Drishyam 2, Qala, and Uunchai are proof that Bollywood is alive and kicking
The success of films like Drishyam 2, Qala, and Uunchai seems to have punctured the notion that Bollywood is 'dead' and quite rightly so.
Looks like the reports of Bollywood’s death were greatly exaggerated. During the first ten months of this year, Bollywood delivered so many flops and disappointments at the box office that many began to whisper the industry was dying. As films from down south continued to mint money at the same time, these whispers turned louder. The few Hindi films that worked were seen as aberrations and the largely-accepted trend seemed to show Bollywood was dead, and at the hands of its cousins from the south. Also read: Hansal Mehta says ‘all iz well’ in Bollywood after release of Drishyam 2, Freddy, An Action Hero
But November and December have changed that. There has not been any ground-breaking blockbuster that could rival the gargantuan numbers set by RRR or KGF: Chapter 2, neither has there been a film that has defied expectations like a Kantara. But in moderation, a succession of Bollywood releases--both in theatre and on streaming services--have turned the tide with good collections, positive response, and some strong growth day after day. It is the first time in the year that ‘healthy’ films have outnumbered the duds among new Hindi releases, and that is a promising sign indeed.
The tide turned in the second weekend of November with two simultaneous releases. The first was Netflix’s Monica O My Darling, starring Huma Qureshi, Rajkummar Rao, which opened to rave reviews and solid numbers (as per the streamer). But there have been OTT successes earlier in the year too. What made the weekend special was Sooraj Barjatya’s Uunchai. With a cast of senior citizens (apologies to Amitabh Bachchan), it was never expected to do well at the box office. It started slow but then saw tremendous growth of about 70% through excellent word of mouth. The following week, Ajay Devgn’s Drishyam 2 gave Bollywood its first bonafide hit in months. As I write this, the film is galloping towards the ₹300-crore mark globally and is the third-highest grossing Hindi film of the year.
Bhediya, which was released in theatres the following week, had a mixed response. The critics loved it and praised its fun and inventiveness but the audiences did not flock to the theatre. It had an underwhelming start and despite decent numbers, could not find success at the box office. It has earned ₹74 crore gross worldwide and may struggle to reach the 100-crore mark. But the praise from critics is likely to mean it will have a good run upon its digital release.
The same can be said for the next ‘big’ release--Ayushmann Khurrana-starrer An Action Hero. The film has won universal acclaim with many calling it the smartest Hindi film of the year. Yet, it opened to very low numbers. It did grow by 50% on its second day due to the positive reviews and word of mouth but the small opening was too big a handicap to overcome. Between Bhediya and An Action Hero, Bollywood gave films in successive weeks that were actually praised for their content and not derided for it. That hadn’t happened all year. The industry was criticized for not paying attention to content all year. It seemed they were finally listening. The audience will surely come around.
And then there is Qala. Such a film would never have succeeded in theatres even before the pandemic. It is a dark psychological thriller that is at home on Netflix. The critics have praised it with some reservations but the audiences only have nice things to say about it. Kartik Aaryan’s Freddy, which was released on Disney+ Hotstar on the same day, falls in the same bracket as well.
In these three weeks, the Hindi film industry has given a superhit, a sleeper hit, and a bunch of streaming successes apart from two theatrical releases almost universally praised for their content. Across genres, across age groups, and with diverse star power, this is the best Bollywood has performed all year. With a Shashank Khaitan dark comedy starring Vicky Kaushal and a Rohit Shetty masala comedy headlined by Ranveer Singh to come, Bollywood may just round off the year on a positive note. But as always, the films need to be good enough to invite the audiences and then hold their interest.
But if there is one thing that the industry has proved over the last 25 days, it’s that all the negativity, all calls for boycott fail when the audience gets what it asks for. Bollywood now just needs to stick to it.