If credible commercial reports and media news are to be made, Samrat Prithviraj by Akshay Kumar not doing well at the box office. Kumar is one of the biggest speculators in Hindi cinema, making films mainly for the box office without claiming to have artistic ingenuity. He is a successful protagonist of Hindi cinema, a position he has achieved without the support of leading Hindi film companies. There are always lots of jokes and jokes floating on social media trying to guess the next Indian decorator Kumar has set his eyes on for a possible biopic. Is this simple deshbhakti? The answer is probably known to everyone.
Kumar, like many others in Hindi cinema, found a new formula – to dig up a well-known / moderately known / relatively unknown figure from Indian history / mythology, to reconstruct his story by making it suitable for a Hindi masala, a genre in themselves, evoke national pride and is a sure recipe to bring audiences to theaters. This phase of the films also gave us new insights into the life and work of Akshay Kumar – a star whose films are increasingly aligned with the prevailing political ideology.
Perhaps it is too early to conclude that the fate of Samrat Prithviraj at the box office shows the frustration of the public with the biographical films disguised as history. This is not a rejection of nationalism per se, but a specific kind of film, the narrative arc of which is now predictable. The plot usually follows the journey of an outsider or a figure from the Indian past. The films have been used to prove their greatness, securing them in public memory and often claiming that they correct a neglect – these characters are ignored in the main historical narratives. These claims, however, are often untrue. Let us not forget that these statements are also motivated by the commercial interests of the film. These are part of a well-designed advertising campaign to get the public interested in the topic.
The recent flood in the box office, however, shows a sense of fatigue in the public with such films. Audiences may want to see more contemporary themes and stories closer to the time and their lives being displayed on screen as opposed to relics from a distant past. There may also be a sense of frustration with the same star playing in a series of similar movies appearing in quick succession.
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Is this an expression of indifference to the species itself? Will the guy work with another star? Or are viewers too tired of seeing the same / similar content repeated over and over again?
On the other hand, the protagonist of Kartik Aaryan, Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2, is already a great success at the box office. It is not my intention to attempt a qualitative analysis or comparison of these two films. I do not even suggest that Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 is a superior movie for some reason. In fact, in many ways, the success of this film, the first part of which was presented by Akshay Kumar, is a reaffirmation that the Hindi film audience is immune to change. They are still going to the movies looking for a certain kind of Hindi movie that has a recognizable pattern so far, but maybe they want that fun in a new avatar, with a new face and a new story. While the key ingredients remain unchanged, there are only a few minor adjustments they may be looking for.
It may not make sense, however, if this argument applies to Salman Khan’s films, for example, but then this is the peculiar nature of hero worship in Indian cinema. That said, Salman Khan’s popularity is not due to or limited to a particular type of film or character he has portrayed on screen lately. In his films, he is the greatest clergyman. The audience comes to the theater to see their favorite star. Everything else, including the story, the script and the interpretations, is of little importance to the viewers. The release of Salman Khan’s film is an occasion for the reckless and unrestrained expression of the behavior of Hindi cinema fans.
Some commentators and academics have also linked the growing popularity of the recent Telugu and Canadian hit films in the heart of Hindi to the discussion presented in this article. These films are just as backward. The Hindi film audience turns to these films in search of newer stories and entertainment, a clear alternative to commercial Hindi cinema. But how long will this last? Only time will tell. However, the early signs can not be ignored.
(The author teaches literary and cultural studies at FLAME University, Pune)
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