Sometimes, great movies bomb at the box office. Like Bhavesh Joshi, 5 films you need to discover online
Director Vikramaditya Motwane’s revisionist superhero film, Bhavesh Joshi Superhero, was released on online streaming services such as Netflix and Hotstar earlier this week. The film, as you may or may not remember, remains one of 2018’s biggest box office bombs, having made approximately Rs 1.5 crore in its theatrical run.
This is tragic, especially because Bhavesh Joshi Superhero is a fine film, and deserved better - it’s empathetic, directed with flair, and features a stunning chase sequence that is as good as any I’ve seen in a recent Hindi film. Even Harshvardhan Kapoor - who has been treated rather unfairly by the general public - is an engaging performer, restrained and sincere.
All this is made more baffling (and infuriating) when you take into account that both Bhavesh Joshi and this week’s Satyameva Jayate are basically a diametrically opposite reaction to the same social problem: corruption. While one film is a warm, human exploration of idealism, the other is a representation of everything that is wrong about us, as a people and as a country. One of them opened to Rs 30 lakhs on its first day, the other made Rs 20 crore.
This, in a nutshell, is everything that is wrong with mainstream cinema in our country - stars, no matter how blatantly they might pander, sell.
A film’s box office performance has nothing to do with its quality, and vice versa. This seems like an obvious notion, but you’d be surprised to know just how many times die-hard fans have defended a film by brandishing its box office numbers. How could Satyameva Jayate (I hate to have to bring that garbage up again) be a bad film if so many people went and watched it, these people ask.
The tragedy continues. Because you simply can’t explain to the people who make comments such as this that some of the best films ever made were box office disasters. Hopefully, Bhavesh Joshi will find a new life online, just like The Shawshank Redemption, which became the universally beloved phenomenon not during its ho-hum theatrical run, but afterwards, when it was ‘discovered’ on VHS.
Here are five other films whose box office wouldn’t inspire much confidence, but deserve to be recognised as the modern classics that they are.
Let’s begin things with another superhero film, shall we? For a film with such a unique visual style, it’s interesting to note that Dredd’s credited director, Pete Travis, was rumoured to have been fired mid-production. Writer Alex Garland - you know him from the sci-fi gems Sunshine, Ex Machina and Annihilation - stepped in to complete filming and to oversee post-production.
The end result was a film that was perhaps too subversive for its own good - aimed at a very narrow fan base that appreciates risky choices and high-concept ideas, both of which Dredd has in droves. Like the similarly underperforming Kick-Ass - a clear source of inspiration for Bhavesh Joshi - the internet has been campaigning hard for a sequel. Dredd made $41 million against a $45 million budget.
While we’re at it, why not strike two birds with one stone? What has been happening to director James Gunn is disheartening, to say the least. Gunn, as you’ve probably heard, was fired off Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 after controversial old tweets of his were unearthed by conservative commentators - probably as revenge for his vocal left-wing politics.
In this age of political correctness, it makes business sense for the wholesome Disney to have severed ties with the provocative Gunn, but it makes you think, doesn’t it? What’s the point of changing, and inspiring others to change through your art, if your past is going to be held against you forever? Which is why you need to discover Super, Gunn’s 2010 superhero dark comedy, which, with its heavy themes of abuse and mental illness, should have been an indication to Disney of what they were getting into. It made $450,000 against its $2.5 million budget.
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
That title itself is could be unnerving to unsuspecting audiences, and when you couple that with a 160 minute run time, and the fact that it’s a Western - a decaying genre - it’s no wonder that the film could recoup only $15 million of its $30 million budget. But hear this: Jesse James is one of the best films the genre has produced - modelled on the dreamlike visual style of Terrence Malick, with an all-time great score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, and the best Brad Pitt performance you’ve never seen.
This is an aggressively visionary film - about the power of celebrity, and about the unforgiving idea of masculinity - made with the sort of creative confidence that few directors working today have. As a bonus, you should also check out Pitt and Andrew Dominik’s follow-up - yes, they worked together again - the verbose crime thriller, Killing Them Softly.
To explain the sheer scope of insane ideas in the Wachowskis’ Cloud Atlas - often described as the most expensive independent film ever made - all you need to do is watch their emotional message which they’d attached to a six minute trailer for the film. In that trailer, the Wachowskis spoke about the great difficulties that went into making the film, which they co-directed with Tom Tykwer, and how cast took an immense leap of faith by ‘jumping on a plane’ even when the future (and funding) was uncertain.
The Wachowskis still speak passionately about Cloud Atlas, which was years if not decades ahead of its time - culturally, artistically and politically. It’s the sort of film that even if you can’t love, you feel compelled to admire. It was philosophical and political; set in the past, present and future; not bound by genre, or the race of its actors. It made less than $2 million more than its $130 million budget.
Considering what our world has turned into, no movie has aged quite as well as Mike Judges’s 2006 satire, Idiocracy. It imagines a future in which America is overrun by morons, crops die out because they’re watered with energy drinks and Starbucks sells overpriced sex. A former porn star and wrestler has become president. He’s called Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho. Idiocracy made less than half-a-million dollars against a $4 million budget.