Bollywood 2017: The Year That Was
2017. A year that’s had a few highs. Several lows – key among them of course being the stalling of the release of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s magnum opus Padmavati, a fictional re-telling of the story of a legendary Rajput queen, Rani Padmini (an ethereal and breathtaking Deepika Padukone), who defends her honour against a Muslim invader, Alauddin Khilji (Ranveer Singh), Padmavati created a media storm (in a teacup) not just in India, but abroad too, where many scoffed at the ludicrous and absurd threats issued against Padukone and Bhansali.
Reporters had a field day with all the brouhaha the controversy created, even as the film’s leads Singh and Shahid Kapoor chose to remain mum about it, despite several provocations. As it stands, the date of the movie’s release stands in the doldrums, with latest whispers insinuating that it may not see the light of day until March, or ever if things carry on the way they are. I’ve spent many a tweet voicing how I felt about the clear stifling of creative license and freedom of expression, so I’ll refrain from regurgitating it here, but to re-iterate, bullies should never be pandered to – I for one sincerely hope that we get to witness this Bhansali spectacle, and that too sans any cuts and the way it was envisaged all along by the maestro filmmaker.
Even otherwise, there was little respite for the industry’s sinking fortunes for the films that did make it to the marquee unscathed. Both Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan laid expensive eggs in the form of Tubelight and the turd that was Jab Harry Met Sejal. At least Tubelight was noble in intent, even if desperately trying to recreate the Bajrangi Bhaijaan formula, but Jab Harry Met Sejal, an Imtiaz Ali film no less(!), revolving around a jaded lothario (SRK) and his humdrum romance with a Gujarati girl (Anushka Sharma, a talented actress in her own right), was so clichéd and flat that not only did it cast a shadow of doubt over Ali’s abilities as a filmmaker, but also gave SRK (who to his credit is trying his hand at different genres with varying degrees of success), his first colossal, unmitigated box office disaster in years.
To be fair to him, SRK did give us Raees and while Rahul Dholakhia’s screenplay was all over the place, and Mahira Khan’s debut was all bark no bite, critics as well as audiences were unanimous in their praise for Khan’s impressive turn as a bootlegger in Gujarat. And even as this article is being typed, the other Khan, Salman is already smashing records and whipping up a box-office storm of epic proportions with Tiger Zinda Hai – a sequel to 2012’s Ek Tha Tiger, which for all its implausibility proved to be quite the fun ride.
But even as the two Khans balanced out their year, a lesser one (sorry), Saif proved to not be as lucky with the disaster that was Rangoon. A big budget war drama that saw Vishal Bhardwaj at the helm of affairs, the director achieved the impossible by bringing together Kareena Kapoor’s past and present beaus together (the film also featured Shahid Kapoor), in the same frame and topped it up by casting the queen of quotable quotes Kangana Ranaut, as a fiery actress of yore in what was basically an extension of her real-life persona.
More than the film though it was Ranaut’s candid and forthright comments about filmmaker Karan Johar being the ‘flagbearer of nepotism’ on the latter’s popular TV chat show Koffee With Karan that stirred the hornet’s nest, when on the infamous rapid fire the she quipped:
“I remember a year ago, Aditya Chopra called me to his studio and he told me that 10 years ago when you came to my office, I thought, "Is ladki ka kuch nahi hone waala. But today, I am glad that I was proved wrong and I am happy that you have made it on your own. I am happy to hear this from you as well. You have been the driving force in my life. If it wasn't for all the rejections and mocking, I wouldn't have been here. Karan, you made fun of my English on this couch. But I haven't held this against you. Somewhere, these things drive you. I am not trying to fit in. In my biopic, if it is ever made, you will play this stereotypical Bollywood biggie who is very snooty and completely intolerant to outsiders and flag bearer of nepotism, the movie mafia. You will have a huge part to play in my biopic. I like the antagonist in you in my biopic.”
Johar initially took the retort in the right spirit, or at least appeared to do so, only to retract and spout venom against the actress on social media and at an awards ceremony, where his staged jokes fell flat, and only further hammered Ranaut’s point home – that it’s not what you know, but who you know that gets you ahead in the murky world of showbiz.
On the personal front though, in a somewhat surprising turn of events, and amidst undying murmurs around Johar’s sexuality, the filmmaker welcomed twins through surrogacy – an admirable move and one that will perhaps make India rethink and perhaps relax its laws and taboos around same sex relationships, given Johar’s clout and prominence in various forms of media.
Professionally, the filmmaker continued to expand on his repertoire as Dharma affixed its name to three films with varying degrees of success. Ok Jaanu a remake of Mani Ratnam’s Tamil film O Kadhai Kanmani, sank without a trace despite its affable leads Aditya Roy Kapur and Shraddha Kapoor while Ittefaq, a song-less whodunit delving into two different takes of what happened one rainy night, and a remake of the 1969 film of the same name, had an average run and provided some respite for its leads Sidharth Malhtora and Sonakshi Sinha, who were both in dire need of success post their duds A Gentleman and Noor respectively. It was Johar’s reliable and bankable regulars Varun Dhawan and Alia Bhatt though that brought Dharma success in one of the year’s biggest hits, Badrinath Ki Dulhania, a follow up to 2014’s Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania revolving around misogynistic ‘sadak chhap’ type on the lookout for a bride until a chance encounter with feisty livewire (Bhatt) derails his existence and he falls for her hook, line and sinker, and virtually hounds her to marry him. Despite its obvious predictability, the film worked principally because of its two leads, and established Dhawan as a rising star and one to look out for given his flawless track record at the box office.
