ROUND UP 2012 proved to be that rare year when both the public and the producer got their fill without trampling creativity.

When critics’ choice and popular choice start overlapping on a regular basis, it indicates the maturity of an art form in the country. The 100th year of Hindi cinema proved to be a watershed when creativity and commerce joined hands with amazing regularity.

Oh My God! It’s changing

The young crop of directors is tweaking the formula and the audience is trying all kinds of genres. From the story of a forgotten sportsman who becomes a dacoit (“Pan Singh Tomar”) to the tale of a sperm donor who doesn’t mind giving a pedicure to girls (“Vicky Donor”), the variety of narratives and novelty of characters was almost baffling this year, and the audience was willing to try new recipes. Who would have thought a pregnant woman could lead a thriller (“Kahaani”) or a housewife trying to learn the Queen’s language could become the darling of the multiplex crowd (“English Vinglish”) or the story of a deaf and mute boy (“Barfi!”) would garner 100 crore at the box office. That a film with a ghost could be realistic (“Talaash”) and a film questioning the existence of God (“Oh! My God”) would be lapped up by the masses. In a year when all the Khans had a successful stint, the most remembered ‘Khan’ turned out to be a character played by a diminutive actor whose name didn’t ring a bell in 2011. Yes, in the year of some really solid performances, Nawazuddin Siddiqui turned out to be the face of the year, or one should say the face of change, with four astonishing acts to his credit. Though the industry might like to repeat him as the intrepid Faizal of “Wasseypur”, it was his measured performance as IB officer Khan in “Kahaani” and as Taimur in “Talaash” that have a lasting shelf life. The box office success filled Nawaz with the confidence to proclaim that he wants to be the highest paid actor of the country. Meanwhile, Ranbir Kapoor consolidated his position as the best actor in the mainstream but Emraan Hashmi showed in “Shanghai” he is not far behind. Sridevi’s return on a tailor-made vehicle left the audience teary-eyed with joy.

Putting things in perspective, director Deepa Mehta, who is observing the change from the outside, says, “Some brave things are happening in Indian cinema. ‘Shanghai’ was fascinating and ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’ was interesting for its conceptual drive. Such films are turning the concept of cinema in India. And I must say that the fact that these films could be seen in movie theatres and are not just online or in pirated forms is fabulous. This means there is a maturity and there is a desire for consumption of good cinema. And the fact that they got through the Censor Board and there was no brouhaha about it was just fantastic. I think we should celebrate this maturity not only on the part of the audience but also the production houses and distributors for taking the risk and putting them out there.”

Indie gets oxygen

This was the year when independent cinema got a window in theatres in metros courtesy PVR’s Director’s Rare initiative. Films like “Kshay” and “Anhey Ghorey Da Daan”, which seemed to have no scope beyond a film festival, made it to the theatres. Even acclaimed documentaries like “Bom” and “Supermen of Malegaon” got space. Of course they got one show, either early in the day or very late, but the fact that they made it to the big screen where a cineaste had the opportunity to buck popular taste is commendable. By the end of the year independent filmmakers complained about step motherly treatment but Sanjeev Bijli of PVR Pictures says the initiative will take time to be commercially viable. “We are trying to make it a more affordable experience and the filmmakers should work with us and not behind us,” says Bijli in response to the filmmakers’ plea to the government for saving independent cinema. The government pumped in money in the restoration of the glorious cinematic past but independent filmmakers demanded it is the present that demands more attention. The fact that acclaimed films like “Ship of Thesues” and “Miss Lovely” are still doing the rounds of film festivals shows that we still have a long way to go. Farhan Akhtar pleaded for government help in resurrecting dilapidated film studios.

Formula flourishes

Amidst the winds of change, the mindless contraption of action and comedy continued to draw crowds in hordes. Out of the seven films that crossed the Rs.100 crore mark at the box office, five films belong to these genres. Be it “Rowdy Rathore” or “Dabangg 2”, the purveyors of crass are in no mood to change their class any time soon. Mahesh Bhatt says there can’t be any tyranny of taste at the box office. He was proved right, for two of his titillating products — Raaz 3 and Jism 2 — made good money.

