Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The shrinking shelf life of Indian Film Music

One of the regular days, as I made my way to work this morning I switched on the music on my phone and listened to Naav from Udaan (2010). Yes, it has been almost two years since the movie released but this track still imparts ginormous inspiration and sweeping exhilaration to my nubile senses. Many a days, I just play the complete album of Udaan or Rockstar while working out or walking or just while sitting in my room by myself. There have been times when I have danced alone to Subha Hone Na De (Desi Boyz) or jumped while driving my car listening to O Meri Jaan (Life In A Metro) or found myself covered with goosebumps after playing Yeh Jo Des (Swades) or undergone rousing nostalgia due to Tum Se Hi (Jab We Met). For most people, music has the unrivaled immersive prowess of deeply altering the course of thoughts and mood, almost instantly. The jarring setbacks of reality or the ecstasy of the unreal, the lack of concentration or the overdose of distraction, almost everything that has edges seems to be smoothed by the inimitable thrill of good music. Having concluded that, I was punched in the face by a recent statement by leading writer and lyricist, Javed Akhtar, who at a recent event on music, claimed that Indian film music is suffering from a shrinking shelf life and songs are losing their USP in films as they are being increasingly used as mere background scores more and more in new films. Really?

When I introduced Mr Akhtar's idea to a friend, he chided me by showing his iPod full of music from last 3-4 years or more, most of which were film songs. But then again, on another night, while playing the game of Antakshari with some of my family friends, I could see almost everyone, including the people younger to me, come up with an old song upon little prompting. Why not the new Bollywood songs from the past 10-15 years? Whether you agree to it or not, you would cheer up if a film song plays at a night club while you are there, amidst the barrage of international and punjabi music. And yet again, I had a friend who is also a professional dancer complain to me recently that there are no new songs that can be used for performances. Has the music in Indian films really lost its memorable nature?

With all due respect, I would like to take up Akhtar's allegation and break it down to understand it. Firstly, is the shelf life of film music really shrinking? How would we even know if this is happening? Films disclose their Box Office collections and we witness how long it runs in the theaters. Though we have stunningly lost the concept of golden or silver jubilees, yet we are able to gauge the memorable nature of a film, both in the popular sense and the critical sense by deploying more than one methods. Whereas a cloud of doubt surrounds the actual longevity of a music album. Sales numbers, even if disclosed, are ineffectual in telling us if a song is memorable for years. Radio could be used as effective means to virtuously exemplify the shelf life if stations are still playing an album on popular demand, long after the buzz of the film has diminished. A prudent analysis can only be conducted when we have actual studies in place to trace the trajectory of an album post release, instead of what makes for a chartbuster before release. What we do know is that song and dance was the most common wily identifier for Hindi films across the globe for ages along with being exaggerated to an almost discriminatory stereotype for us. We dont care. We love what we do and are proud of it. Yes, we do. But over time, not only did songs and dances serve as randy means to communicate our film language to a layman, but also evolved or rather morphed themselves straddling forward with the buffet of ever changing trends and gritty audience expectations. Time and again, music has suffered from half-hearted creations or trashy lyrics. A lot of times a song is born to suit the needs of a star, a producer or a director who is consumed by an ongoing blinding race to make a mark by re-hashing an already successful formula of a song and deliver a chartbuster. A lot of film's marketing strategy is aligned and wrapped around its music, which must bring about a lucid uproar. The sprawling frequency of scaly music production has increased in the past few years compromising heavily on the quality of music. So even if the shelf life is shrinking, it is because of the drop in the volume of quality songs, not because of any other whimsical reason.

We need to understand that those great hits of yesteryear's attained that classic stature over many years of music production which also comprised of a bunch of duds. If we look at a bracket of 10 years in recent times, we could have shelled out the same number of memorable hits as was done in the 70s probably, along with the cluttered heap of junk. We might be in a position to judge today's music around 20 years from now, if our kids are still humming these tunes. An album like Rockstar, DevD, Udaan, Jab We Met might receive the coveted status that we have imparted to Kishore Kumar hits, who knows. Hence, we do need cerebral judgement based on probing studies over a long period of time to conclude if the shelf life of current film music is actually shrinking.

