In a quick span of three months, there have been as many major downcurves in the avidly-monitored world of Mumbai's show business. I'm talking of the three magnum-sized movies: Tubelight, Jagga Jasoos and Jab Harry Met Sejal - which, to put it politely, have underperformed at the multiplex windows, besides drawing thumbs-down reviews from practically every critic.
The fault lies not so much in the stars, as the films' weak screenplays, incoherent direction and a chronic dependence on the presence of A-list actors who're expected to draw crowds for the vital opening weekend collections.
The response to the three Big Ones goes on to show that actors, with a whopper star following, don't guarantee success. To a degree, their market equity (read sky-high salaries) is affected but not in a way that their careers reach a crisis point. The male leads of the three films - Salman Khan, Ranbir Kapoor and Shah Rukh Khan - may have been confronted by temporary setbacks. Period.
In contrast, the clout of the directors has diminished perceptibly. Hopefully, they will spruce up their act and reinvent themselves. Word is already out that Anurag Basu, who helmed Jagga Jasoos, isn't being welcomed with open arms by financiers/producers any longer. Whether his proposed sequel to the stylishly-crafted Life In A. Metro (2007) will find backers has become a question mark. Reportedly, Basu intended to recast his principal artistes - Kangana Ranaut, Irrfan Khan and Konkona Sen Sharma - in the second-parter. That isn't sufficient incentive for producers, though, to bankroll the project.
To compound the situation for Basu, Rishi Kapoor has lambasted the director in print, calling him "irresponsible" for wasting limitless resources for the adventure fantasy, co-produced by son Ranbir. Till the last minute, the sound mix was still being tweaked, composer Pritam delivered the inordinate number of songs way past the deadline, and the footage featuring Govinda was completely edited out without so much as a by-your-leave.
Moreover, the final print was delayed in delivery to the Gulf countries, leading to a dent in the revenues.
The complete film, which was reshot considerably and stalled for years in production, wasn't shown to its investors and the Kapoor family till a day before its premiere. "Even my dad Raj Kapoor would preview his films for feedback," Rishi Kapoor said bitterly. Alas, the goodwill Basu had amassed with the widely-liked Barfi! (2012) has gone down the tube.
In the case of Tubelight, director Kabir Khan has been roundly criticised for the no-show, despite its unveiling on the eve of Eid, a time when Salman Khan's legion of fans flock to the auditoria. The director scored a huge triumph with Bajrangi Bhaijaan (2015) by softening the invincible, muscular image of the superstar. But by morphing the hero into a snivelling, cry baby wimp from a mountain village for Tubelight, Kabir Khan's calculations went terribly awry. Evidently, Salman's admirers didn't relish the idea of the messiah of the underprivileged shedding buckets of tears.
Like it or not, alterations of star images are dicey. The toughest of braveheart heroes can be shown to be humane and vulnerable. However, that changeover has to be achieved with clarity and conviction. Sadly, that opportunity was hopelessly lost. To watch Salman Khan whimpering away on screen provoked sheer embarrassment.
Over to the awkwardly and derivately titled Jab Harry Met Sejal (chances are, when you say it out aloud, you're likely to mix up Sejal for Sally). The overwhelming reaction on media networks and in reviews is that it's high time Shah Rukh Khan began playing his age.
Paradoxically, it has been conceded that no other actor can exude that old-fashioned feeling called love in the patented style that SRK does. Thanks to his expressive eyes, the flash of deep dimples, the toss of his hair (now accompanied by a straggly beard), and arms going akimbo during romantic duets, he still has what it takes to entice the audience to recall his halcyon days of Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995). Among the multitude of snags with the Europe travelogue of a film directed by Imtiaz Ali, was that the picturesque locations, the preponderance of songs, and the faux poesy about the hazardous ways of love, just didn't connect. Plus, here was a clear case of déjà vu. Although Khan has teamed up with 29-year-old Anushka Sharma earlier in Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (2008) and Jab Tak Hai Jaan (2012), chemistry was sorely conspicuous by its absence.
Why? Simply because the characterisations of Harry and Sejal were sketchy at best. He came off as a tetchy, harangued tourist guide and she as an overwrought, overdemanding girl, who insists that the guide should help find her missing engagement ring. Very contrived. That Sejal's parents and fiancé permit her to take off on a wild goose chase, with a reluctant companion, wasn't touched upon.
Infuriatingly verbose, the screenplay written by Ali lapsed into convoluted, vaguely existential conversations. An engrossing, heart-caressing entertainer this wasn't. The knee-jerk response has been to blame the director for self-indulgence, for retreading ingredients from his earlier work - especially Jab We Met (2007) and Love Aaj Kal (2009) - and for jet-hopping between half-a-dozen Euro locations that couldn't have been kind on the budget spends. In fact, it'd be a miracle if the director is given a carte blanche by film investors again.
So there you are. The imperative need for exalted directors to do their jobs with financial and creative responsibility rents the Bollywood air today.
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