May 27, 2015

Box-Office Analysis: Lessons from TWMR and Piku Success

The Hindi film industry can’t hide its excitement. Almost like a young girl going out on her first official date with her childhood crush. The buzz in Mumbai is that ‘Acche Din’ are finally here and there’s now no looking back at what has been a disastrous, to put it in polite words, first few months of 2015 at the box office. With not a single ‘Super Hit’, forget about Blockbusters, and hardly a couple of clean ‘Hits’ in the Jan-May period, the industry was clearly looking down the barrel in terms of business and revenue. But, with Tanu Weds Manu Returns (TWMR) getting a phenomenal response from the audiences all across the country, we are all set to witness the first Blockbuster of 2015. Yes, you read it right. That elusive blockbuster is finally off the block!

TWMR’s weekend collection was over 38 Crores INR, the biggest opening weekend of the year, closely matching the collections of a much-bigger film like Gabbar Is Back. In the overseas market, the film raked in close to 15 Crores, again the highest opening weekend in overseas this year, beating the previous best of 12 Crores set by Piku couple of weeks back. On the face value, these numbers may look pretty healthy but not exactly path-breaking. However, if you dig a little deeper and analyze the overall film business scenario, you will realize that TWMR is nothing less than a thunderstorm in this prolonged period of dryness at the Box Office.

If the weekend business of TWMR came as a much-needed relief to the industry, the film’s historic collections on Monday must have sparked off jubilations in the film circles. The film collected 8.5 Crores INR on its first Monday, which is equal to/slightly more than its Friday business. Such a strong hold of collections on Monday is literally unheard of in recent times and this ensures that the film will have long and strong run at the ticket windows for at least a couple of weeks. Now, 100 crores, that much-abused and much-publicized number, is definitely on the cards and the sky is the limit for TWMR, given the excellent trend at the box office.

But, for Bollywood, success of TWMR and Piku (expected India Business to be more than 80 crores), another actress-oriented film that released in early May, signals a huge paradigm shift and a definite changed pattern in what differentiates success from failure. We list down a few box office lessons from TWMR and Piku:

1. Get the Budget Right:

Before the release of Piku on 8th May, Bollywood only had three clean hits – Badlapur (Budget: 25 Crores INR, Business: 52 Crores INR), Dum Laga Ke Haisha (Budget: 15 Crores INR, Business: 30 Crores INR) and NH10 (Budget: 13 Crores INR, Business: 32 Crores INR). Badlapur and NH10 found limited appreciation among the multiplex audience and still managed to yield profits largely because of their sensible budgets. Contrast it with Bombay Velvet which is struggling to touch 25 Crores lifetime business and was made at a humungous budget of over 100 Crores INR! This period also saw the release of two films of Akshay Kumar, a huge star across India, but both of them – Baby and Gabbar Is Back – could only be best described as semi-hits with lifetime collections in the 80-90 Crore INR range. Needless to say, a little discipline from the producers, in terms of budgeting, could have easily sailed these two films into the ‘Hit’ category.

2. Content is (Still) the King:

Dum Laga Ke Haisha probably had the best word of mouth of the year before Piku and TWMR hit the screens. A good word of mouth for these films ensured that even though these films didn’t open to record-breaking collections on day one, but eventually gathered steam and came into their own on their first Mondays. While TWMR pulled off a stunner by not dropping at all on its first Monday, Piku and Dum Laga Ke Haisha witnessed a miniscule 30% drop in collections compared to Friday. Piku showed how a topic as drab as motion could be the key subject of a motion picture! If your content is genuine, out-of-the-box and most importantly, as per the understanding and likes of the audience, you are very much in the game. So, grand scale, lavish sets, star power and a ‘Hollywood-ish’ look and feel would lead you nowhere! It’s no coincidence that Piku (story of a Bengali family living in CR Park), Dum Laga Ke Haisa (set in Haridwar) and TWMR (set in Haryana/Delhi/Kanpur) are all earthy and genuinely ‘Indian’ stories. Point to note for screenwriters out there.

3. Girl Power on the Rise: 

Anushka Sharma debuted as a Producer with NH10 and the film went on to become a solid hit at the box office despite an off-beat theme, no prominent male lead and an ‘A’ certificate. Ditto for Piku, which was brilliantly marketed as a Deepika Padukone film. The initial marketing of Piku was solely driven by Deepika, given the limitations of brand Bachchan and Irrfan Khan’s niche face value. Similarly, Tanu Weds Manu Returns was marketed as an out and out Kangana Ranaut film who is at a Vidya Balan-like high post the success of Queen. Kangana’s star pull can be gauged from the opening day collections of TWMR which are better than two Akshay Kumar films that have released this year.