Having said that, I completely disagree that this phenomenon is anyway related to the changing use of songs in narratives. With Indian cinema ready to transcend its own boundaries, the sensibilities of using a song in a film narrative has outgrown from a necessity to a plot-driven requirement. More directors are not averse to experimenting with their music album to grate their narrative, instead of the alternate practice of planting songs customarily. Amongst recent releases, Don 2 did fine with just one song lip-synced and so did Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. For DevD, Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu, Kahaani, Gangs of Wasseypur etc, it was more than inherent to use their songs as a background canvas to enunciate the ongoing proceedings of the plot. Shanghai used all its song videos for promotional purposes and retained only one song for the film. However, filmmakers still indulge themselves in the age-old practice many a times and throw in many songs without realizing the botheration it causes the pace of the narrative, such as in Rowdy Rathore, Agneepath etc.

I feel one of the more uncomfortable yet perceptible reasons of our music losing its memorable nature could be that Indian music has been predominantly overshadowed by Indian Film music, for as long as I can trace it back to. Music was never developed as an independent art. Little kids singing in TV talent shows or learning music only dream of singing for films. The concept of vocal artists and bands releasing their albums or singles has always been snubbed and meticulously dwarfed in front of the music for films, when it came to popularity. Never has an album of an artist or a band tasted the same success as done by an album of a film, barring a few that stick out in this pile of mud. Sonu Nigam's initial albums, KK's Pal, Atif Aslam's Doorie, Jal and Falguni Pathak are few exceptional instances of popular success. But this clout is diminishing fast into oblivion. Is there any non-film album in the past three years that could boast of reasonable success? Where have all the new singers who came out with their debut albums disappeared? Our solo artists are earning their bread doing numerous shows around the country and abroad, singing at weddings, functions etc along with music festivals. Music festivals have been clinically instrumental in exposing the latent talent with a lot of Indian bands, artists, disc jockeys. Bands such as Jalebee Cartel, Agnee amongst others have gained the necessary recognition in their niche audience that was aware about their existence. But now, shows like The Dewarists, Coke Studio, MTV Sound Trippin, MTV Roots and a couple of others have endowed them with all the limelight that enables their talents to be broadcasted across television. Yet, the exposure is minimal if you consider the strutting expanse of the listeners. Unlike the west, we seem to be content with our film music, atleast most of us. Instead of blaming the use of songs in films, we should be promoting alternate forms of music, which helps it to establish its own artsy identity, irrespective of the films its used in.

We could definitely cut some slack to film music and let the Rahmans, Trivedis, Pritams do their job. We could also let our directors decide if and when they want to have a lip-synced song and dance sequence, as this change is for the good. The focus should undoubtedly be on quality in music, not only in fanciful film music to increase this shelf life. We need to allow a breather for another Mirza Ghalib or a Jagjit Singh. If the creation of music is as free an art as is painting, and strings are not pulled from all sides to follow a one-dimensional approach, the new season of Coke Studio MTV speaks volumes of what Indian music can do.

Originally published for the online journal Long Live Cinema here

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Kya Super Kool Hain Hum is a guilty pleasure, serving crass, offensive humor

In 2005, Ekta Kapoor under her production banner Balaji Films, gave India its first adult sex comedy, Kya Kool Hain Hum, which received no critical plaudits but become a hit amongst the masses who raved about it. While Hollywood churns out numerous sex comedies, we have barely had any even after 2005. For Ekta Kapoor, things have changed a lot in 2012. Riding high on the consecutive successes of many films, Kapoor ventured to make a sequel to the 2005 hit with the same lead actors. Understandable, after all Balaji can also be called Tusshar Kapoor employment agency. The motive was lucid from the very onset when the first trailer was released. This film will get no stars. This film will be hated by all critics. Yet, this film will be loved by its endearing audience. All the doubts about the quotient of adult content were dispelled right at the beginning with all promos and songs being dosages of adult humor in its most puerile form. I must admit that it is bemusing to review a movie like Kya Super Kool Hain Hum because you will either love it or hate it, right away. One has to be voraciously accepting of an expansive stretch of crude, cheap, vulgar and offensive quality of adult humor to actually enjoy KSKHH, else you will end up walking out of the theater within first 5 minutes. It is hard to define what constitutes a good comedy film, but if we ever liked American Pie series, this one just takes a leaf out of that and it would be wrong to hypocritically subject this one to decry.

