EVEN though the previous year ended on a high note for the Hindi film industry with Dangal creating a new box-office record and reinforcing the power of storytelling, the year 2017 witnessed several big-budget projects backed by A-listers — such as Raees, Jagga Jasoos and Tubelight — flounder.
Instead, a number of technically sound movies with riveting stories — such as Newton, Trapped, A Death in the Gunj and Lipstick Under My Burkha — made an impact. How the industry fared in 2017 is also indicative of the growing tribe of filmmakers who have a story to tell, actors who are breaking the mould and the evolving choice of audiences.
C for Content
The Hindi film industry is not new to the trend of content over budget. However, with the films riding on star power — such as Tubelight, Jab Harry Met Sejal, Rangoon and Jagga Jasoos — struggling to create box-office magic, “content” gained an upper hand in 2017. This was made clear in the first quarter when Trapped, which captured the struggles of Shaurya (played by Rajkummar Rao) who had locked himself in an uninhabited building, and Anaarkali of Aarah, a singer of raunchy folk songs (Swara Bhaskar) asserting her right to consent, impressed the audience.
As content-driven movies such as Newton, Lipstick Under My Burkha, Shubh Mangal Savdhan, Bareilly Ki Barfi and Qarib Qarib Singlle emerged as favourites, it’s time for filmmakers to re-examine their star-fixation and shift their focus to storytelling.
The ongoing gender discourse spilled over on to the big screen in the most organic manner. Support came from the audience who empathised and appreciated these “lady-oriented” stories. Lipstick Under My Burkha followed the struggle of four women to overcome the limitations of a small town and its mindset. Anaarkali of Aarah reiterated that “no means no” and the film’s last scene summed it up by capturing the titular character walking alone fearlessly on a semi-lit road at night. Set in rural Haryana, G Kutta Se, which unfortunately not many watched, was a gritty tale of the life and longing of women, undaunted by claustrophobic patriarchy.
Ribbon raised the question of handling professional ambition and motherhood while Tumhari Sulu discovered the talent of RJ-ing in a housewife. This year set an unusual #relationshipgoal as the lead of Qarib Qarib Singlle, a widowed professional in her mid-30s (Parvathy), connects with a not-so-boy-next-door poet (Irrfan) but does not fret over defining their relationship.
Message in a Movie Socially relevant stories made a significant stride by making money as well as winning appreciation. Though meant to be an entertainer, Akshay Kumar-starrer Toilet – Ek Prem Katha raised a stink about sanitation, a topic that has hardly found mainstream mention. Newton held up a mirror to the state of democracy and reaffirmed the belief that an honest, idealistic official can make a difference.
The story of a talented teenager fighting against adversities is not unheard of, but Secret Superstar dealt a punch in the stomach with the depiction of domestic violence, its ugliness and impact on a family. Shubh Mangal Savdhan stood out by making its hero, perhaps for the first time in Hindi cinema, suffer from erectile dysfunction.
Language No Barrier
The much-awaited Baahubali 2: The Conclusion, directed SS Rajamouli, lived up to the expectations it had whipped up, thanks to the success of its first installment, Baahubali: The Beginning, as well as some smart marketing strategies. One of the strategies included creating widespread curiosity over why Katappa stabbed Amarendra Baahubali (Prabhas) in the back. Its pan-Indian success and box-office collection established that a good story will triumph over language hurdles. Even though the success of Rajamouli’s Makkhi and Nagraj Manjule’s Sairat had proved this earlier, Baahubali 2: The Conclusion showed how to scale it up. Made on a slender budget compared to Baahubali’s extravaganza, Lijo Jose Pellissery’s Angamaly Diaries, set in Kerala and featuring 86 debutant actors, won hearts with the delightful story of rival gangsters when it had pop-up screenings in metros.
As the stars of Hindi cinema, veteran as well as rising, struggled to shine, a set of powerful performers saved the day. With five releases and loads of praise for his performances in Trapped, Newton and Bareilly Ki Barfi, Rao emerged as one the most bankable actors of the year. His co-actor in Newton and Bareilly Ki Barfi, Pankaj Tripathi, too, delivered impressive performances. He was also very convincing as a ruthless real-estate magnate in the Shankar Raman-directed Gurgaon. Qarib Qarib Singlle made us discover the brilliance of Parvathy, who is well-known in Malayalam cinema for her versatility. As a folk artiste, Bhaskar grabbed our attention as she fought against misogyny. One of the outstanding performances of the year came from Ratna Pathak Shah. Her portrayal of Lipstick Under My Burkha’s elderly Buaji, with a penchant for naughty romantic novels and crush on her young swimming instructor, makes us wonder why have more filmmakers not tapped her incredible potential so far.