There has been immense hullabaloo about how mesmerizing the box office collections of Chennai Express are. While a section of the audiences are celebrating the triumph of their favorite star’s box office victory, the intelligentsia has been mourning the celebration of moronic film replete in gags. I had maintained the safe way out by deciding to abandon my brains just before I entered the theater to watch Chennai Express and I managed to scrape out with a passable entertaining time. However, the ‘hate’ comments of our loyal readers haven’t stopped coming in ever since. And with Chennai Express surpassing the box office records created by 3 Idiots, the looming question remains – do good content films get their due value from box office?
Let’s direct our attention to the much touted 100 crore club of box office. With 22 films in the club, there is a real dearth of impressive concepts in the club that epitomizes success of films. What exactly is a successful film – a content rich, refreshing film that is hard to forget or a blunder like Aashiqui 2 which dishes out the same old wine in a new bottle? The reason why I cared to mention Aashiqui 2 is because the film has recorded the highest profit this year, without entering the “100 crore club”. Personally, business prospects and cinematic aspects are distinctly different, cinema these days focus exceedingly on business rather than on content.
In many of my columns I’ve pointed out to the distinction between a thorough commercial film and decadent intelligent film. But it is only recently that the gulf between these films have become more apparent. I have been fed on the pedigree of Bollywood and respecting commercialism is inherently in me. As Neo realist pioneer of India, Satyajit Ray pointed out, “Film is the highest form of commercial art!” Bollywood has literally personified commercial cinema for years. Be it films like Sholay or Don, there is a visible presence of effervescent writing and refreshing ideas.
But the problem with commercial films these days is slack and stale writing that has nothing new to offer in terms of content. Stories more or less settle on similar plots and commercial films work mainly either for their stunts or their star value. Amongst the 22 entrants in the 100 crore club, 6 are either completely lifted or rehashed versions of South flicks – namely Singham, Ghajini, Son Of Sardaar, Rowdy Rathore, Ready, Bodyguard. While Race 2, Don 2, Housefull 2 and Golmaal 3 are franchises which rely mostly on their successful predecessors to work into hits! Bol Bachchan and Agneepath are both remakes of old Hindi films which we might end up watching simply for the nostalgic feel. And in the end, there are those films which work mostly because of its star value. Be it Yash Chopra’s last film Jab Tak Hai Jaan or old flames coming back together in Ek Tha Tiger or Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, the reason why these films worked despite the lack of a fresh script is simply because of star value and sleek direction.
There are rather few films in the 100 crore list which really have made a place on the basis strong plot. Anurag Basu’s Barfi!, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Bhaag Milha Bhaag and mostly Rajkumar Hirani’s 3 Idiots have claimed the place more for the plot of their films and less for the star value of it.
Even if Chennai Express has managed to surpass the box office numbers of 3 Idiots, it is indeed not a cue for people to thrash 3 Idiots saying how Aamir Khan is a lesser star than Shah Rukh Khan. Though hero-worship is quite a trend in our industry, it would be better if script looms as the hero in the larger picture of cinema. And as for box office numbers, they have never been indicative of good films.
The most celebrated films of Bollywood have been underrated at box office. In the end, it is the films that linger on in our memories. Chennai Express might rake up way more than 3 Idiots in the domestic circuit, but when one has to name the most memorable films of the decade, it wouldn’t even stand a chance. Human brain is thus, in the long run it manages to dissipate the fragile and remember the strong. When it comes to cinema, the best of films are the only ones that sustain over the content drained, quick hefty earners, that fail to carve a place!
I am not ashamed to say that a 3 Idiots or a Barfi or even a Bhaag Milkha Bhaag will establish itself in my memory far more strongly than the flimsy likes of Chennai Express or Ek Tha Tiger, which I’ve already forgotten. And for our readers, box office numbers are not slaps on critics. In the words of LA Times’ critic Kenneth Turan, “Critics are not meant to be applause meters! Everyone goes there, it must be the best theory doesn’t apply to films at all. We judge on variant criteria than audiences, that’s our job!”