For those looking for astute humor or intelligent writing, this one unfortunately falls into the category of no brainers. I have always maintained that I enjoy brainless comedies because they have the farcical ability to transport you into a different world, subject to some narrative ingenuity and humor that doesnt look over-the top or lame like in a film like Golmaal 2 or 3. The surprise about KSKHH is that once you accept that it is going to be a no-brainer, the film takes you on a barnstorming escapist ride packed with enough laughter driven by crass, obscene and uncouth set of unoriginal yet humorous plot points. The letdown in this case is that it tries to be a sex comedy without any sex, leaving only juvenile jokes at your disposal which look like a revamped version of the previous part. Yet, I found myself laughing heartily for the most of those 136 minutes that the film ran for, and this will only happen if you are ready to enjoy underage gags, boorish and discriminatory humor, with a pinch of salt. Director and writer, Sachin Yardi, has loaded the screenplay of KSKHH lavishly with filthiest of adult jokes, buffet of sexual expletives and double meaning dialogues and a truck full of unabashed dirty innuendos. He stoops to a level of cheap adult humor that is barely seen in Indian films ever, including continuous lewd references to male and female genitalia taboos using wordplay on common language, derisive treatment of everyone including gays, lesbians, midgets, handicapped people, dark people, and finally a brand of animal porn that will have the flag bearers of PeTA drooling in feverish anger at the makers of this film. Yardi exaggerates the cliches about all kinds of people and uses them prudishly to contrive a woven string of situations. He could have done with just sticking to being unapologetically vulgar instead of playing juvenile or exercising stereotypes, and it could save some flak for the film.

Into the second half, KSKHH suffers from lazy pacing and seems to drag for quite sometime. The unnecessary additions of songs only proves futile to the cause. The other problem with KSKHH is that unlike its predecessor, its barely plot driven. In the first part, there is an outlining plot of a serial rapist which turns into a case of mistaken identities. This one looks likes an ineffectual exercise in pointlessness with its choppy portions being put together without a hook. The love stories which are considered to be the supposed motive of the proceedings are never allowed to surface above the uncomfortably explicit but avowedly funny set of sequences. Yes, you can judge and troll me for enjoying KSKHH but I am trying to school the thought that sex comedies have to buttress on double meaning, awkward situations and vulgar content, and KSKHH tries to do that but gets stuck up in midway before adulthood. The only saving grace is that this brainless comedy serves you not so lame and not so over-the-top humor, that is both filthy and frothy. 

KSKHH has been produced jointly under two Ekta Kapoor banners, Balaji Films and ALT Entertainment and has been marketed well enough keeping in mind the target audience. Music by Sachin-Jigar and Meet Brothers Anjaan interferes with the seamless screenplay every now and then, but is not too harsh to the ears. Dil Garden Garden and Shirt Ka Button are definitely hummable despite consisting of trashy lyrics. Hum Toh Hai Cappucino boasts of some brutally ignoble choreography. Cinematography by Ravi Walia has nothing exceptional to offer while Editing by Aarif Sheikh could have done with some serious trimming. Dialogues by Sachin Yardi take shamelessness to a new level. Production Design is strictly okay for most parts, but gets eye-hurtingly garish in almost all the songs.

