Commercial Bollywood in 2013

Sunday, 29 December 2013 - 7:12am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

As 2013 comes to an end, Mihir Fadnavis looks back at the films that broke new ground and filmmakers who changed the rules of an otherwise formulaic industry.

This was an interesting year for Bollywood. It was interesting not because it was one of the best ever years for indie (Ship of Theseus) and offbeat (The Lunchbox) cinema coming out of Mumbai, but because commercial Bollywood cinema redefined itself. If you ignore the regressive aftertaste of R Rajkumar, the lies of Krrish 3’s box office, the relentless unfunniness of Chennai Express and the musty odour of Himmatwala and Once upon a time in Mumbai Dobaara, you’ll realise that the lines between commercial, offbeat and indie were blurred forever, and the future of Bollywood suddenly seems bright.

Kai Po Che, one of the earliest hits and certainly one of the best motion pictures of the year was stunningly well made and very surprising because it was based on the worst of Chetan Bhagat’s novels. The fact that director Abhishek Chaubey and writer Pubali Chaudhari managed to achieve this feat is testament to their massive talent. Kai Po Che was a thoroughly commercial film, yet it had the distinct twang of the indie spirit thanks to its fresh cast and its refusal to fall into the trappings of Bollywood clichés. The big finale that invoked Godhra could easily have become a loud and sensationalist mess but Chaubey’s sensitive direction ensured a soft, yet heartfelt and memorable film.

Shuddh Desi Romance (SDR) looked great from the onset itself — with Maneesh Sharma and Jaideep Sahni at the helm and Parineeti Chopra and Sushant Singh fresh off the Kai Po Che glaze. And boy did this film deliver — it redefined both, the Bollywood love triangle and the romcom genre. SDR was a full on commercial film with the heart and soul of an arthouse indie, because it became one of the best dissections of a relationship that has ever come out of the Hindi film industry. This was a tricky balance to attempt but somehow the fantastic cast along with Sharma and Sahni managed to pull it off. For every song, there was a long, uncut character-based shot. For every generic Bollywood trope, there was a successful attempt to break formula. As a result, it appealed not only to college kids or married couples or the arthouse crowd, but to anyone and everyone.

The problem with most commercial Bollywood films is that they’re half-assed and commercialised for the heck of it, and are ultimately gratingly generic. Sanjay Leela Bhansali realised this, and figured that if he wants to make a fun commercial film, he should go the whole hog. And thus we were treated with Ram Leela, the most colourful and energetic desi film of the year. The film was boisterous and entertaining, and it had some truly killer lines, and unlike a common desi masala movie, it had a wonderfully cynical air to it. Bhansali followed the Romeo and Juliet story, but he added his own spin to it, where the two instead of falling in love, fall in lust.

One film where the couple does fall in love is Ghanchakkar — the most underrated, unfairly underappreciated and maligned movie of the year. Director Rajkumar Gupta fiddled with nearly every single commercial cinema element that permeates Bollywood and launched every one of those things in his quirky arthouse blender. The result was a constantly surprising, deliciously indulgent dark comedy, and despite its coincidence with Danny Boyle’s Trance, it had a very original little plot.

Two other films that forged some new ground in the commercial space were the thrillers D Day and Madras Cafe — both of which did okay at the box office but weren’t appreciated for their technical finesse. The first half of D Day was a tense and gripping takedown of everything that is wrong in Bollywood’s editing and action department, and Madras Cafe had some expertly staged and paced thrills. Both of these were mainstream Hindi movies, but were also genuinely slick beasts that didn’t depend on item numbers and other Bollywood gimmicks to entertain the masses. Filmmakers Nikhil Advani and Shoojit Sircar had the guts to appreciate their audiences’ intelligence and indulge in high-risk, low return on investment projects to rough up the mainstream zone, and without alienating the crowds on either side of the fence. 

Mihir fadnavis
is a film critic and certified movie geek who has consumed more movies than meals.

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