘Jurassic World Dominion’.

Of the four Bollywood films that made the cut to the above list, ‘Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2’ (Rs 215 crore) and ‘Gangubai Kathiawadi’ (Rs 153 crore) are the only two to figure among the top 10 grossers of 2022 across languages.

Neither of them has been powered by a superstar. One was led by the rising Kartik Aaryan. The other by a woman, Alia Bhatt — historically, it has not been easy for a female-centric film to do well in India.

Seven of the remaining eight top-grossers (the eighth is ‘The Kashmir Files’) are from the South — ‘KGF 2’, ‘RRR’, the Kamal Haasan magnum opus ‘Vikram’, Kichcha Sudeep’s 3D Kannada movie ‘Vikrant Rona’, Tamil actioner ‘Beast’, Mahesh Babu’s ‘Sarkaru Vaali Paata’ and ‘James’, featuring the late Kannada mega star, Puneeth Rajkumar.

‘Jugjugg Jeeyo’ with Varun Dhawan, Anil Kapoor and Neetu Kapoor is at No. 11 and even No. 12 is from deep down South — the Tamil ‘Valimai’, starring Ajith Kumar and Karthikeya. At least Bollywood can take solace from the fact that it has been produced by Boney Kapoor!

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