And then there were more
Sequels are not done for the audience or cinema or the filmmakers. It’s for the distributor. The film becomes a brand. – Francis Ford Coppola, filmmaker
It took Bollywood a long time to realise this. The first sequel to be made here was probably Hunterwali Ki Beti, a 1943 film starring Fearless Nadia, which was a sequel to Hunterwali (1935). In 1979 and 1981, two films, Surakksha and Wardat, were made as part of the Gunmaster G9 series. There might have been a few other sporadic sequels over the years. “But India doesn’t have a tradition of sequels. Our greatest films have been standalone stories,” says film critic, Anupama Chopra. Things started changing in the early 2000s, with films like Lage Raho Munna Bhai (a sequel to Munna Bhai MBBS), Hathyar (a sequel to the crime film, Vaastav) and Phir Hera Pheri (which followed the comedy, Hera Pheri). Farhan Akhtar not just directed a remake of the Amitabh Bachchan film, Don (with Shah Rukh Khan in the title role), in 2006, but followed it up with Don 2 in 2011. Dhoom, Race and Dabangg became franchises to look forward to (though not all the films in the series were equally successful). There are also the Raaz, Murder and Hate Story series.
“In the last three-four years, sequels have become a trend in Bollywood,” says Chopra, with films like Rock On 2, Student Of The Year 2, Mardaani 2, Ek Tha Tiger, Tiger Zinda Hai and the Golmaal and Housefull franchises. Director Rohit Shetty is busy creating a whole interconnected cop-universe with the two Singham films, Simmba and the soon-to-be-released Sooryavanshi. And 2020, it seems, will be the year of sequels/spin offs with at least ten such films releasing or being in the pipeline. If Imtiaz Ali’s Love Aaj Kal (a retelling of his 2009 hit) released on Valentine’s Day, this week it was the turn of the Ayushmann Khurrana starrer, Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan (a sequel to Shubh Mangal Saavdhan from 2017 ). Others in the works include Angrezi Medium, Dostana 2, Sadak 2, Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 and Baaghi 3, to name a few.
Kamal Gianchandani, CEO, PVR Pictures, believes the trend is inspired mainly by the success of Hollywood film sequels.
“It brings in the audience,” says director Saket Chaudhary, whose film, Hindi Medium, is all set to become a series with Angrezi Medium. The new film is, however, being directed by Homi Adajania. “I had told my story about the education system in India. For me, there was nothing to add to it,” says Chaudhary. Which is why when the producers decided to develop it into a series, he chose not to be a part of it, he says. And Adajania stepped in. “I literally just walked into the narration when my producer, Dinesh Vijan, was hearing the story. It was hilarious, it had a soul, and Irrfan [Khan] and I have been wanting to work together for the longest time. They were looking for a director and I told the producer that I would direct it,” he says.
What’s The Link?
The reason for the current popularity of sequels, says scriptwriter Zeishan Quadri (of Gangs of Wasseypur fame), is not a lack of original scripts, but “producers playing it safe”. Many of the sequels or films in a series, say writers and directors, can hold their own as originals.
Adajania, for example, says that Angrezi Medium is not a sequel, preferring to call it “a film in a series”. “It follows similar themes of love and relationships.
The first was about the educational system and how far parents would go to fit into a society plagued with aspirational values. This one explores a much wider canvas and shows how far a single parent from a small town would go to make his daughter’s dream come true.
“ The characters are not the same, so there was no hesitation on my part as everything would be original,” says Adajania. While he had “loved what Saket had done with Hindi Medium and loved his characters, there would be no challenge for me to take someone else’s creativity forward,” he says.
The disconnect between narratives is true of most film series being made in Bollywood. Unlike in a majority of Hollywood franchises, where the central characters remain the same and the sequel is just another adventure, experience or chapter in the narrative (think the James Bond series, Mission: Impossible or Ice Age), here often neither the characters nor the plots link the films in a series.
One reason for this, says Chaudhary, is that Hollywood has a rich store of comic book characters to draw on: Superman, Batman, The Avengers. Most of our films, on the other hand, are based on original scripts. “Our desi comics have not found their way to films. Our kids are more drawn to their stories,” says Chaudhary.
The other reason, feels Chopra “is because our franchises are not organically developed. Many of the films are an afterthought, made after the success of the first film, and only linked by the genre”. “Apart from Rohit Shetty [with his cop-hero films] no one is creating a universe,” she says. So the Baaghi films are action movies and the Housefull franchise is a comedy, but there is little else that connects these films.
There are exceptions like Salman Khan’s Ek Tha Tiger and its sequel, in which the central characters remain the same. And movies like the Bahubali franchise or Gangs Of Wasseypur, points out Quadri, are actually single stories broken in two, because of their length.
But the best way to describe most recent Bollywood film series, says Hitesh Kewalya, director of Shubh Mangal Zyaada Saavdhan, is by the phrase “thematic sequels”.