Unlike its prequel, where Isha Koppikar delivered a crackling performance along with Anupam Kher, Kya Super Kool Hain Hum has no standout performances. However, it is the ebullient chemistry of Riteish Deshmukh and Tusshar that scuttles its way to your hearts by a fantastical comic timing. They complement each other so well, that you almost dont miss the presence of the female leads, who have again been shortchanged in an otherwise male-centric film. Both, Neha Sharma and Sarah Jane Dias, have a a little to do but Sharma manages to have an edge over Dias in this short race by delivering a slightly better performance. Riteish leads from the front at his comic best while Tusshar always plays insipid loser well. Anupam Kher does not register an impact this time around, endowed with a smudgy character who doesnt have much scope. Chunky Pandey and Howard Rosemeyer re-assert why no one gives them meatier roles.

The makers of Kya Super Kool Hain Hum always had their target audience in mind and did not shy away from defiantly giving the most adulterated film to them. Yet, Sachin Yardi could have made this much better with more meticulous writing, more daring to actually graduate his film from a double meaning joke festival to an actual adult comedy. All this leaves KSKHH notches below its own aim but its also the guilty pleasure that coyly makes a no-brainer enjoyable. It has already taken a raging opening at the Box Office, but is bound to divide the audience, into people who will get grossed out by it and who wont. If you are not easily offended, go for this filthy ride!

Rating - 2/5

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Cocktail is zany, endearing but could have utilized its potential for a stronger drink

Cocktail. Barely any movie in the recent months has created such an astounding buzz. Upto the release week, the performance of Cocktail's marketing campaign has strikingly ebullient and significantly clinical to set it up for a grand release this weekend. Third production of Saif Ali Khan's Illuminati Films, Cocktail comes after the debacle of Agent Vinod from the same production team. Somehow, things looked much more promising this time around and the super successful music of the film added that must-watch element to the fare since the last two months. Homi Adajania directs after 6 years since he gave us one of India's best thriller movie, Being Cyrus and I found myself suffering from an 'uncontrollable urge' to watch his second outing, garnished with the arresting looks of the newcomer Diana Penty and the riveting score. A couple of days ago I had tweeted, If Saif's production team lets Adajania do his thing, and not interfere like they did with Sriram Raghavan (in Agent Vinod), Cocktail could create magic, more so because it is written by Imtiaz Ali. The fact of the matter is that rom-coms in India is a beaten to death genre, Saif himself has done tons of them and Imtiaz has made films only in this genre. Moreover, Imtiaz is often pummeled for penning similar stories on post-modern relationships. Does it work one more time?

Cocktail, despite being fueled by all these hangups, seemed to be strutting a crackling vibe all through the past weeks waiting to unfold for the 140 odd minutes on Friday the 13th. To put the speculation to rest, Cocktail does manage to be relentless fun, but it had the potential to ooze greatness, which unfortunately remains untapped. More on that later. Fortunately or unfortunately, Cocktail's audience is limited to major Indian cities and the diaspora audience because this frothy rom-com adheres to the sensibilities of the more radical sections of the society, rather than someone in a remotely developed part of India seeking entertainment out of a Salman Khan movie. Cocktail does not come out as a whirlwind adventure, but as a breezy affair, much on the lines of EMAET and LPNY earlier this year, perfectly anointed with humor that is fantastically situational and a butt load better than the lame humor delivered to us by Housefull 2, Rowdy Rathore etc. What works for Cocktail is that it is unencumbered of melodramatic schmaltz for most parts and the wiry jumpiness handed out to you never keeps you disengaged, even as it stretches beyond your preference only to fall for the expected. If you do get distracted, you can just watch Diana Penty who is probably the prettiest thing on screen ever. Apart from humor, Adajania, along with Imtiaz Ali-Sajid Ali who have written the movie, weave the narrative with countable astute sequences. The sequence when Saif's mom, played by Dimple Kapadia, comes to visit him, the sequence by the waters when Saif flirts with Diana and makes her feel better, the club sequence encapsulating the song Tera Naam Jhapdi Firaan and many other portions gyrate this concoction well enough with both fun and feel, exponentially building up to the the pinnacle of a pre-climax. Cocktail does not get disruptive or loud in its entertainment, or pretentiously overbearing in its melodrama. Imtiaz's writing has lent an effortless ease to the emotional leaps of modern relationships. One sequence on the table with three main characters discussing their relationship is a rarity in Indian cinema. Adajania's liking for the dark side is vented subtly in the second half when one of the characters displays grey shades, I would let out more than what I should if I say more but I must say that one craves to have seen more of that.

