About a week ago, Sujoy Ghosh's Aladin was one of the year's most anticipated releases. It had a lot going for it: it was a modern reboot of a world famous fairy tale, it starred India's most successful box office star ever - Amitabh Bachchan, it promised dazzling special effects, the release was during the Indian holiday season and a significant portion of the star team put their backs into the pre-release promos via twitter.
Initial word on Aladin seemed to be good. But once it opened, the bad buzz gathered steam. It got loud. Aladin opened to poor collections and landed itself firmly on the road to Flopistan.
I saw Aladin on opening weekend. I thought the movie was hugely ambitious and raised the bar for fantasy films, the mythology was neatly set up, the characters were underwritten, the costumes were great, the makeup was tardy in parts, the SFX were generally good (minus a few trees that looked painted in). But the whole thing just fell apart in the last 30 minutes or so.
Still Aladin deserved a better fate. So what happened?
No one likes stuff they can't make sense of
There was plenty of this in Aladin. In fact they ran the gamut - all the way from 'people who are terrible cooks should not be able to run a long standing restaurant' to 'an ex-genie with awesome powers can't possibly allow a wimp to snatch the big doozy from under his nose at the last minute'. Asking an audience to come along on a flight of fancy is one thing - but forcing them to suspend belief is entirely another.
The curse of the second half
For most of the first half Aladin hummed along nicely if not spectacularly. There is a reason for this - desi movies really connect with audiences when they depict courtship. Its thrilling, its exciting - its everything good about Indian movies. Then when its time to propel the story in a sensible fashion, all hell breaks loose. Aladin finished with an underwhelming climax in which people fought each other in entirely nutty ways.
The three wishes: Me, Myself and I
What's thrilling about the story of Aladin? Ok, other than the fact that a genie springs out of a lamp? The three wishes, right? A promise of infinite power - the ability to transform your life just by asking. What does our hero do? He asks for a girl to fall for him, then changes his mind, then says, no - I want her after all but in a slightly different way. Those were the three wishes. Sheesh! You'd think a guy who had been bullied all his life might ask for something else. The idea behind the wimpiness of the wishes is to show Aladin as a pristine character who gains his chick and stops the villain without magic. Fair enough - but dude, you could gotten rid of world hunger or stopped global warming. How would that have been for a modern retelling of an old fairy tale?
Twitter fans don't make up Box Office numbers
The director (Sujoy Ghosh), the music composers (Vishal and Shekhar), the actors (Riteish and Jacquelyn Fernandez) put a lot of energy into promoting the movie via twitter. They racked up nearly 25,000 followers between them. They had fans genuflecting on the site when the movie opened. Twitter remains a great way to interact with fans and build a fan base. But these fans don't make up the numbers when it comes to filling up multiplexes. Yet.
Everyone's a critic
Indian film audiences are a tough lot - reviews from critics don't faze them. They tend to decide for themselves. And they are ruthless in their judgement. A movie can't afford to connect with critics or specific luminaries or slices of fan boys and have that translate into box office performance - it has to impress the masses. It's the equivalent of having to swing for the fences - which makes very dicey propositions out of movies like Aladin that break the norm.
Amitabh Bachchan can't open movies by himself
India's biggest box office draw in history isn't so hot at the box office anymore. He's revered, he's loved - but that doesn't mean he fills seats on opening weekend. But we do love him - even when he hams.
The soundtrack didn't help - or did it?
The songs of Aladin - composed by Vishal and Shekhar - got a checkered reception. For the record, I was vastly entertained - the soundtrack was innovative and took chances (V-S tied the songs closely to key high points in Amitabh's musical career). The decision to have Sunjay Dutt sing Giri, Giri might have robbed the movie of a power single, but it created a gleefully evil song - easily my favorite track on the CD. And Vishal and Shekhar have dealt with this kind of reaction before - when they released the music for Dostana. But that movie was a huge hit and the songs ended up becoming the biggest of the composers' career.
Kiddie Movies aren't a valid market in India - yet
The fact that India is a setup where a child can walk into any movie and watch it with his or her parents blurs the line between kiddie and adult entertainment. Movies that are entirely oriented to younger audiences tend to be ridiculous in India. Aladin gets some credit for being smarter than those films. But it might have confused its target audience with its desire to play across ages.