The heartening factor is that content-driven cinema is giving good competition to big-budget, star-driven jamborees, and the stars are trying to be realistic within the limitations of the formula. Salman Khan showed how it could be done in “Ek Tha Tiger” and “Dabangg 2”. With “Jab Tak Hai Jaan” Shah Rukh Khan returned to his romantic territory with élan. Similarly, Saif Ali Khan effortlessly embraced confusion in love with “Cocktail” after his effort to push boundaries in “Agent Vinod” ended in a well-meaning muddle. It is only Aamir Khan who is pushing the envelope and, at the same time, reaping the rewards at the box office.

Number crunching

While the total number of admissions is on the rise, an Indian, on an average, watches only 1.7 films a year. In comparison, an American watches, on an average, four films a year. So there is great scope for growth. According to the CII-PwC report on entertainment and media, the average ticket price is one of the lowest in the world and the Indian box office is expected to be the fifth largest in the world by 2016.

Look South

Regional cinema produced some of its biggest hits, attracting Bollywood production houses. UTV, Reliance, Eros and the Yash Raj banner… all made a foray into Tamil cinema, while Balaji explored possibilities in Marathi cinema. Eros has as many as 60 regional films lined in the next few years.

Democratisation of art

Fast digitisation of screens is enabling producers to release their films simultaneously across the country. Increasing digitisation means that smaller films which would not have had a wider release on account of high cost of physical prints can now occupy several screens in different parts of the country. While “Ek Tha Tiger” was released in 3,300 screens, a small film like “From Sydney With Love” with a first-time director and unknown actors also got 900 screens.

New avenues

There is an increasing trend of watching films on personal devices like mobile phones and laptops. YouTube has more than 1,500 films that you can watch for free. Producers are utilising the craze among satellite channels to buy the satellite rights to recover a significant portion of the production cost. The producers of “Agneepath” was able to recover around 60 percent of its production expense by selling the satellite rights. Kamal Haasan tied up with a DTH company to showcase his upcoming big-budget vehicle “Vishwaroopam” on television a day before its theatrical release through the pay-per-view model. “It is my harvest and it should be my right how to monetise it,” says Kamal.

The game has just begun….

Films you can’t miss

Pan Singh Tomar by Tigmanshu Dhulia, Gangs of Wasseypur by Anurag Kashyap, Shanghai by Dibakar Banerjee, Talaash by Reema Kagti, Kahaani by Sujoy Ghosh, Vicky Donor by Shoojit Sircar, English Vinglish by Gauri Shinde, Oh My God by Umesh Shukla, Ek Tha Tiger by Kabir Khan, Barfi! by Anurag Basu

Almost there

Jab Tak Hai Jaan, Ishaqzaade, Agent Vinod, Ferrari Ki Sawaari

Face of the year

Nawazuddin Siddiqui: Kahaani, Gangs of Wasseypur, Talaash, Chittagong

Top performances of the year

Irrfan Khan in Paan Singh Tomar, Sridevi in English Vinglish, Manoj Bajpai in Gangs of Wasseypur, Ranbir Kapoor in Barfi!, Emraan Hashmi in Shanghai, Richa Chadha in Gangs of Wasseypur, Shah Rukh Khan in Jab Tak Hai Jaan, Abhay Deol in Shanghai, Vidya Balan in Kahaani, Salman Khan in Ek Tha Tiger and Dabangg 2

Supporting acts

Rani Mukerji in Talaash, Dolly Ahluwalia in Vicky Donor, Rajesh Sharma in Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana, Adil Hussain in English Vinglish, Parambrata Chatterjee in Kahaani, Priyanka Chopra in Barfi!

New arrivals

Ayushman Khurana, Yami Gautam, Alia Bhatt, Huma Qureshi, Arjun Kapoor, Ileana D’Cruz

Could have done without

Department, Joker, Players, Aiyya, Heroine, Tezz, Dangerous Ishq, Jism 2

Controversies

Anurag Basu’s cut and paste job in Barfi! was not sweet but things turned sour when the film was selected as India’s official entry for the Oscars. Ajay Devgn’s public spat with Yash Raj Films over Diwali releases was completely avoidable.

The end

Romance lost some of its charm with the demise of Yash Chopra and Rajesh Khanna. Brawn was left to fend for itself when its champion Dara Singh quit the ring of life. Many of us rediscovered Pandit Ravi Shankar’s classical link with cinema after his sitar went silent.

A.K. Hangal, the father figure who gave many of our superstars the reason to be macho on screen, left us orphaned. The works of Shahryar, Achala Sachdev, Joy Mukherjee, B.R. Ishara, Dinesh Thakur and Ashok Mehta will keep them alive in our memories.