The problem with Cocktail is that it tries too hard to be cool which works recklessly to pin it to a striking highpoint, halfway through the second half. What happens afterwards is just an insipid take on a love triangle, that lacks innovation in both style and substance. You almost feel like it shows the gun to shoot you time and again, in minor instances, but ends up chickening out when it actually comes to pulling the trigger. The last half hour is not scaly, but definitely appears stretched, which could have been forgiven if it was not meant to lead us to the expected. Cocktail has the immaculate potential that could have done so much more with the underwhelming climax and ending. One more thing you miss in the narrative is the intensity of love that was a permanent flavor in Imtiaz's writing of Jab We Met, Rockstar and even Love Aaj Kal. Its there, but not in sufficient amounts to make you root for the couple, either of them. The character sketches may lack coherence but the altruistic performances make up for it.

Cocktail is produced by Illuminati Films, Eros International and Maddock Films that allows it to boast of all the possible funds available for expense. First things first. The music of Cocktail provides an indispensable vitally thumping bassline to the whole movie and its campaign. Being touted as the most successful album this year, Cocktail music comes with a bag of almost all strikingly memorable songs, which have been playing on everyone's minds for the past few weeks. Each and every song has become a rage, in some part of the country. Pritam, often written off for his surreptitious approach in music, has delivered an album that can be directly connected to half the collections of the movie at the Box Office. My pick of the lot is Yaariyan and Daaru Desi. Anil Mehta is a veteran cinematographer who captures the eye-poppingly gorgeous locales of London and Cape Town with much panache. Film Editing by Sreekar Prasad could have done with a little more chopping, lest it didnt have to accommodate all the songs towards the end. Production Design is classy and charismatic. The background score by Salim-Sulaiman is minimal and works perfectly to keep the focus on the proceedings. Many a times, silence is used efficiently by Adajania to replace a defining background. Writing and dialogues by Imtiaz-Sajid provide genuine laughs with a serious effort to be realistic to life, wherein there are no prepared dialogues, just crazy, weird zaniness.

Deepika Padukone is the real star of Cocktail. After being offered both the female lead roles of the film, she picked up to play the more rebellious lead, Veronica. Watch her in the club sequence when Tera Naam Jhapdi plays and the whole portion that follows after it, this is where she sheds her streak of promiscuous performances. She is hot, charming and funny in an acute depiction of an audaciously uninhibited modern girl that chooses to drown all her sorrows in alcohol whenever she is deprived of love. Deepika sinks her teeth deep into the carefree character and displays both her jovial and dark sides with as much ease. Like a raging river in flood, she manages to deliver what could probably be her career best performance. Diana Penty is rumored to be Imtiaz Ali's find which makes me flip because he chose to cast Nargis Fakhri in Rockstar over Diana Penty? Atleast, Penty can act apart from the fact that her arresting prettiness is eyeroll inducing. The sunny charisma of her face is hard to let go of and the female does a fair job playing the simpleton in an otherwise crazy set of characters. We have to accept that we have seen Saif play the irresistible lover boy many a times. In Cocktail, he does he is expected to do his same routine but it does not necessarily stand out from his previous portrayals. He is a good actor, nevertheless. Boman Irani provides numerous bursts of laughter playing Saif's uncle, doing what he is best at. Dimple Kapadia is a bout of magnetic classy oomph that leaves you in splits as Saif's mom. Randeep Hooda is wasted in an inconsequential role.