4. Khans Still Rule:

You may not exactly like the kind of films they do each year, but all the three Khans still rule the roost at the Box Office. In fact, only Shah Rukh, Aamir and Salman can ‘guarantee’ a box-office success in truest sense of the word. If first half of 2015 was very disappointing for the industry, it was mainly because there was no Khan film in the offing. Akshay Kumar is still a big star but only ‘certain’ types of his films go on to become huge box-office grossers. Hrithik Roshan is another huge star but his frequency of releases has been very low. Ranbir Kapoor, considered to be the youngest superstar, perhaps needs to think over the choice of his films as his last three releases have bombed at the box office.
All these key pointers make TWMR and Piku significant box office successes of 2015. Just when we thought that the first half of the year will mostly go dull and dry, and the box office will have to wait for something like a ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’ to light up the proceedings, then came the much-needed respite in form of these twin hits. These films have not just set the cash registers ringing but have also reaffirmed the audiences’ and the makers’ faith in this old adage – quality content will eventually find its place in the heart of the audience. And these two films have also sent out terse and clear reminders to those who believe that mediocre work mounted on grand scale and starring a popular actor will yield them dividends. Let this get it straight – only the Khans can sell off ‘anything’ to the audience right now. Nobody else.

May 23, 2015

Tanu Weds Manu Returns Review: You Will Like the Film, Not Tanu & Manu Themselves

Tanu Weds Manu, Anand L Rai’s much-liked rom-com that released in 2011, managed to break quite a few, if not all, shackles when it comes to predictable love stories. But, Tanu, the feisty, unconventional protagonist of the 2011 film is somewhat underwhelming and repressed in this sequel. Equally cut to size, barring a few kilos that he seems to have gained, is Manu (played by R Madhavan), the inconspicuous and ‘boring’ hero. The task of seeing through this rather ‘forced’ sequel is assigned to Kangana’s double avatar, Kusum aka ‘Datto’, the Haryanvi athlete studying at Delhi University who happens to be Tanu’s doppelganger.

Tanu Weds Manu Returns flatters to deceive since beginning. Starting four years after the marriage of the unlikely couple Tanu and Manu, the film initially ignites hopes of looking into the subject of post-marital discord with doses of earthy humor. When Tanu leaves behind Manu in a mental asylum in London and comes back to her den in Kanpur, you shift a little in your seat quietly telling yourself – okay, let the madness begin. However, right after the first half an hour and well till the end of the film, Tanu Weds Manu Returns makes you question the logic, the rationale of the supposed dissonance between the lead couple and their means to overcome it. So, it is rather unfathomable when Tanu who returns to Kanpur with same swagger and rowdy spirit that had made her stand out, miraculously melts down towards the end and almost surrenders herself in order to get back in Manu’s life. So much for her free spirit, unconventional ways, in-your-face attitude and walking in slow motion to Move on, Move On? Was the sequel made to somewhat tame or to show Tanu her true place?

On the other side of the spectrum is Manu’s character, which becomes worryingly unidimensional, his motives become disturbingly unclear and there are stages in the film when you almost want to take decisions on his behalf – because, you know he is screwing it up big time! Manu’s character in this film, unlike in the prequel, is shockingly underwritten and his chemistry with both Tanu and Kusum is left rather untapped.

But, all is not unwell with Tanu Weds Manu Returns. All through the film’s 2-hour runtime, you are treated with some fine, humorous writing courtesy of Himanshu Sharma, who also wrote Rai’s previous films - Tanu Weds Manu and Raanjhanaa. That the writer has a penchant for earthy humor and whistle-worthy/crowd-pleasing one-liners was very much on display in Raanjhana, where he almost managed to make stalking acceptable with his superior writing. Here as well, you have glimpses of his talent, mostly displayed via hilarious lines delivered by a brilliant Deepak Dobriyal who reprises his role of Manu’s confidant and best friend, Pappi.

Another actor who gets the share of some fine writing is Mohammad Zeeshan Ayub as Chintu, a character that defines himself as ‘kandha’ or shoulder to Tanu whose heart’s been freshly broken. Chintu’s character is not just funny but is also very well-defined in terms of small town sensibilities and mannerisms. But, the biggest show stealer is Kangana Ranaut’s portrayal of a young Haryanvi athlete with short hair and slightly bulging teeth (hence, the nickname ‘Datto’). She is so believable and lovely as Datto that you almost root for her towards the climax despite knowing in your heart that the film is going to travel the predictable path. The way Kangana pulls of thick Haryanvi accent, body language and mannerisms of a young student cum athlete is truly remarkable. The film never caricaturizes her character or the overall Haryanvi connection, except for a brief sequence where you are preached about female empowerment and how everyone should let the women have some freedom of choice! Fake feminism, eh?

Interestingly, while Kangana pulls off the double role superbly, it’s her original character of Tanu that somehow gets overshadowed in the process. The blame for the same mostly lies at the writer’s door who has not done justice to Tanu’s part except for some repetitive insinuations towards her being flirtatious, strong-headed and sometime almost cynical. R Madhavan, the greatest representative of common Indian lover – the one who is a little plump, ages ‘normally’, wears glasses, has a boring job, but is a sweetheart from inside – is suitably restrained, understated yet charming as Manu but is undone by the monotony of his character. That Madhavan is a brilliant actor is showcased on more than one occasions where the actor steals a scene or two without speaking a single word. His shy looks, roving eyes, conceived emotions, believable behavior are all at display but that solid meat at the center is missing.

