Kiran Rao latest interview: “So much has changed in terms of the market; the audience has so many options, and you’re reaching for all kinds of attention when you’re making a film. I suppose when it’s really regressive sort of messaging, and it makes hundreds of crores, it hurts. Because you had the opportunity to push the needle in some direction and you didn’t. Those are the things that sometimes bother me. Having said that, every filmmaker has their goals.”
Does that ring a bell? It definitely does.
The success of movies like “Gadar 2,” “The Kashmir Files,” and “The Kerala Story” has stirred debates about the narratives they propagate. After Naseeruddin Shah cried hoarse, Kiran Rao’s apprehensions cannot be dismissed as mere coincidence.
It raises an important question: Is there something more sinister at play in the world of cinema? Or have the powerful forces in Bollywood acknowledging a shift in audience preferences, and they fear the consequences it has for their future trade?
The change is visible!
Filmmaker Kiran Rao recently added her perspective to the conversation, expressing her discomfort when films she deems ‘regressive’ rake in hundreds of crores at the box office. Unlike her veteran colleague, she didn’t call out specific movies, but she did emphasize the importance of having ‘better messaging’ in big-budget films.
If this was just another rant in the world of showbiz, it might have been brushed off. However, words of Kiran Rao do carry some weight. She remains associated with Aamir Khan Productions, even after her divorce from Aamir Khan, and continues to have a significant say in the filmmaking process.
The backdrop to this conversation includes the recent release of ‘Laal Singh Chaddha,’ a movie backed by Aamir Khan Productions that struggled at the box office, marking a second consecutive setback in Aamir Khan’s filmography.
Naseeruddin Shah, in a separate interview, criticized films like ‘The Kerala Story,’ ‘The Kashmir Files,’ and ‘Gadar 2‘ for their ‘jingoism’ and expressed concern about their massive popularity. He lamented that films by directors like Sudhir Mishra, Anubhav Sinha, and Hansal Mehta, who attempt to portray the truth of their times, often don’t get the recognition they deserve.
To be honest, these folks have a reason to be afraid. Way before people even heard of the concept of “cancel culture”, Bharatiya cinema, especially Bollywood, had its own version of ‘cancel culture’. There was a time when certain influential figures in the industry held immense power and could stifle any film that diverged even slightly from their narrative. Many films were suppressed so effectively that they barely made it to theaters. Ask the makers of ‘1971’ for better reference.
When some filmmakers dared to take an alternative route with movies like ‘Buddha Like a Traffic Jam’ and ‘Indu Sarkar,’ they faced relentless opposition from the industry establishment. It didn’t help that the films in question weren’t masterpieces either, and bit dust at the box office!
The “Money Matters”!
In the world of cinema, change is often met with resistance, especially when it threatens the established order. The apprehensions of figures like Kiran Rao and Naseeruddin Shah find resonance in a poignant dialogue from the acclaimed blockbuster “Oppenheimer”: “Amateurs seek the sun, Power stays in the shadows.”
Until 2018, the prospect of altering the cinematic narrative seemed almost unthinkable. However, the landscape shifted with the release of one particular film. Abhishek Sharma, renowned for “Tere Bin Laden,” finally unveiled “Parmanu,” a movie starring John Abraham, which had long been delayed. It centered around the historic nuclear tests in Pokhran in 1998. The film faced harsh criticism from self-proclaimed critics and received little support from the industry’s heavyweights.
Yet, something remarkable happened. Word of mouth spread, effectively negating the critics’ negative reviews. Made on a modest budget of Rs. 35 crores, “Parmanu” emerged as a surprise hit, raking in Rs. 91.38 crores worldwide. This success hinted at a shift in the dynamics of the Indian film industry.
The real turning point came with “URI – the Surgical Strike.” This film, based on the daring cross-border strike against the perpetrators of attacks on Indian army camps in Uri, faced criticism from both critics and certain established actors. However, the audience had a different take, propelling it to unprecedented success. Crafted on a relatively small budget of Rs. 25 crores, “URI” grossed a staggering Rs. 359.73 crores globally. This victory underscored the growing disconnect between popular opinion and established critique.
But the most significant transformation occurred after the COVID-19 pandemic. Several factors contributed to this shift, including improved access to diverse content during lockdowns, the rise of multilingual cinema, and the tragic and mysterious death of Sushant Singh Rajput.
But what the industry moguls, particularly in Bollywood, seem to miss or are reluctant to acknowledge, is a substantial shift in audience preferences. As Taran Adarsh, a prominent trade analyst, aptly puts it, “It’s the verdict of the audience that counts.” Even someone known for his outspoken reviews like Adarsh concedes that if a film resonates with the audience, no amount of critical disapproval can negate its success.
For solid proof of this trend, one need only look at the box office figures of films like “The Kerala Story,” “The Kashmir Files,” “Kartikeya 2,” and “Kantara.” When a film genuinely connects with the audience, concepts like ‘better messaging’ and ‘humane portrayals’ appear to be mere gibberish.
Concerns of Kiran Rao appear to stem from the anxiety of intellectuals who once held sway with their propaganda-driven narratives. Yet, they appear to have overlooked a fundamental principle: in the world of cinema, as in any other industry, it’s a matter of “perform or perish.”
The winds of change are blowing, and it’s the audience that now wields the power to elevate or dismiss a film. The age-old dynamics of the Indian film industry are shifting, and filmmakers must adapt to the evolving tastes and expectations of their audience.
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