Cocktail is a slice of life film that focuses on permeating the flavors of the youth today. It tends to be mature and responsible, yet retaining its canvas of breeziness and situational comedy. Despite keeping up the entertainment value for more than 2 hours, it could have definitely utilized its immense potential for a better mix of a drink towards the end. I am far from disappointed but I feel that the genre's dreck dropped on this one. It has taken a monstrous opening at the Box Office, presumably. The buzz and word of mouth were phenomenal upto its release and I am expecting it to remain the same, considering it provides wholesome entertainment. This one should cover up for the shortcomings of Agent Vinod for Saif and his production house. The ending/solution of the film is probably the most defining piece of the puzzle and a relatively weaker ending forces me to filch away half a star from the final rating. Dont go by my word, go watch it!

Rating - 3/5

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Enigma of Word Of Mouth

Sample this.

In 2011, Salman Khan starrer Ready released on a non-festive weekend, was one of the biggest openers of all time. The film found its place amidst the top 5 films with Word of Mouth despite being critically ravaged.

In 2012, Agneepath became the highest Day 1 opener netting over Rs. 22Crore while its Day 2 collections dropped by over 50% to a figure around Rs. 11Crore. The first weekend collections of Agneepath fell short of Ra.One, a relatively weaker product.

Lastly, in 1994, Hum Aapke Hain Kaun was seen by more number of people in the theaters, when there was no publicity through tabloids, news channels, internet or television, than the number that came out to see 3 Idiots, the highest grossing movie in Indian cinema history.

The above statistics has been taken from various studies conducted by Ormax Media, a leading entertainment research and consulting firm. You can read more results from the CEO of Ormax Media himself here.

What defines the word of mouth for a film? This has unarguably been the biggest enigmatic phenomenon for moviemakers, producers, distributors as well as ardent followers, lovers, trade analysts and critics associated with the industry. What defines the collections a movie makes at the Box Office? What concepts work? What genres work the best? Which stars are the most bankable at all times? How much marketing is enough? What is the chronological plan that works best to connect with the audience? This mystery of the word of mouth for a movie has only gone more awry in the recent years and I am yet to find someone who can explain this perplexing but pertinent phenomenon with adequate accuracy.

In 2012, a spirited positive word of mouth helped delectable films like Kahaani, Paan Singh Tomar and Vicky Donor to push their limits at the Box Office and resonate success, however the same phenomenon did not make Shanghai a runaway hit. Word of mouth made Rowdy Rathore the fourth highest grossing movie of all time and its still running and helped a simplistically charming yet tremendously manipulative Ferrari Ki Sawaari become Sharman Joshi's first solo success. In a age where the overwhelming media marauders you with a 3-4 times increased footage exposure of an upcoming release, and a 10-15 times increased frequency of a film's promotional campaign, compared to what it was in 1994, movie watching experience has been veered away into more of connecting the dots from the promos rather than providing a wholesome surprise. The benchmarks for first weekend and first week collections are whetting themselves by 20-25% every year and any producer has to hit the bull's eye with the context, target audience and positioning before launching his movie. Yet, the illusion of word of mouth remains befuddling.

The only pattern which can be concluded for WOM is that it never decides the first weekend collections of big budget films with big stars. However, for smaller films, it definitely does. Films used to be watched in theaters with families, but now they have become more of means to hangout with friends, boyfriends, girlfriends etc and more than two-thirds of people watch them without the family. It makes for a day out for the new generation if they watch a film, mostly at a multiplex, located in our around a mall or shopping/eating area. Such an audience contributes the most visits to the theater and more often than not, they want to see big budget movies with fanciful marketing, palpable messaging from promos, and fantastical bunch of big stars. It has little to do with the director or the content of the film. This section of audience usually watches the films regularly on the first weekend itself and if it is released during a festival period, it just fetches another brownie point to the film. Franchises, appearance of stars at reality shows, controversies and movie reviews only help this cause. A product that unifies the idea of family outings with hangout activity is definitely the biggest winner in this race of first weekend collections as the week-to-week appeal and buzz percentage rise to make this section of the audience watch the movie right when its released.

