With Mr & Mrs Mahi, Srikanth, Rajkummar Rao has reminded Bollywood of content's pull at box office; superstars take note

Rajkummar Rao has delivered two sleeper hits in a matter of weeks, both of which were unheralded but praised by the audience and critics

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With Mr & Mrs Mahi, Srikanth, Rajkummar Rao has reminded Bollywood of content's pull at box office; superstars take note
Rajkummar Rao in Srikanth


Over the last couple of years, the statement ‘small films don’t work in theatres’ has been repeated so often that many have come to understand it as a fact, and not an unsubstantiated opinion. Regardless of the fact that Malayalam cinema has been churning out sleeper hits, many ‘trade pundits’ had been steadfast in their assertion that Bollywood cannot replicate it. The tsunami that is Shah Rukh Khan got two of his films to gross over Rs 1000 crore each and the assertion grew stronger. 2024 has finally broken that myth and at the forefront of that – at least this summer – is Rajkummar Rao.

When the first teaser for Srikanth was released in April, not many expected the film to be a rage at the box office. The biopic of Srikanth Bolla, with Rajkummar in the lead, was expected to be a solid film. But as the adage went, solid films were not ‘enough’ anymore to draw people to the theatres. You needed star power, naysayers argued. Srikanth opened at Rs 2.25 crore and people were surprised. Then it grew to Rs 5 crore in two days and the jaws dropped further. Defying ‘logic’, Srikanth refused to fall and in the one month since it has released, it has grossed Rs 58 crore worldwide, no mean feat for a film with a Rs 40-crore budget.

But Srikanth was, as they say, the trailer. Rajkummar was going to further assert the ‘content is king’ adage a few weeks later with Mr & Mrs Mahi. The relationship drama, disguised as a cricket film, also starred Janhvi Kapoor. Unlike Srikanth, Mr & Mrs Mahi did not even receive glowing reviews. But it connected with the audience. The performances were praised, and the plot too. In just 10 days, Mr & Mrs Mahi has grossed Rs 37 crore.

Box office numbers have only recently begun to be talked about in the industry and among the audience to this extent. And the reason is that since the pandemic hit, they have acquired the role of being the determiner of a film’s success. Smaller films with limited budgets and no A-list stars are not expected to work anymore. And that is because in all of 2020 and 2021, very few such films even recovered their costs. But the tide has turned. Zara Hatke Zara Bachke and other films like it did well. But the naysayers still said it was the success of light content, romance genre, and comedy. One needed something more to prove that content is indeed king. Enter Rajkummar!

The success of Srikanth and Mr & Mrs Mahi is not groundbreaking. Neither of them have scripted a run like The Kashmir Files for that matter. But the back-to-back success of two relatively unheralded films sends a clear message from the audience to Bollywood’s decision makers: ‘make good films that connect with us and we will come to the theatres; genre and star power does not make a difference’. Now the message is here for everyone to see. The question is, will the star performers and filmmakers take note?

Big films will continue to be made. But unlike the pre-pandemic era, a mediocre film is not assured of great numbers at the box office anymore just because it is packaged well and has superstars. Tiger 3 and Fighter’s relatively lukewarm collections are proof of that. But the success of Crew, Article 370, Madgaon Express, and now Srikanth and Mr & Mrs Mahi should force the powers that be to course correct. If they do, Bollywood can see more blockbusters. If they don’t, we should all be prepared for yet another round of the ‘Bollywood is dead’ debate (until the next trope rescues it for a short time).

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