Decoding the success of KGF Chapter 2 and Pushpa The Rise: How they brought back Bollywood's own angry young man formula
- Yash-starrer KGF: Chapter 2's Hindi version has raked in ₹100 crore in just two days. Earlier this year, Allu Arjun's Pushpa: The Rise saw its Hindi-dubbed version also breach that mark. Industry insiders decode what made these south films such unexpected blockbusters up north.
Since the pandemic began, the three most successful Indian films in terms of box office revenue have all come from the south. And while the success of SS Rajamouli's magnum opus RRR seemed like a foregone conclusion, the other two films--Pushpa: The Rise and KGF: Chapter 2--took many by surprise. At the time of writing, Pushpa has earned ₹367 crore globally with the Hindi version alone raking in ₹107 crore. KGF 2 has been even more phenomenal, earning ₹300 crore in just two days, with its Hindi-dubbed version also breaching ₹100 crore. Trade analysts and artistes associated with these industries help decode the phenomenal success of these films, particularly in the Hindi-speaking territories. Also read: KGF Chapter 2 box office day 2: Yash's film collects a monumental ₹300 crore
It's not as if films from Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, and Malayalam industries haven't succeeded in the north before. The Hindi version of 2.0 earned ₹190 crore while that of Saaho earned ₹143 crore. But both these films had a star--Rajinikanth and Prabhas respectively--already popular up north. Similarly, RRR and Baahubali 2 had the force of Rajamouli's brand name and a huge marketing campaign behind them. Pushpa and KGF 2 had neither of these. To an extent, the latter did benefit from being a sequel and the presence of Sanjay Dutt and Raveena Tandon. But let's face it, however, popular those two are, they aren't exactly strong box-office draws on their own.
Sanjay Dutt, who plays the antagonist in KGF: Chapter 2, has attributed the success of these films in the Hindi belt to how they portray heroism in an over-the-top manner. Speaking to Pinkvilla recently, he said, “All I want to say is that the South film industry never forgot heroism. You know, the heroism always remained. I think that is important… I think we have forgotten it a little bit. A hero’s entry should be a mind-blowing entry. Woh chalta hai to dhool udni chahiye, seeti bajni chahiye (When he walks, dust should rise, audience should whistle)…that is the hero, which was missing for so many years. Look at Khal Nayak, they are used to the introductions like that. It happens even now there (in the South film industry)."
There may be some substance in Sanjay's argument. Some of the most successful Hindi films in the recent years have all banked on the over-the-top heroism he mentions. Films like War, Tanhaji, Sooryavanshi, and the Tiger series all employ this trope. Maybe there is a lesson in here for Bollywood. Instead of remaking the films, they can study what makes them tick. What's funny is most film trade analysts say that the success of films like Pushpa and KGF 2 points to an element borrowed from Bollywood itself.
Industry insiders say it's the themes these films tackled, primarly giving the Hindi audience what they have been missing for some time--a larger-than-life anti-hero, the kind Amitabh Bachchan had popularised in the 70s and 80s with films like Deewar, Don, Shakti, and right up to Agneepath.
Film trade analyst Atul Mohan argues, "If you look at Pushpa, in terms of the plot and themes, it is similar to Deewar and other such films of Mr Bachchan from the 70s and 80s. Same for KGF. They take that idea of a larger-than-life anti-hero from humble beginnings who rises to the top of the crime world but maintains his ethics somewhat. It's an idea with universal appeal." Pushpa has Allu Arjun in the role of a sandalwood smuggler who makes it big while KGF stars Yash as a mafia henchman, who overtakes a gold-smuggling empire. It's easy to see parallels with Deewar and Agneepath here.
Yash, the star of KGF film series, has admitted to the similarities the franchise has with some of Amitabh Bachchan's old films. In an interaction with Bollywood Hungama prior to the second part's release, he said, "It's the essence of the belief system, the hero and his heroism- that kind of film. It has nothing to do with any film but in general, the kind of films they used to make, the essence is the same, what whole of India wants to see. At least, whoever I meet, they say they love those kind of films." Also read: KGF Chapter 2 star Yash admits film draws inspiration from Amitabh Bachchan's characters: 'Essence is the same'
However, many caution that this may not be a clear-cut formula for people to copy. Actor Ashish Vidyarthi, who has worked in several films in Bollywood and all the south languages, says, "Please understand that this is working at this moment. So the entire feel of life is that it is moving. There are no fixed ways so don't try to make a formula out of it. I have always felt that if you can catch the imagination of the world, that's where success lies."
Perhaps the only lesson for Bollywood here is that it does not need to copy anything that the south is doing. Because, in the end, it all boils down to good storytelling with a garnish of smart presentation. The Kashmir Files has dispelled the myth of any formula for success at the box-office. But as the industry that has dominated the economics of filmmaking in the country, it would surely be itching to break free from this stranglehold of south films. Whether it manages to do so or not, the only winner in this race will be the average film viewer. After all, we don't care where the next blockbuster comes from. Whether it's Allu Arjun's Pushpa or Shah Rukh Khan's Pathaan, we will whistle for anyone who proves themselves worthy of it.