Sing the elegy for the tedious soliloquist, the one-man army prototype raging with fire and brimstone, strum a melancholic requiem on the violin as they warble a humdrum tune, strap them up, make way for the hearse and lay on the wreaths. For the ephemeral Bollywood star has plunged and beached probably at a nearby box office turnstile. But thank you for the innumerable highs and the stark lows. It was good while it lasted.
Now as mortals, here as one among us, we will still love you. These could have been the lines on the epitaphs for many a star-heroes that shed their acres of lustre this past year. The domination of a single jaw-dropping name that could ensure footfalls was already waning—their annihilation was complete in 2022. A year when Bollywood superstars came crashing earthwards, bruised and battered among their many offerings that lay strewn aground and got no love from the box office. A year no star could ensure a hit or at times even an opening on the basis of their perceived stardom. Be it Ranveer Singh, Akshay Kumar, Aamir Khan, Shahid Kapoor, Ranbir Kapoor, Varun Dhawan, Kangana Ranaut, Hrithik Roshan or even Ayushmann Khurrana. All of them without exception failed to bring in an initial just on their name.
As we mull over their stardust, all eyes are resolutely fixed on the only two polestars lingering on the horizon yet—Shahrukh Khan and Salman Khan with ‘Pathaan’ and ‘Kisi ka Bhai Kisi ki Jaan’ slated for release in the first half of 2023.
A look-see then at the big movies with their bigger stars that scraped the box office floorboard to come up with sawdust of bare nothings.
There has been no Christmas cheer for Ranveer Singh for two years running now. Last year his 83, an Indian cricket-based year-end Christmas release flopped badly. This year too, the tragedy piled on as his ‘Cirkus’ that released on Dec. 23 did a split cartwheel on a rickety trampoline tumbling straight into the box office bin of flops of 2022. Made on a comparatively lesser budget than his earlier action drama hit ‘Sooryavanshi’ (2021) and almost similar to the costs of ‘Simmba’ (2018), director Rohit Shetty’s Christmas release could only collect a paltry Rs 20 crore (approx) over its first weekend. The post-Christmas weekday numbers to were quite horrific too for the much touted comedy caper.
Singh now has had two huge debacles this year with ‘Jayeshbhai Jordaar’ being the other one. Many trade pundits, however, are of the opinion that Singh will tide over these failures with his forthcoming releases, quite upbeat that the star can shine if the content and genre can complement his vast talent.
Right now at the domestic box office Ajay Devgn and Tabu’s ‘Drishyam 2’ and the Hollywood Mega release ‘Avatar – The Way of Water’ are the only two films pulling in the audiences across India. The two films are not only getting in viewers but are set to break some records too. The Avatar sequel is cruising to set an all-time Hollywood movie record in India, on the way to beat collections of ‘Avengers-Endgame’ that released in 2019. On the other hand, Drishyam 2, already a blockbuster since its release on Nov. 18, is further cashing in on the holiday fervour with its sixth Monday going on to bring in more moolah than the fifth Friday. According to Box Office India, the Ajay Devgn-Tabu starrer is slated to create sixth week collection records for a Hindi film. Before the face saving ‘Drishyam 2,’ Devgn, too, had huge flops in ‘Runway 34’ and ‘Thank God’ earlier this year. Always the fighter, Devgn has quite a few promising projects lined up for the new year, one a film based on sport and a Tamil remake among others.
If ever there was an actor in deep recession in 2022, it was Akshay Kumar. Bollywood’s very own box office bellwether whose name was enough to get in the flock on a Friday had a string of disasters to this credit this year. From ‘Bachchhan Paandey’, ‘Samrat Prithviraaj’ to ‘Raksha Bandhan’ and ‘Ram Setu’, all failed, turning 2022 to be a kill-joy year for Kumar. He has now gone on to announce a cut in his fee to make his projects more feasible. There was a period in August when Kumar’s ‘Raksha Bandhan’ and Aamir Khan’s ‘Laal Singh Chaddha’ or LSC, both bit the dust sending shockwaves across the film industry. This was when the first half of 2022 had already gifted many flops on a platter and these two big releases had Bollywood’s hopes riding on them. The tide failed to turn as even the hitherto box office favourite Aamir Khan delivered an Independence day turkey with ‘LSC’. Ranbir Kapoor added to the ever-growing list of duds from Bollywood with his ‘Shamshera.’ However, to the Mumbai film industry’s relief Kapoor’s and Alia Bhatt’s ‘Brahmastra’ bucked the trend in September to emerge a hit at the box office. It also threw a spanner in the works of the ‘boycott’ collective that had spawned over social media.
One could look at alternate scenarios and the end result still would most probably be the same. If Devgn had done a ‘Ram Setu’ or a ‘Samrat Prithviraaj,’ the films would still be flops. Likewise if Akshay Kumar had starred in ‘Drishyam 2’, it would have still gone on its hugely successful run. A ‘Jersey’ with Kartik Aryan may still have flopped, while a Shahid Kapoor in ‘Bhool Bhulaiyya 2’ would still have made it a hit. Even Ayushmann Khurrana one of the very few stars who could do no wrong had four flops to his credit post the pandemic. The actor’s ‘Anek’, ‘Doctor G’ and ‘An Action Hero’, all turned out to be disasters at the box office this year adding to his flop ‘Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui’ from 2021.
We have undoubtedly moved away from the space where a star was everything. Today, the story and its content is invariably the star, even a cypress Amitabh Bachchan at 80 fails with a ‘Goodbye’ as he stridently touches ever-green heights with ‘Uunchai’ a Rajshri/Sooraj Barjatya film that collected moderately well and managed to stay in cinemas for an extended period as others fell like nine pins. The normal moviegoer, whether from the metros and cities or from the mass centres in central India, has become more discerning. Producers, directors and actors have to take them seriously, one cannot camouflage pedestrian products with just star names and a glittering wrap to boot. Enough and more has been written on the enormous choices that viewers have with the blitzkrieg of content on OTT platforms. In this already cluttered scenario there are films often releasing in theatres without any buzz or promotions and these are usually designed for the straight-to-OTT slot. But protocols deem them be released in cinemas and the results are unsurprisingly dismal. Films with big banners and stars adopt decent marketing strategies and need to throw whatever they have to rake up telling numbers in the first three days of its release, otherwise they just trot lifeless on the box office runway.
The only true blue star for Bollywood this year has been Alia Bhatt, going on to dazzle viewers in the hit ‘Gangubhai Kathiawadi’ and starring in the blockbuster ‘RRR’ and ‘Brahmastra.’ As the Mumbai film industry comes to terms with a difficult 2022 that asked a lot of tough questions, what direction will it take going forward? It is clear that reining in production and star costs and shoring up on strong content are some of the key takeaways. From GK Chesterton, the industry can take some inspiration as it bids goodbye to an eventful year and looks ahead; that the object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes.” And for this, we will all keep coming back to the movies.