Masala Mantra The lure of the big bad commercial blockbuster

Bang Bang

It's simple. If they could, they would – again and again!

Speaking of the out-and-out majority of Indian audiences, the big 'bad' (as per critics and intellectuals, who form the minority but still watch them to criticize!) commercial blockbuster is their ticket to fun and an entertaining few hours. This is true even today when an Amitabh Bachchan or a Dharmendra and the late masters Manmohan Desai or Nasir Husain are not in the game.

And deep inside somewhere, probably at a deeper subconscious level than the more calculated are where they want to do "different" films for supposed (or rarely real) artistic "evolution", even the stars know that it is only the dose of the Hindi masala entertainer that can save them.

Save them? We use this much-considered radical term because when their careers plummet after a spate of badly received "different" cinema, only these can bail them out and keep their careers afloat in an increasingly ruthless world of exorbitant stakes in cinema needing returns of investments.

Let us first take the classic recent case of Bang Bang! By no means is this film the best mainstream drama Hrithik Roshan has acted in, but it has earned (never mind its cost, we are talking footfalls in movie-halls!) Rs.150 crores with its moderately pleasant cocktail of stars, action and exotic locations. In the current template of illogical action-studded extravaganzas that have come to define the hardcore (read illogical) masala entertainer, this is Hrithik's first after the 2006 Dhoom 2.

In an interview, Hrithik Roshan admitted that he had been missing the genre since then, while doing intense roles in films as assorted as his Krrish franchise, Jodhaa Akbar, Guzaarish, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara and Agneepath. Having done mostly hits in this phase and programmed to explore different genres simply because he can afford that luxury (in every sense), Hrithik was clearly speaking about a genuine craving.

What's more, Hrithik Roshan can afford to be different even in the years to come, for he plans to work in multiple films now, and it seems clear that at least one of these is likely to be a "fun" movie (as he described it) for him as well as the audience. As he has stated, Indians just want to go to the movies and have fun. And that is the cardinal difference between Hindi cinema and that all over the world.

Bang Bang

Set to redefine masala cinema and possibly take it to a still higher plane commercially and in terms of splendour is Shah Rukh Khan with Happy New Year. Yes, there is a message in the manoranjan, but the manoranjan dominates – completely.

A lover of vintage Hindi cinema (unlike some of the current coin new heroes), Shah Rukh sensed the potential of the script instantly after Farah Khan's narration. Not only is SRK a very shrewd businessman, but he is also someone who knows where he went astray in terms of star clout – by choosing alleged class over mass (Asoka, Swades, Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, My Name Is Khan) that almost cost him his due position in the Khan – daan top league.

In 2011, a shrewd and honest analysis of why even Don 2 did better than them all, and his then-career status must have been factors that took him straight into a new, seemingly incompatible union with a master like Rohit Shetty to come up with the blockbuster that put his career perfectly back on track – Chennai Express.

From there to a patch-up with Farah Khan, the Czarina of his Vijay Anand-meets-Manmohan Desai-esque Main Hoon Na and the Subhash Ghai-Desai style Om Shanti Om, was but a small step. Today, SRK is obviously doing slightly real commercial cinema like Fan and Raees, but the back-ups are in place – a film with Shetty and a definite project with Farah – possibly a sequel to Happy New Year.

Speaking of Desai, Abhishek Bachchan refers to the filmmaker as his all-time favourite, and proof of this lies in Abhishek's most successful venture as a producer – Bbuddha Hoga Terra Baap, which he made with a controlled (read skimpy) budget of Rs. 10 crore, earning a profit even before release.

The motive to make the film was not the money, but as the hero (his father Amitabh Bachchan) admitted, to try and bring back the Bachchan they loved in the '70s and '80s again – complete with action, dance and whistle-inducing dialogues! Though the film was no Dabangg, it succeeded in its aim of reconnecting the senior Bachchan with a masala entertainer.

Shahid Kapoor, who has got his only success after 2007 in the 2013 potboiler R…Rajkumar, admits that the genre attracts him for its challenges. As he has said then, "I have done some really challenging roles in my career, like Kaminey, but they were easy, this one wasn't! As an actor, it tested me at every level – drama, comedy, action and dance. The body language had to be perfect, as he was not someone close to the real me. After 50 days of action, 16 days of songs and 30 days of talkie, I really needed a break!" The film worked, despite the scathing views from even masala lovers.

A peculiar conclusion here was that while the days gone by, the mainstream actors would try and dabble at offbeat or art films to get creative satisfaction, today's generation admits that being a 'typical' Hindi film hero is so damn tough!

What is really wonderful is that Kapoor admits that the role had many real touches (like his discovering a real 'chaiwalla' on a Mumbai road wearing the exact replica of a vest he had worn) and that he is open to another such film even after a Haider. "R…Rajkumar was my testing ground. Today, people know that I would be able to do this too, so my next such film will make better money!" he said on the eve of the release of Haider. And that's a hint, if there ever was!

Bang Bang

Aamir Khan, of course, knows very well to be different even in the masala zone, which is why he opted for Dhoom 3 and made a great success of it despite a spate of hits in fresh genres.

But not everyone is as lucky – beginning with Abhishek himself, whose only three super-hits are the Dhoom franchise, with probably Happy New Year to follow. John Abraham has never got a hit as huge as Dhoom 2, except for the comic Garam Masala and Housefull 2, which are different genres in the commercial zone. Yet, his Race 2 is the only film that has come close.

Of late, Ranbir Kapoor, despite his leanings towards "different" cinema, must have realized that Besharam was not his answer to a zone mastered and now mentored by the three stalwarts of this kind of cinema – Salman Khan, Ajay Devgn and Akshay Kumar. Five years ago, even he had got his only hit in some four releases in Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani, a mainstream musical entertainer complete with songs, dance, comedy, emotion and a bit of action.

Emraan Hashmi, despite his realistic and dark leanings, attempted a mainstream con-cum-vendetta vehicle, Raja Natwarlal, without success recently. Before release, he termed it the kind of film where people would whistle at the highlights and want to watch it again.

Sadly, as actors so condescending about such mainstream capers, neither Ranbir nor Emraan could judge that these movies were going completely astray. And this is where Ranveer Singh and Arjun Kapoor (Gunday) and Varun Dhawan (Main Tera Hero) have stolen distinct edges over them!

Yes, we buy the contention that the mainstream masala movie of today is nowhere as close in calibre to the grand cinema we have grown up on, complete with stars big enough "to keep Hollywood from dominating us," as Shah Rukh Khan so perceptively put it. We need to adapt to times, upscale the story and script, and curtail or cut the absurd action to believable fist- and gun-fights.

Above all, we need to let in good music that can add anything from 25 to 50 crore revenue to the domestic market itself, and if possible, have two or three heroes together, with the right female company, like the quintessential multi-hero film of yore. Even today, Gunday is big, right?

Article written by staff at Bollywood Hungama. Read more

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