By: Cinema Cynic
In early October 2016, Irrfan Khan made the comment that Hollywood poses a challenge for Bollywood and that the latter needs to pull up its socks as demand for the former is rising. With the greatest of respect to Irrfan, this viewpoint is completely wrong. Before addressing the real challenge for Bollywood , it is perhaps worth putting the success of Hollywood films in India in the correct perspective.
In 2016, Jungle Book was a runaway success but this could hardly be called a typical Hollywood film as the story is at its core an Indian story and an adorable and supremely talented Neel Sethi was the sole human actor. Despite the efforts of one particular voice over actress (no names but interpret Papa Charlie as you wish) trying to steal thunder and to link the Jungle Book to a particular TV show in the US, it was a combination of Sethi, the story and outright nostalgia that made the film a hit in India. Outside of the Jungle Book, only the Conjuring 2 fared well at the Indian box office with mediocre but not bad performances by the truly awful Captain America Civil War, Batman vs Superman and X-Men Apocalypse. In 2015, films such as Jurassic World and Furious 7 were the big Hollywood breakthroughs in the Indian market.
If we examine the genres of Hollywood films that succeed in India, we find that they are limited to superhero films, mindless action films, some science fiction and, more recently, horror. These are areas that Bollywood does not do particularly well, except mindless action and even there the action is broken by the need for a series of stupid musical interludes. Films like Furious 7 and the upcoming (and looking really stupid) XXX: The Return of Xander Cage, are films where if you watch them on mute you won’t miss a thing as the actors can’t act and the plots are so pathetically thin that them make Hrithik’s fun but dumb Bang Bang look Oscar worthy! Jurassic World succeeded because dinosaurs are cool and frankly the CGI dinosaurs out-acted the entire cast. The real surprise was the Conjuring 2, which was a highly intelligent and well-developed horror film and was a worthy sequel to its parent film, which itself was quite superb.
So Irrfan is wrong. Outside a view select genres, Hollywood poses no threat to Bollywood at the box office in India. However, he is also right – Bollywood needs to pull up its socks. Besides becoming more adventurous in the genres it produces, Bollywood faces a huge challenge – itself.
Bollywood ’s corrosive star culture, producing spoilt, self-righteous, tantrum-throwing, preachy yet hypocritical creatures is creating a huge divide between Bollywood and the Indian public. For an actress (yes you Ms. Padukone) to go on to a stupid reality show and refer to the contestants as “commoners” is just crass. For another to wear a ganji with “outsider”, “refugee” and “immigrant” crossed out (when all three groups are under sustained attack in her new-found celebrity haven) and proclaim herself a traveler who thinks nothing of taking a five-hour flight for lunch the US and then spews forth a load of nonsense supporting Pakistani artistes working in India (yes you Ms. Chopra) is obnoxious. Those views, echoing those of the morally bankrupt [tooltip id="c1b465420d07c688942ed18eadfd9f92" keyword_color="#000000" background_color="#ffffff"][tooltip id="4db8f5608d45f5de7881d9bce162f4bf"]Salman Khan">[/tooltip][/tooltip] (and accompanied by the deafening silence of Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan) are particularly insensitive, especially at a time when Indians are being killed on an almost daily basis by Pakistani soldiers or terrorists – neither of which any of the Pakistani artistes who make their money in India have seen fit to condemn. Then there is the actress who pontificates on feminism and then fails to defend her co-star when she’s abused about her looks and colour on a nonsensical comedy show and then sinks to the depths of hypocritical depravity by laughing, giggling and chortling along to jokes about rape (yes you Radhika Apte). Then we have the likes of Anurag Kashyap and Om Puri who have redefined the word repugnant by their abusive, moronic, insensitive and absurd utterances either on social media or in interviews. Do any of these Bollywood idiots think the India public shares their views? By these attitudes, Bollywood has demonstrated itself to be shallow, hypocritical and narcissistic, concerned only about 30 pieces of silver being made for the clique that dominates the industry.
Bollywood ’s system of patronage keeps restricts actual talent entering the industry to those select few who have either relatives or patrons to help them get leading roles way beyond their actual abilities (Shah Rukh Khan and Akshay Kumar being instrumental in the rise of Deepika Padukone and Priyanka Chopra). The power-elite of Bollywood remains able to destroy the career of any actor, director or producer that dares challenge its established view. Its selective interpretation of “freedom of expression” leads it to vociferously support Pakistanis while remaining silent when Vivek Agnihotri’s Buddha in a Traffic Jam faced bans and protests for daring to offer a different view of the idolized leftist viewpoint that dominates a certain section of society.
Does Bollywood think these things are going unnoticed? The Indian public is not stupid and has never been stupid. It understands the difference between reality and fantasy. It is Bollywood that seems to have the problem. It lives in its own bubble – jet-setting, partying, ingratiating themselves and hyping any Hollywood opportunity that comes their way (btw Indian fans, the XXX trailer with DP featuring is for your eyes only to fool you into thinking she actually has a major role). Even this could be forgiven but the corrosive culture endemic in Bollywood is creating a film industry that seems to offer more of a glimpse into London, Paris or Corsica rather than the realities – good and bad – that is India.
Audiences are slowly rebelling against this nonsense. The astonishing success of Sairat and the continuing strength of regional cinema – South Indian cinema producing blockbusters in more genres and with better production values and without Pakistani assistance – speaks to the gradual marginalization of Bollywood . The furor over Pakistani actors working in Indian cinema while that country kills Indians is just the latest demonstration of Bollywood ’s disconnect from India’s reality and the sentiments of the Indian public. The antics of this spoilt and obnoxious clique which thinks itself superior to us “commoners” are doing more damage to Bollywood than Hollywood could ever do. It is time for a course correction because Bollywood can’t survive without India but India can get along just fine without Bollywood .