If there is one axiom that the Hindi industry should (at long last!) learn from 2017, one of the leanest years in cinema - business-wise and quality-wise as well - (and the two aspects, believe it or not, are directly linked) it is that the audience is God. We may holler that content is king, but which content connects is decided entirely by the people who shell out hard-earned money and expect a validation for that as well as the time invested.
Hits & misses
As a language and in lyrics, Punjabi has been in massive overdrive now for over a decade, but this year, people rejected the overtly Punjabi Mubarakan (despite its wholesome humour) and also the small films Firangi and Guest iin London. On the other hand, Fukrey Returns, a comedy set in Delhi, has emerged a surprise hit - the biggest among the non-star films, and there is not a single Punjabi word in the dialogues penned jointly by two Punjabis!
Uttar Pradesh, on the other hand, was the flavour of the year. From a family delight like Bareilly Ki Barfi to light comedies with key social messages pertaining to gender equality (Shaadi Mein Zaroor Aana - which had an increase of 100 screens in week three - and Badrinath Ki Dulhania), legal corruption (Jolly LLB 2), as well as vital social issues like open defecation (Toilet-Ek Prem Katha) and erectile dysfunction (Shubh Mangal Saavdhan), audiences loved them all.
Again, Uttar Pradesh alone was no guarantee for acceptance, if value for money was missing. No one wanted dark fare like Lucknow Central and Babumoshai Bandookbaaz that were also based there, thank you.
After big star-driven films tanked, like Rangoon, Mubarakan, Baadshaho, Jab Harry Met Sejal and Half Girlfriend, Tubelight and Raees made good money but grossly underperformed in terms of return of investment. The media hyped its now-annual chant, "The Indian audience has at last evolved!" (Sic)
The success of the small films mentioned above, along with content-driven fare like Hindi Medium, Secret Superstar (a hit), Tumhari Sulu, and the gripping espionage rip-off from Baby, Naam Shabana, led to these worthies singing an obit for masala entertainers (despite Baahubali 2: The Conclusion). But the audience tellingly silenced them by endorsing Judwaa 2 and Golmaal Again on an unprecedented scale.
Brands were huge, said the pundits. The Hindi version of Baahubali 2: The Conclusion beat even the highest-grossing Hindi film made in Mumbai, Dangal, in Indian collections, by a margin of over 120 crore. Jolly LLB 2 and Golmaal Again towered well above the earlier films in the franchise, as did the unique franchise film Badrinath Ki Dulhania. But if such sequels were considered foolproof, the audience discarded worthless sequels like Sarkar 3, Aksar 2 and Julie 2.
Who missed the bus?
Clearly, every film that did well deserved its varied quantum of success. However, there were some good films that failed to muster audience applause. A gritty The Ghazi Attack, the superb but star-less Poorna (on the 13-year-old Adivasi girl from Andhra Pradesh who climbed Mount Everest), the passion-filled Begum Jaan (a remake of a National award-winning Bengali drama), the fairly riveting horror story The House Next Door, and on the commercial side, the quirky message comedy Poster Boys, and the skilled Indianisation of the Hollywood film Chef all missed the bus for varied but valid reasons, which are too detailed to be discussed here.
The most undeserving flop was the unique Jagga Jasoos, told in the classic format of Hollywood musicals like Mary Poppins and Oliver!. The audience did not expect this unexpected fare and the negativity over the film's inordinate delay helped this big-budget movie capsize. Nevertheless, a time will come when the film will be hailed as a classic, and Ranbir Kapoor and Katrina Kaif's outstanding performances and Pritam's grand music score (especially in the songs used as dialogues) will get their due.
The truly standout performances were very few, and we would include Pankaj Tripathi and Rajkummar Rao (Bareilly€¦), Pankaj in Newton again, Raj Arjun (as the cad father in Secret Superstar), Varun Sharma and Richa Chadda (Fukrey Returns), Chunky Pandey and Pallavi Sharda (Begum Jaan), Taapsee Pannu (Naam Shabana) and Bhumi Pednekar (Toilet€¦) among them.
Hype with a gripe
In keeping with dubious traditions, films of an arty nature, with half-baked festivals endorsing them, were touted as commercially successful, like the misguided Oscar nominee Newton, Trapped and Lipstick Under My Burkha. Commercial films like Phillauri, Mom and Ittefaq were similarly termed hits.
Stars & stripes
Despite Tubelight, Salman Khan continued to rule the star roost and Tiger Zinda Hai has boosted his fortunes further. Aamir Khan continues to be equated with quality blending with (huge) commerce. Shah Rukh Khan has accepted that he has not had a hit for four years, while Akshay Kumar is evolving by the film. Ajay Devgn and Hrithik Roshan continue with their star draw. Varun Dhawan, with two hits, is the biggest name among GenY heroes, followed by Ranveer Singh, who lost out on his only release, Padmavati.
This year's lucky mascot seemed to be Ayushmann Khurrana, who, after one flop, gave two successful films in Bareilly Ki Barfi and Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, and also made a cameo in Tumhari Sulu.
His female counterpart was Bhumi Pednekar, who struck rich with Shubh€¦ as well as Toilet€¦ Besides her, there was no consistent leading lady, though Katrina Kaif, reeling under flops, is expected to get a mega-buster in Tiger Zinda Hai. Alia Bhatt continued with her right choices (Badrinath€¦) and Shraddha with her wrong ones (Ok Jaanu, Half Girlfriend, Haseena Parkar). Priyanka Chopra's Hollywood debut Baywatch flopped in India and was a complete disaster overseas as well, while Deepika Padukone's xXx: Return Of Xander Cage also failed here, but was hugely successful back home in the US. Kung Fu Yoga, starring Jackie Chan and our own Sonu Sood and Disha Patani, flopped here but rocked in China. Kajol went down South to do VIP 2 with Dhanush, but there were barely any ripples made by its Hindi version.
In the news
With Padmavati postponed to 2018 and inviting censor ire, controversy, threats and violence, and Rajinikanth's 2.0 postponed due to a further need for post-production, 2017 lost two big chances of mega-hits, leaving only Tiger Zinda Hai to roar in the tail-end of the year.
We also lost titans Vinod Khanna, Shashi Kapoor, Tom Alter and Om Puri, favourite screen mother Reema Lagoo, and director Lekh Tandon.
As the wise industry people and media opine, "The game must be to sync with audience preferences and give them standard fare, like the South does."
And that is the need of the hour.