The star further cemented his clout with an even bigger hit, Judwaa 2 a reboot of the original Judwaa – a film that sky-rocketed Salman Khan's fortunes post a series of duds in the late 90s, and further cemented Karisma Kapoor, as the most bankable heroine of that time. The premise here was pretty much the same; twins separated at birth, only to reunite years later in London after a series of misunderstandings and crude gags while shaking a leg with a couple of bimbos, and while a lot of it was cringe-worthy, Dhawan made it mostly plausible with his spot-on comic timing and ever increasing charisma.
And while comedy still proved to be the sure-shot formula to strike gold (Judwaa 2, Golmaal Again), there was still some glimmer of hope as a diverse range of films, right from socials to ones with female protagonists made their mark albeit with varying degrees of success. Akshay Kumar consolidated his bankability with Jolly LLB 2 and Toilet Ek Prem Katha, both contrasting works in their own right, while the women continued to prove their might even as the somewhat controversial Lipstick Under My Burkha, a compelling drama exploring the sexual awakenings and personal struggles of four small-town Indian women made the cut despite initial objections from the hard-nosed censor board. Elsewhere, Kangana Ranaut’s enjoyable Simran about a small time American crook, despite not recreating the success of Ranaut’s earlier Queen, proved to be a fun albeit flawed ride, establishing her as an actress of chutzpah despite suffering from acute foot in mouth disease. Vidya Balan too wiped out the loud and hammy Begum Jaan, with her ballsy behenji turn in Tumhari Sullu, while The Last Empress, Sridevi made a return to form with Mom, a dark tale featuring her as a mother who avenges her stepdaughter’s rape even as she seeks the latter’s validation and approval despite all odds.
The biggest success of the year however, was not a typical Bollywood film per se, but a dubbed Telugu fantasy-action film Baahubali 2: The Conclusion, featuring Telugu superstar Prabhas, which exploded at the box office to become the highest grossing Indian film of all time and that too by a mile.
The smaller films made hay while the sun shone too. While Aamir Khan continued to push the envelope with Secret Superstar, an inspiring, poignant and extremely current tale of a small-town Muslim teenager, who goes on to becoming a YouTube sensation, to Irrfan Khan’s Hindi Medium, which took pot-shots at the Indian education system, the worthy ones did get a look into despite not so bountiful returns.
Others of course weren’t as lucky. There was the Sushant Singh-Kriti Sanon romance Raabta, which despite the requisite sizzle between its leads and fairly decent soundtrack fizzled out like a damp firework. There was the ill-fated Jagga Jasoos, a Disney romance featuring Ranbir Kapoor and Katrina Kaif, which despite beautifully shot and truly daring to be different, did nothing for the sagging fortunes of its stars. There was also was Sarkar 3, made by Ram-Why-Are-You-Still-Here-Varma, or Sanjay Dutt's tepid comeback Bhoomi, none of which really resonated with audiences and left without much ado.
Meanwhile, Bollywood continued expanding its reach globally too, especially Stateside. Both Priyanka Chopra and Deepika Padukone made their Hollywood debuts in fairly sizeable parts in Baywatch and xXx: The Return Of Xander Cage, and while neither of did much at the box office, it was finally evident that Indian actors were finally being taken more seriously abroad, not just for their looks but for their abundance of talent too. Speaking of looks, as always, who can forget Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s Cinderella-esque gown in that gorgeous appearance at Cannes, where she continued to turn heads despite being well into her forties, a wife and a mother. Or Chopra's eye popping looks at every single high profile, talked about Hollywood event of the year, most of which were dazzling and on point.
The most talked about celebrity event of course was Anushka Sharma’s wedding to Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli. In a hush-hush wedding in Tuscany at the fag-end of the year this gorgeous on-again, off-again couple reinstated many a cynic’s views on love and very briefly made us believe that fairy-tale romances can indeed exist even in the transient society that we live in. The wedding was a low-key affair, while the subsequent reception, expectedly, was a grand affair with the who’s-who in attendance, and rounding up the year on a much-needed high.
What’s in store for us in 2018 then? January will already be ending on a high with the Akshay Kumar-Sonam Kapoor-Radhika Apte social Pad Man and the Neeraj Pandey war drama Aiyaary. There’s the Dutt biopic which will inevitably prove to be Ranbir Kapoor’s return to form. There’s Thugs of Hindostan which unites stalwarts Amitabh Bachchan and Aamir Khan for the first time ever. There’s an Anand L Rai film which features Shah Rukh Khan in a never before seen avatar as a dwarf, and features Anushka Sharma and Katrina Kaif alongside. There’s Tips’ Race 3, which sees Salman Khan frontline the franchise with a cast of nobodies, while Akshay Kumar unites with megastar Rajnikanth for a film curiously titled 2.0. There’s Varun Dhawan in a shift of sorts in Shoojit Sircar’s October and the YRF social Sui Dhaaga which sees him with Anushka Sharma for the first time. Ranveer Singh too has a few aces in the pipeline with Rohit Shetty’s inevitably loud Simmba and a union with Alia Bhatt in Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy. There’s a slew of debuts too. Johar launches Sridevi and Boney Kapoor’s daughter Janhvi opposite Shahid’s younger brother Ishaan in a Shashank Khaitaan romance, Dhadak. And we should see Sara Ali Khan launched amidst much fanfare at some point too.
Sure there will be a few smaller surprises and a fair share of controversies but overall, 2018 promises to be a hugely exciting year at least in terms of the feature films lined up, and for now at least it sounds a little more up-beat than the sub-standard year 2017’s been. Either way, it’s been quite a hectic twelve months and I for one am both beat and optimistic about what’s in the pipeline. Are you?
That’s it from me then for 2017… See you at the movies next year!
- Jay xo