A brave new world

It has been an onslaught of change. In the first decade of this century, online piracy coupled with high-speed broadband began to hit revenues. Then streaming platforms stormed the scene.

The edifice of the “ 100 crore club” began to totter, not because films weren’t hitting that mark, but because in attempting to do so, they were now spending many, many times that. Films such as Jai Ho (2014; Salman Khan) and Thugs of Hindostan (2018; Aamir Khan) are considered box-office failures despite making 195 crore and 335 crore respectively. And then a new battlefront opened up. Domestically, India’s highest-grossing film ever is the Telugu-Tamil bilingual Bahubali 2 (2017). As of mid-2022, of the highest-earning

Indian films of all time domestically — a list typically dominated by Hindi blockbusters — the top three were Bahubali 2, KGF 2 and RRR, originally made in Kannada, and Telugu, and released as blockbusters in multiple languages, including Hindi. Aamir Khan’s Dangal (2016), at No 4, is the first Hindi film on this list. Meanwhile, within the mainstream Hindi space, there’s been a diffusion at play. Star power, stories and audiences are all seeing a scattering of revenue and attention.

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Kalki Koechlin in Dev.D (2009), Anurag Kashyap’s audacious retelling of Devdas.

As mainstream Bollywood re-examines its methods, three major changes are already being felt. There is a decline in star power (and no new superstars have emerged). Collaborations with the south are being forged. Meanwhile, the casualty in all this: the Bollywood soundtrack, and the Hindi-film song.

Watch Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Vikramaditya Motwane discuss the pros of streaming vs box-office releases. Motwane talks about how streaming platforms are changing the ecosystem. He and Siddiqui discuss their joy at being freed from the tyranny of box-office numbers

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The Age of Salman From Bhai to Bhaijaan

He spent years winning hearts as the romantic hero. Then, between 2005 and 2009, Salman Khan’s films weren’t faring so well. He fronted about a dozen duds (Jaan-E-Mann, Marigold, the period drama Yuvvraaj). The only bright spot was the David Dhawan film Partner, in which he played a love guru called Prem to Govinda’s bumbling Bhaskar. He and his directors started to realise that he was in desperate need of a makeover. Given how much his fans just loved the idea of Salman Khan (or who they believed that to be),

Salman Khan in Bajrangi Bhaijaan.

As the host of Bigg Boss.

they reasoned, why not give them versions of that on screen? A few months later, the first such experiment was rolled out. In a darkened single-screen theatre in Meerut, the audience watched as Radhe (Khan), the hero of Wanted, was bashed up by the villain. The men in the audience took off their shirts and roared. It was like a paganist ritual, says filmmaker Samreen Farooqui, co-director with Shabani Hassanwalia of the documentary Being Bhaijaan (2014). Read more

Supernova Is it the end of the megastar?

The barrier between small films and commercial success is gone; the line between independent films and blockbusters is fading. Everyman actors such as Rajkummar Rao, Taapsee Pannu and Ayushmann Khurrana have become, of all things, bankable. In trade magazines, producers, distributors and analysts give confused interviews about how the power of the superstar is being replaced by the overriding need for “storylines” and “quality content”. The confusion is, in a sense, understandable. For decades, some superstars had made the same gesture, told a similar tale, smiled the same smile, and it worked.

Ayushmann Khurrana in Bala. The everyman actor in Bollywood has become, of all things, bankable.

Rajkummar Rao and Bhumi Pednekar in the queer drama / romance Badhaai Do.

Perhaps responding to the sense of shaken nerves in the industry, Salman Khan, while promoting Antim in 2021, said: “The era of superstars will never fade. We will go, someone else will come up.” But the Khans — Shah Rukh, Aamir and Salman — all turn 57 in 2022. No new superstars have turned up to take their place. The changing dynamic is altering storylines, changing the landscape of Hindi-film music, revising the look and the sound of Bollywood. Read more

Women’s era Taking the reins

For perhaps the first time in the history of Hindi cinema, almost every A-list woman actor is married. It used to be that marriage ended a young actress’s career. Sharmila Tagore was considered a rebel for continuing her career after marriage, and then after her first child. Her daughter-in-law Kareena Kapoor Khan has two children and continues to act. Even the tags used to indicate success have changed. Where Vidya Balan was called the Fourth Khan, Alia Bhatt is described as one of her generation’s most bankable stars.

Deepika Padukone in Gehraiyaan

Alia Bhatt in Gangubai Kathiawadi.

Actresses such as Bhatt, Deepika Padukone, Kangana Ranaut and Balan are box-office powerhouses who take up so much screen space, it can be hard to remember who their male co-stars were. They have the power to green-light projects. They aren’t interchangeable; producers are willing to wait until they’re available. They’re also turning producers themselves. It’s a change that can be traced to 2011, when No One Killed Jessica, Tanu Weds Manu, and The Dirty Picture struck box-office gold. Read more

Tongue tied The non-Hindi Hindi blockbuster

When cricketer Virat Kohli wiped his chin with a palm-down flourish during the India-Sri Lanka Test in March 2022, it was a sign of the times. The gesture was Allu Arjun’s signature move in Pushpa: The Rise (2021), a film originally made in Telugu. The dubbed Hindi version was one of last year’s highest-grossing Hindi blockbusters. In recent years, dubbed Hindi versions of Telugu, Kannada and Tamil films have shot to the

Allu Arjun in Pushpa: The Rise.

Ram Charan in RRR.

top of earnings charts. They are doing so well that, by mid-2022, of the highest-earning Indian films of all time domestically, the top three were Bahubali 2, KGF 2 and RRR, originally made in Telugu-Tamil, Kannada, and Telugu. How is this happening? These are typically tales of carnage and myth, revenge and crime, violence and machismo, but made with an intense attention to detail. Each frame is polished until it shines. Cinematography, lighting, costumes and sets are put together with discipline and care. The result is a masala offering that tells the masala audience that they matter. Read more

Watchlist 10 movies that capture the age

Compiled by Karishma Upadhyay. To see why she picked these films, click here

Playlist 15 tunes to play on a loop

The start of this phase was marked by experimentation: Rock, electronica, rap, desi hip-hop. Industry-watchers say the quality of Hindi-film music has fallen since 2015. While that is a subjective view, this list does tilt towards the period before 2013. Amid the pandemic, there were of course fewer releases as well.

To see how Narendra Kusnur put together this playlist, click here