Bollywood 2015: The Final Quarter
We’re entering the last quarter of a year that has been an interesting one for Hindi films. We might have a newly minted superstar in Varun Dhawan, who raced ahead of his under-thirty peers with a crowd-pleasing superhit (ABCD 2) and a critically acclaimed success (Badlapur). Female actors toplined their own blockbusters, The unfortunately named Tanu Weds Manu Returns made major bank and cemented Kangana Ranaut’s status as an A-lister.The Deepika Padukone starrer Piku (my favorite Hindi film of the year) and Navdeep Singh’s superb, harrowing NH10 (which Anushka Sharma produced and starred in) did superbly as well. Even Zoya Akhtar’s excellent Dil Dhadakne Do placed Priyanka Chopra (who has crossed over stateside with her assured performance on Quantico) and not Ranveer Singh at the center of its talented ensemble and the film’s unambiguously feminist narrative. Even the year’s most notable indie release was female-fronted; Margarita With A Straw was directed by Shonali Bose and starred Kalki Koechlin, whose performance is the greatest I’ve seen at the movies this year.
Salman Khan’s Bajrangi Bhaijaan (unsurprisingly) did gangbusters at the box office, but was (surprisingly) charming as well. Are we entering an era in which Salman’s name on the marquee doesn’t automatically mean we’re in for trying times at the movies? We’ll see. (His upcoming Prem Ratan Dhan Payo looks . . . confusing, but at least Sonam Kapoor’s costumes will be spectacular, and any sighting of Swara Bhaskar is always welcome.)
We had a number of ambitious misfires and runaway successes in 2015. The fate of Anurag Kashyap’s expensive Bombay Velvet confirmed that Ranbir Kapoor is officially in a “rough patch.” (He’s keenly aware of it too; I’ve never seen him sell a film so hard as he’s selling the upcoming Tamasha.) Dum Laga Ke Haisha, on the other hand, rescued Ayushmann Khurana from his career doldrums (and introduced audiences to this year’s most charming ingenue, Bhumi Pednekar). Dibakar Banerjee (much like his friend Kashyap) finally got around to making his passion project, and Detective Byomkesh Bakshy’s reception can’t have been heartening to the director, who has earned hosannas for each one of his previous films, or the film’s lead, Sushant Singh Rajput, who is also scrambling, given that of the two projects he was counting on, one has flopped and the other, Shekhar Kapur’s Paani, looks like it will remain one of its director’s numerous unrealized fancies. Vidya Balan, the most consistent female lead in Hindi cinema today, couldn’t score a hit this year either, and her once-reliable leading man Emraan Hashmi gave her company in box-office purgatory. Imran Khan’s career, too, remains resolutely earthbound; despite his co-star Kangana Ranaut’s headline-making promo rounds for the film, Katti Batti did nothing for any of the parties involved (but generated some of the year’s most hilariously scathing reviews.)
In the coming months, we have some of the year’s most anticipated releases making their way to the theaters. Aishwarya Rai Bachchan returns to films after five years next weekend, in Sanjay Gupta’s Jazbaa, which has an incredible cast (Irrfan, Shabana Azmi, Chandan Roy Sanyal, Anupam Kher) but, judging by the trailer, might not be very good. (Aishwarya needn’t worry too much, though, since she stars in next year’s Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, which has its director Karan Johar returning to familiar terrain; the film is a romantic drama coupled with beautiful people navigating romantic relationships in glamorous places.)
Shaandaar, another big-ticket October movie, looks considerably more promising. The trailer was superb, the score (by Amit Trivedi) is one of the year’s most fun, Alia Bhatt is one of Bollywood’s most luminous young actors, and the film is Shahid Kapoor’s first post his high-profile wedding and his career-changing turn in last year’s masterful Haider. Vikas Bahl, who directed the lovely Queen in 2014, seems to be going for something glossier this time around, but hopefully he can sneak incisive critiques of the patriarchy into this one like he did with Queen (and make interesting points about class instead of merely using the milieu of wealth and privilege as a shiny backdrop) so this wedding comedy is more than just a pleasant diversion.
The aforementioned Tamasha comes out in November, and while Deepika Padukone has become one of those actors whom you can rely on for a solid performance, the trailer of this one disappointed me thoroughly, especially because I’m such an Imtiaz Ali fan. Highway, flawed as it was, marked a fascinating departure for the talented director, but his latest seems like a retread of his previous work. The film looks gorgeous, and A.R. Rahman’s score is likely to be beautiful, but I was not impressed by the awkward, stilted dialogue in the trailer. (I fully realize this might just mean it’s a badly cut promo, but a good romantic drama needs memorable lines and sparkling delivery.) I still have hopes for this one, however.
December brings us the “clash” film media types have been talking about for the better part of a year. Rohit Shetty’s Dilwale and Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Bajirao Mastani both come out on the 18th, right in time for year-end festivities. Both films are still being shot, and both have had publicity campaigns built around them from day one itself. Of the two, Bhansali’s long-gestating Bajirao Mastani (this really is the year of the passion project) is likely to be the better film; no matter what you think of his oeuvre (and full disclosure: I’m an admirer), Bhansali is a true auteur. His movies are crafted with an almost pathological degree of thought and care. The cast in this one is terrific, and the teaser, released a while ago, was pretty damn spectacular (even though it made clear how much of the film still remains to be shot).
Dilwale will almost certainly make much more money, though, given that Rohit Shetty has a near-perfect track record and the film stars Bollywood’s Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol, Hindi cinema’s most celebrated on-screen pair, alongside the ascendant Varun Dhawan. Also, Khan is a formidable producer who throws enormous amounts of marketing muscle behind his movies, and his Om Shanti Om destroyed Bhansali’s Saawariya eight years ago. I actually think Dilwale might not even be terrible; Rohit Shetty has certainly gotten better with time as a director, his films aren’t as defiantly vile as Sajid Khan’s or Prabhudheva’s, and Chennai Express had its moments.
The end of the year is Oscar-bait season in Hollywood, which means that theaters will be inundated with American and British prestige fare that the tentpole-and-CGI-averse will flock to in droves. Bollywood doesn’t quite have an equivalent to that winter release slate (the next three months offer a pretty skimpy lineup for the prolific film industry, actually), but a couple of terrific-looking indie-ish films like Titli (which has been doing the festival rounds) and Main Aur Charles (starring Randeep Hooda. who does menacingly sexy like nobody else) will be jostling for attention alongside the noisier star vehicles. Additionally, Talvar, which came out this past weekend, is apparently unmissable. At any rate, this last batch of 2015 movies, modest though it may be, should give us plenty to talk about. And at least a few will, I hope, help Bollywood end a mixed-bag year on a stellar note.