Box Office reports in Bollywood are wildly inaccurate. Every trade paper has an opinion which governs the box office 'fate' of a movie. Because the cost price of a movie is almost never known in Bollywood, it becomes impossible to determine the true success of a movie.
Having said that, word of mouth in India is a fairly powerful way of driving perception. So I combed through trade papers and matched it with 'reports'. I came up with the list of hits, disappointments and clunkers you see at the end of this post.
As you can see, we had four bona-fide hits this year. That's right: just FOUR! The rest of the films either made some money, saved face or ended up sending their producers and distributors to the poor house.
Its easy to draw conclusions from the flops. Brainless comedies don't work all that well. Small name stars and shoe string budgets may not be such a good idea. Youth appeal rom-coms isn't a reliable market. Hold the champagne for Govinda's comeback.
But is there a conclusion to be drawn from the hits? On the surface, no - because these hits are extremely different. New York was a thriller that asked some hard (if previously used) questions with no easy answers, Kambakkht Ishq was a low brow comedy that demeaned women, Love Aaj Kal was a hipster poser rom-com that respected women. Wanted is a balls to the wall action flick.
So what CAN you infer from this? Two things - although this phaltu Drift hypothesis needs to be put to the test in the coming months.
First, Bollywood is still driven by big names. In other words, if you don't have a star, you will have problems at the box office. Without big names, you don't get media space for movie promotions. So you may end up with something that might be DOA.
Audiences love stars. So even if you get good publicity, viewers are reluctant to watch a movie with names they don't love and adore.
The second and more interesting conclusion I'll draw is that Bollywood star branding seems to be working...a little too well. If you look at each hit carefully, it features a big name star in a role that their audiences have come to expect of them.
John Abraham (wonderful guy, may god bless him) tried hard but made a mess of his role in New York, yet it was an off-beat film that his core audience expects from him. Akshay's raucous misogynist comedy - I'm afraid - is right up his alley. Saif Ali Khan's clean-cut image is associated with romantic comedies that are well intentioned and feel good. Finally, Salman's macho bad boy image is perfectly suited to Wanted, which in turn is what his audiences want to see him in.
At this point it would be natural to ask: but what about the women who starred in these movies? To which I'd say in all honesty - if you are a female star you don't matter at the box office, unless your name is Aishwarya Rai. Unfortunately, she didn't show up in anything significant this year (and yes, I'm aware of Pink Panther 2)
This segregation of stars, markets and audiences is a good thing for Commerce but a bad thing for Art. It's not that the actors aren't trying hard: all of the afore mentioned actors have tried to break from stereotype with mixed results. John Abraham suited up (or should I say shed his suit) for a comedy last year (Dostana) and scored big. Saif played against type in Race and registered one of the biggest hits of his career. Aamir's Ghajini - quite a break from his core image - set the box office on fire.
Betting money on an actor playing against type is risky - and as the economy squeezes Bollywood - increasingly prohibitive. Note also the box office meltdown of the chancy high concept flicks (Aa Dekhen Zara, 8x10 Tasveer, God Tussi Great Ho).
Yet I hope the actors use their star power and continue to challenge their audiences. More importantly, their audiences need to step up and reward sincere efforts by keeping an open mind.
- New York (John Abraham, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Katrina Kaif)
- Kambakkht Ishq (Akshay Kumar, Kareena Kapoor)
- Love Aaj Kal (Saif Ali Khan, Deepika Padukone)
- Wanted (Salman Khan, Ayesha Takia)
- Kaminey (Shahid Kapur, Priyanka Chopra)
- Life Partner (Govinda)
- Wake Up Sid (Ranbir Kapoor, Konkana Sen Sharma)
- Billu (Irfan Khan, Shahrukh Khan, Lara Dutta)
- Agyaat (directed by Ram Gopal Varma)
- Dil Bole Hadippa (Shahid Kapur, Rani Mukherjee)
- 8x10 Tasveer (Akshay Kumar, Ayesha Takia)
- Whats Your Raashee? (Priyanka Chopra, Harman Baweja)
- Fast Forward (Vinod Khanna)
- Baabarr (Mithun Chakraborthy)
- Agey Se Right (Shreyas Talpade)
- Do Knot Disturb (Riteish Deshmukh, Lara Dutta)
- Luck by Chance (Farhan Akhtar, Konkana Sen Sharma)
- Dev D (Abhay Deol)
- Gulaal (Kay Kay Menon, Directed by Anurag Kashyap)
- 13B (Madhavan)
- Paying Guest (Govinda)
- Dhoondte Reh Jaoge (Sonu Sood)
- Teree Sang (Ruslaan Mumtaz, Sheena Shahabadi)
- Jai Veeru (Fardeen Khan, Kunal Khemu, Dia Mirza)
- Chal Chala Chal (Govinda, Reema Sen)
- Firaaq (Shahana Goswami, Directed by Nandita Das)
- Kisse Pyaar Karoon (Arshad Warsi, Ashish Choudhary)
- Barah Anna (Naseeruddin Shah)
- Little Zizou (Boman Irani)
- Kaash...Mere Hote (Kumar Sahil, Sneha Ulal)
- Aasma (Nauheed Cyrusi)
- Mere Khwabon Mein Jo Aaye (Randeep Hooda, Raima Sen)
- Aloo Chat (Aftab Shivdasani)
- Aa Dekhen Zara (Neil Nitin Mukesh, Bipasha Basu)
- Delhi 6 (Abhishek Bachchan, Sonam Kapoor)
- Daddy Cool (Aftab Shivdasani, Suniel Shetty)
- Kisaan (Sohail Khan)
- Love Khichdi (Randeep Hooda, Riya Sen)
- Quick Gun Murugan (Rajendra Prasad)
- Toss (Ashmit Patel)
- Yeh Mera India (Rajit Kapur, Seema Biswas)
- Luck (Imran Khan, Shruti Haasan)
- Jashnn (Adhyayan Suman)
- Short Kut (Akshaye Khanna, Arshad Warsi, Amrita Rao)
- Fox (Arjun Rampal, Sunny Deol)
- Vaada Raha (Bobby Deol, Kangana Ranaut)