South Indian masala remakes no longer a sureshot Bollywood hit
Once considered a permanent fixture on the yearly slate of most production houses, the masala film, a hodgepodge of romance, action and comedy that revolves around a flawless hero, is slowly losing its sheen among Bollywood audiences.
Box-office figures for such films during the last six months suggest that they have missed expectations. This includes the returns on Salman Khan’s latest release “Jai Ho”, a film that has earned the star — credited with the return of these films — his lowest opening in cinemas yet.
Mostly remakes of campy south Indian films that rely on loud dialogue, garish dance sequences and a healthy dose of morality delivered amid much violent action, the genre faded during the 1990’s and the early years of the last decade.
Khan helped return the genre to Bollywood with 2009’s “Wanted” (a remake of the Telugu-language film “Pokiri”). He followed it up with “Dabangg” the following year, then “Bodyguard” and “Ek Tha Tiger”, both of which went on to break records at the box office despite being panned by critics.
Along the way he developed a fanatical fan following and was wooed by every producer and studio. Last year, Khan signed a 5 billion rupee deal (about $80 million) with Rupert Murdoch’s Star India, for the television rights of all his films for the next five years, the first of its kind in Bollywood.
But his latest release, a remake of 2006 Telugu film “Stalin”, about a do-gooder who takes on the system, has received a tepid response from audiences, and may barely manage to break even, according to trade analysts.
In the last six months, films such as “Boss” (Akshay Kumar) and “R…Rajkumar” (Shahid Kapur) have failed to meet expectations. “R…Rajkumar”, which was directed by Tamil actor-turned director Prabhudeva, broke even, but “Boss”, which came out on a holiday and was expected to do well, fared worse.
“There is serious audience fatigue when it comes to these films. When you see the same story and same formula being played out time and time again, the audience is bound to be picky,” said Kamal Gianchandani of PVR Pictures, the production arm of India’s largest multiplex chain.
Popular in the 1980’s, these remakes, most of which glorify vigilantism and paint characters in black or white, gave way to soppy romances and family dramas in the past 20 years. But growing social angst in a generation that is increasingly aspirational and easily dissatisfied with its lot meant that the all-powerful hero who can smash the evil villain’s head with a boulder and thus end all evil in the world was back with a bang.
“The feeling is that this formula of action and romance will never get old, but that doesn’t hold true anymore, if you look at what theatrical revenues show you. The formula may still work, but it has to be stylized better,” said trade analyst Vajir Singh.
Gianchandani said that with so many of the same films coming out, audiences will pick and choose, and just because a big star is promising to bash up goons and save a damsel in distress, it doesn’t mean they will flock to theatres.
Even Khan, the original champion of these films, thinks that the genre might have run its course. A week after “Jai Ho” released, he is said to have told producer Ramesh Taurani, who went to him with a proposal for another Prabhudeva film, that he would prefer to work on an original script, and not a remake.
Taurani denied the story, but agreed that on the whole the southern remake needed to be re-looked at.
“It is not enough to just have an idea — your story and execution should be perfect, otherwise you cannot bring people into the theatre,” he said.