The film’s soundtrack is not as memorable as its prequel’s, except for the ‘Swagger’ song that’s clearly the USP. The background score and cinematography are well-oiled to capture the small town milieu. Ditto for editing, which is crisp and smart, ensuring that you never real check your watch!
Tanu Weds Manu Returns would have been a brilliant standalone film but is a little underwhelming as a sequel. You may end up liking the film but you somehow do not empathize with or root for its principal characters – Tanu and Manu – which is quite strange. In fact, all your sympathies are directed towards Kusum, who ends up being a sacrificial lamb in what is nothing more than frivolous and undefined post marital discord between Tanu & Manu. Add to this, the several untied knots in this supposed love triangle. For instance - while you can understand Manu being drawn towards Kusum as she heavily resembles his wife, you somewhat keep asking yourself this question about Kusum eventually reciprocating Manu’s feeling– why would a young college athlete fall for a 40-yeard old, almost-fat, divorced man who initially stalked her liked a goon?

All in all, points to the makers for trying because rarely does Bollywood go beyond the standard template of ‘happily ever after’. Tanu Weds Manu Returns is that rare mainstream Hindi film that tries to dispel the myth of 'all is well that ends well’ but eventually falls prey to the same predictable temptation of setting everything right at the end. The film is brave, ridiculous, funny, empowering, and powerless - all at the same time. Like how love is.

Watch it because Kangana Ranaut is in form, there are some genuine laughs and madness. You will most likely come out of the theatre with a smile on your face but you will realize that the charm of the original Tanu and Manu has eroded. May be that’s what happens when you are married off for four years.

Rating: *** (Good)

May 2, 2015

Movie Review: Gabbar Is Back, But You Will Not Care

They shouldn't have evoked Gabbar's name in the film. Gabbar, perhaps the most iconic villain in the history of Hindi Cinema, has nothing to do with this 2-hour, 10-minutes long humbug of a film that dangerously tries to blend formulaic action-masala with the tricky genre of vigilante justice. The film lacks conviction itself and fails to convince you because of its dangerous positioning where kidnapping, killing by hanging are glorified as legitimate means of rooting out corruption and serving 'justice'.

Akshay Kumar is a college professor who doubles up as a corruption crusader when he is not teaching. He christens himself as 'Gabbar', for reasons best known to him, and keeps reminding us that he is 'naam se villain, kaam se hero'! Eh! While vigilante justice films can be absolute revelations if they are beaming with purpose and sparkling with novelty (remember, A Wednesday and Akshay's own Special 26?), Gabbar Is Back is extremely preachy and devoid of any originality. I am not even trying to explain to you that this film is a remake of a Tamil film's Telugu remake. Did you get that?


To its credit, Gabbar Is Back maintains a good pace throughout and is backed by a hero who is punching hard at all the right places. In fact, the film's first half breezes through rather easily even though there is no moment of glory. The problem, or rather say potholes in the screenplay, arise in the second half when Gabbar's tragic back life comes into the fray. So, Mr. Director, is Gabbar a social reformer with PWD (Power Wala Danda!) or simply a disgruntled, frustrated man who is out there to avenge the death of his wife (guest appearance by Kareena Kapoor in a curious pink nose) and unborn child? From this point onwards, Gabbar Is Back falls flat as motive becomes hazy, modus operandi questionable and logic anyways was always sitting pretty out of the window. How does Gabbar shortlist the 'corrupt' ones from thousands of officers? Who verifies if the corruption charges are legitimate at first place? There are plethora of unanswered questions that you will perhaps not even bother to ask by the time the tedious second half assumes its predictable proportions. Even the investigating officers, featuring Jaideep Ahlawat as a CBI officer and Sunil Grover as a constable who is overzealous and uselessly curious, seem quite disinterested in tracing Gabbar and most of the time end up bickering among themselves or eating Samosas.

Gabbar Is Back has some funny one-liners that will make you chuckle and a few 90s style dialogues for the front row audience. Then, there is also Sunil Grover and Jaideep Ahlawat twisting their tongues while speaking in English. No disrespect meant, but these two actors look rather out of place while delivering their dialogues in English. And hello, why did they need to speak in horrible-sounding English? To show that they are more competent and honest than their peer police officers? Blah.


The film also has Shruti Haasan as a desperate-to-act-cute, decorative piece. Akin to what's reserved for actresses in films of this genre, Haasan's importance in the film's narrative is negligible and Gabbar's supposed romantic interest in her makes you wonder - wait, is this guy avenging his wife's death? Hmm.

The film's music is strictly okay. Special effects are tacky (the buildings collapse like a pack of cards, like how it used to be in good old Doordarshan serials). Screenplay and direction is messy to the say the least. Akshay Kumar is his usual confident and effective self. But, he is undone by a unremarkable script and screenplay that never challenge him to do what he has not done before.

Gabbar Is Back tries hard to blend and hard sell Bhagat Singh and Arvind Kejriwal schools of thought, but ends up being mostly stupid. Watch it only if you wish to save your electricity bill and enjoy a theater's air-conditioning in this sweltering heat, or you have a 'thing' for anything and everything anti-corruption.
Rating: ** (Average)