Kewalya, who also wrote the screenplay and dialogues for Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, says that while initially the thought of a series hadn’t occurred to him, he had written the sequel even before the first film had gone on the floors. “We were talking and we just thought, hypothetically, what if we make a franchise. I wrote a few pages, like a story, and when the first film did well, we decided to develop the idea,” says Kewalya.
What connects the two films – the first one was on erectile dysfunction and this one is on homosexuality – are that they are both set in small towns, and look at aspects of sexuality or how we discuss it. Ayushmann Khurrana happens to be the lead actor in both films. And the titles are similar. But Kewalya admits that even if the film was called something else, it would still have made sense.
So why are films with independent stories projected as part of a series?
“It’s a hook,” says trade analyst, Komal Nahta, “to bring in the audience” and one that makes perfect sense to him. Agrees Chopra, “Sequels feel safer, because the audience is familiar with it. That’s how it happened in the West. Because movies are such a risky business.” The same title aims to bring in a captive audience. “After the Friday release, every film has to stand on its own merit. But the challenge is to get the audience to the theatre, and a familiar title helps with that,” explains Chaudhary.
Audience recall is transient. Which is why, Nahta says, if one has to make a sequel, it is best to do it within three or four years. A film as old as Sadak (1991) may not be able to share the benefit of its success with sequels being made now, since a whole new generation of movie goers today will be unable to recall the original.
There are exceptions. Quadri gives the example of Aashiqui 2, which released 23 years after the original, with a new cast, director and story, and still managed to both create a buzz and become a box-office hit. “Whenever there is a new film released, there is discussion in the media about it. And for a sequel, this includes looking back at the last film, which helps with audience recollection,” says Choudhary.
The verdict can still be unexpected. “Whereas Baahubali (in Hindi) had a box-office collection of Rs 110 crore, the sequel went on to collect Rs 500 crore. The Housefull films have also been improving in earnings with each sequel,” says Gianchandani. “But there are films like Kahaani 2, which didn’t do as well as the original.” While Kahaani had earned Rs 59.26 crore at the box office, Kahaani 2, earned Rs 32.80 crore. Other sequels which didn’t do as well as the original include Rock On 2, Dedh Ishqiya and Dabangg 3.
It has happened in the West too, says Gianchandani. A recent example is The Angry Birds Movie 2. While the first film adaptation of the popular game raked in a worldwide collection of 352 million USD, the second instalment managed to earn only about 154.65 million USD.
There are some films which naturally lend themselves to a series, explains Chopra. “If Jagga Jasoos had been a success for example, or Detective Byomkesh Bakshi, I would have liked to see more films involving those characters,” she says. For Kewalya, the touchstone of when to make a sequel is when he feels there is something left to be explored in the script, or another story that needs to be told in the series. “As a multiplex operator and a distributor we like franchises a lot,” says Gianchandani. “That said, we also like films based on original standalone ideas which don’t make for good sequels.” The way to go about it, he feels, which most filmmakers in India do anyway, is “to treat each film, whether it’s an original idea or part of a franchise, as a standalone film and try not to get too far ahead in thinking about possible sequels.”
How it is done in Hollywood
And one thing Hollywood does well is sequels. – Spike Lee, actor-writer-producer-director
From superhero franchises (we can’t stop crushing on Robert Pattinson, as he becomes the latest actor to don the Batsuit), to Star Wars and comic-book creations like the Marvel universe, the James Bond films (the next one releases this April), The Matrix, Jumanji, the Ocean’s series, The Fast And The Furious serious, Mission: Impossible, animation series like Ice Age and Toy Story… the list of Hollywood franchises is impressive.
It comes from years of making such films. But whereas the origin of film series, according to a report in the Guardian, was to reuse sets, costumes and props (one of the earliest examples is The Fall Of A Nation which released a year after the 1915 original, Birth Of A Nation), by the 1970s the follow-on had gained in respectability with Godfather II becoming the first sequel to win an Oscar in the best picture category.
In recent years, the skill has turned to obsession. Last year, six out of 10 top Hollywood hits were sequels – including Avengers: Endgame, Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker, Toy Story 4, Spider-Man: Far From Home and Frozen II. Captain Marvel, another film in the top ten, though technically not a sequel, is part of a larger series. The other three were Aladdin, The Lion King and the Joker, which, if not sequels, were adaptations or spin-offs of familiar stories.
The reason is still commercial. Earlier, sets and costumes were reused, but today, each new instalment often sees increased investment – Avengers Assemble was reportedly made on a budget of $220 million, which went up to $356 million for Avengers: Endgame. All in the hope of bigger returns. Avengers: Endgame is the fastest any film made two billion dollars. It also tops the list of all lifetime grosses .
But what happens if the viewer gets tired of too much of a good thing? While there are mega hit franchises, last year also saw some sequels that performed below expectations, like Godzilla, X-Men: Dark Phoenix and The Secret Life of Pets 2.
When a hit film gets a sequel, the familiarity may bring the audience back to the theatres, but they come with expectations of something equally good, if not bigger and better. Sequels “are just as hard to make as original films,” said former Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios president, Edwin Catmull. And unless there are made well, the buzz is not enough to guarantee a hit.