For most big budget films, the word of mouth actually kicks in from the Monday after the release. Its the tone and quality of humor or the dialogues or the music or the story or any other unexplained factor that may come into play now as the feedback pours in. Either more people feel the must-watch element of the film or are captivated by the sensationalism encapsulating it. Internet has grown to be portly enough in spreading the WOM with inherent ease, apart from television being the predominantly standard method of communication. This could be reasoned to the success of Kahaani, Paan Singh Tomar and others this year with the savvy audience feeding on the maniacal outburst of information about the movie. If the film has poor messaging in terms of genre, theme or subject, it falls flat from Monday onwards, such as what happened with Shanghai. For smaller films, its always the WOM that can get the more accepting audience to pay for the ticket. The irregular audience is the only audience of niche cinema but the WOM still depends on the clarity of the subject/theme as well as the efforts made by the makers to reach out to their target audience.

While the exact factors governing the word of mouth remain layered, a whiff of a discussion on the topic with one of my best friends and avid cinema follower, Adnan, brought me to more derived conclusions than I expected. People generally like slightly flawed movies, in terms of purely Box Office collections and WOM. The audience's aspirations generally are to escape and enjoy at most of the times, while to get thrilled, captivated or shocked at some times. The average norm is to appreciate larger than life stuff. If we ever make a graph of Box Office popularity versus flaws, it would peak somewhere ahead of minimum flaws. Flaws, being used generically here for plot holes, larger than life content and a couple of other factors bundled up. In such a state, light hearted comedies seem to be the most successful genre among the families as well the youth, notwithstanding the overbearing influence of defined star imageries. When you are looking at BO collections, stardom has always been a driver in all scenarios for Indian cinema. This probably explains the successes of Rowdy Rathore, Housefull 2 and Agneepath this year. Smaller films, albeit less flawed, thrive on the WOM originating from the subject matter and response of the audience, irrespective of the genre.

At the risk of windbaggery, we came up with a formula that aligns with all Box Office successes in the past couple of years.

First Weekend Collections X Word of Mouth Factor => Lifetime Gross of a movie

This may sound exaggerated but most of the highest grossers seem to abide by it, though the exact WOM factor remains elusive to each movie that worked. Like why did Rowdy Rathore have better WOM than Housefull 2? Inherent to the above proposed formula is a heavy reliance on the first weekend collections which pretty much sets up the fate of the film. The WOM factor can alter the collections by upto 20-30% only. The smaller films with no stars or more independent films remain at a constant loss owing to these necessary evils of the Box Office but if they end up scoring a higher WOM before release than other big budgeted products, we will see the trends changing in the upcoming years.

Originally published for the online journal Long Live Cinema here

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Bol Bachchan provides silly humor but is fairly engaging

The first trailer of Bol Bachchan came out less than 2 months ago, emblazoned with the tagline 'Rohit Shetty and team are back'. Clearly, his equity as a director leaps ahead of many of his peers by a fair distance who are lesser known even at the time of their movies' release. Every production house wants to sign Rohit Shetty today because his wily ways fetch meaty returns at the Box Office. Following the first trailer, none of the songs or promos let go of the slam-bang Rohit Shetty style and ergo had almost failed to plant a must-watch element in my head. However, over the last week, 3-4 random people, in an otherwise disconnected conversation, brought up Bol Bachchan with much predilection for it stating how they were waiting for it. One would fancy as to how did Bol Bachchan garner so much word of mouth with not the most popular cast or music or ebullient marketing gimmicks. There is something about Rohit Shetty movies as they scuttle their way to grab the attention of the common man without much effort. I personally enjoyed Singham, but hated Golmaal 2 and 3, Shettys last three ventures. Bol Bachchan skeptically looked to belong to the crop of movies where Shetty's phalanx hands out another package of crap, in lieu of humor. But seeing the excitement amongst the common audience, I was prepared for a thumping opening. The surprise for this weekend is that Bol Bachchan isn't actually that bad, infact it is far from terrible.

