By: The Cinema Cynic
It is now roughly a week since we were treated to the sight of Deepika Padukone (who referred to all of us as “commoners” once) wearing a wardrobe malfunction waiting to happen, fawning, cavorting and doing everything short of openly canoodling with the star of her Hollywood debut. In a much-hyped premiere, complete with celebrities, song and dance but sadly for a movie bereft of either acting or plot, XXX: The Return of Xander Cage made it to India.
One week on, we can now tell Deepika and her fantasy man Vin Diesel (don’t take my word for it, she said it in a far more cringe-inducing and embarrassing manner on the Ellen Show) that it didn’t work.
At a little over Rs. 20 crore in 5 days, the Indian audience has rejected this hyped-up movie. This is all the more surprising as it lacked any meaningful competition at the Hindi box-office as, whatever the charms of OK Jaanu might be, a high-profile cast with strong box-office appeal is not among them.
Even more noteworthy is the fact that XXX was decimated at the box-office by not one but three South Indian films with the Telegu release Khaidi 150 leading the pack at Rs.77 crore, the Telegu historical drama Gautamiputra Satakarni coming in at a very respectable Rs. 38 crore and the Tamil Bairaava rounding out the smack-down at Rs.30 crore over the same time-period.
Chiranjeevi vs Vin Diesel? No contest – Chiranjeevi wins hands down!
It’s not that Hollywood films haven’t had moments of success in India – Vin Diesel’s own offering of Furious 7 did very well indeed in India (truth be told it was the cars that guys went to see) – but XXX, marketed as a major acting achievement for a particular actress – was an inferior film and treated accordingly.
It is also indicative that while Indians may want to see Hollywood films they seem to fall into certain categories – ones with cool cars like Furious 7, ones with dinosaurs (and Irrfan Khan) like Jurassic World, superhero films of the Avengers, Batman vs Superman and Spiderman ilk (none of which came close to the box-office takings of India’s homegrown Krrish) and ones with fundamentally Indian stories and leads, as was the case of the Jungle Book and Life of Pi.
There have been other successes – Titanic for one was guaranteed to appeal to Indian audiences: melodrama, overacting and a budget so lavish that there was no money left for a coherent script. The real surprise was the astonishing success of The Conjuring 2 which may be indicative of a greater appreciation for quality (if terrifying – one man died of a heart attack while watching it) cinema. To put the success of this movie in perspective, in the period Friday to Sunday 12-14 June 2016, it earned no less than Rs.19 crore with no hype, no wardrobe antics, and no fawning over inflated egos.
What was distressing, however, in the whole XXX saga was how the Indian entertainment media became a PR tool for Deepika’s ego even trying to suggest that though the film wasn’t great, go to see it for Deepika – especially since she romances Vin Diesel. Sorry, this is not acceptable. Sadly, this is not the first time this is happening as the trend was set with Priyanka Chopra and her overrated, nonsensical show – Quantico.
Good grief – stop please!
Hollywood’s ventures into the Indian market have been a mixed bag. The Jungle Book stands out as being an unequivocally brilliant success largely because it is fundamentally an Indian story with which generations of Indians have grown up – whether through literature or through the anime series – and because the sole actor was the hyper talented Neel Sethi.
In fact, on the basis of box-office takings between 2016 and 2017, Neel Sethi is a bigger star in India than either Vin Diesel or Deepika!
What will not work is casting a high-profile Indian starlet, having her cavort around pretending to be tough, speaking with an accent much heavier than her natural one (or a phony American one that changes with each appearance) serving only to be eye-candy on steroids for the leading male. It is fetishizing and stereotyping by any metric.
Hollywood, if it wants to break into the Indian market in a meaningful way – which it has not to date -, needs to understand that Indians are fed-up of seeing Indian men being stereotyped and the women fetishized. Even the talented Irrfan Khan has received shabby treatment from Hollywood and never became more than a caricature. Get a good story, give Indian actors and actresses good roles and you will find an audience. Otherwise why would they want to watch your films?
Indian audiences have a choice and prefer their own films – even with over-the-top characters of the Chiranjeevi type – than the over-hyped tripe currently being marketed to them by Hollywood. The current formula of the Indian woman being the one to fawn over the lead American is not going to work. It is also noteworthy that despite their twitter followings (which won PC the People’s Choice Award for the second time and not her acting), they are not box office draws by themselves – the failure of Jai Gangajaal being an example. Hollywood has overestimated their appeal.
You want success? Well, cast an Indian male lead alongside some Hollywood stars in a non-stereotyped role, develop a good plot and strong story and combine it with Hollywood special effects and you will have a winner globally. It is such a shame that no Hollywood studio yet has that foresight.
P.S. After Deepika’s performance on the Ellen show I wonder if Bhansali shouldn’t consider either recasting Padmavati or introducing a plot twist? Perhaps Padmavati fantasizing about having kids with Alauddin Khilji? Sorry, after the performance on Ellen, the idea of Deepika protecting her “izzat” doesn’t work.