What may seem a minuscule-ish factor but has actually helped Bol Bachchan is that the makers never bothered to project it as a remake, even when it is one, of Golmaal (1979) starring Amol Palekar. Most of the people talking about this one are oblivious to this piece of information which avoids any comparisons or divisions amongst the audience. Stealing the premise from a cult classic lent a vital bassline to Bol Bachchan at the cost of forgoing originality. They even go one step further and juggle this one with the spoofs of the original and constant references to it. However, the remake has been adapted into a new framework that yahoos about eye-popping colors, disruptive drama and imbecilic humor. Despite the constant silliness and pedestrian stuff, Bol Bachchan does not completely disengage you at any moment. The clunky plot is infused with redundant contrivances and lazy conveniences, where in Devgn's sister played by Prachi Desai is kidnapped and rescued twice in 2 hours in almost the same fashion shamelessly. The unnecessary break out into the most unreal action sequences every now and then shortchanges the screenplay by Sajid-Farhad which otherwise provides some genuine laughs. Bol Bachchan does not get dull at any instant because Shetty manages to maintain a supply of engaging sequences mainly revolving around the main confusion of the double identity and all the characters associated with it. The running gag of bad spoken English on Ajay's character could have the audience shrieking in laughter till the end, if not for Abhishek's alternate act as the pansy, as long as you are ready to be desensitized for the sake of humor. Akin to his claims, Shetty delivers a ramshackle cramped outing that contains a whiff of a plot but is handled well enough to induce laughs by sacrificing logic and inject emotions by serving cliched cheese. Shetty provides a mixture of all elements that muddles the narrative at a mildly sluggish pace for upto 2 hours 30 minutes.

Bol Bachchan is produced by Ajay Devgn Films and Shree Ashtavinyak Films. Since Shetty and Devgn have been collaborating for past so many films, BB boasts of all arrangements for an unencumbered filmmaking process. Music by Himesh Reshammiya and Ajay-Atul is passable and does not render a single memorable track. Cinematography by Dudley captures the glimpses of a small Indian town well with all its outrageously garishness. Editing by Steven Bernard could have done with some serious chopping to make it slicker. Production Design by Narendra Rahurikar is gawdy. Dialogues by Sajid-Farhad are a fantastical bunch of crass and lameness but they altruistically become pivotal in keeping you entertained. Stunts have been designed by Rohit Shetty himself and they only seem more unintentionally hilarious with each passing film.

Ajay Devgn is the soul of Bol Bachchan as he brings a wiry jumpiness to the screen everytime he appears. Devgn sinks his teeth into the character of a blonde-head village leader wanting to speak English and comes out with an earnest performance that counts for the majority of laughs. His crackling presence makes up for most of the fallacies in the screenplay. Abhishek Bachchan gets a meaty role but lacks the sunny charisma to play it without having to mooch from his previous roles. However, his portrayal of the effeminate character is eyeroll inducing funny, despite being tremendously cliched and insensitive. Asin and Prachi Desai do not get any scope to do anything out of the ordinary and get completely wasted. Neeraj Vora, as Ajay's right hand, is obnoxiously over-the-top and pretentiously hammy in a contrived role. Asrani is loud and annoying at most times. Krushna Abhishek lands a substantial role as the sidekick but ranges from pesky to comical in terms of acting. Archana Puran Singh, roped in to play a well-written character, is functionally funny delivering an efficient performance.

Bol Bachchan is not an entirely terrible film as it constantly retains its entertainment value. Rohit Shetty has always denounced critics and made his kind of masala films with much conviction. His movies cash in on the formulas that are thick into the hinterland. Bol Bachchan is already looking at a robust weekend and the word of mouth seems indefatigable for the first week which promises a much needed hit for Abhishek. I have never been against brainless comic capers as long as they are engaging and Bol Bachchan fits in well into the 'complete family entertainment' requirement of the majority audience in India and abroad. Despite being amusing for most parts, one could have done with a lot more on this idea. Go for it for Ajay Devgn who keeps it alive!

Rating - 2.5/5