At the half way mark, 2012 is promising to be a landmark year for Hindi cinema

The 100th year of Hindi cinema is turning out to be a veritable Bollywood potpourri. A year when filmmakers probed into untapped pockets for stories and settings. When Karan Johar shed his NRI ambitions and Sanjay Leela Bhansali backed “Rowdy”. When audience thronged theatres to watch the biopic of a forgotten athlete and the stories of a pregnant woman and a sperm donor caught the imagination of the masses. When 100 crore business lost its surprise value and independent cinema finally got a little window in theatres. When masala made money but universal appeal became a thing of the past. When folksy “Womaniya” became a raging anthem in pubs. When India once again dared to tell its stories, in its own way. Or as Piyush Mishra would say, “Ik bagal mein chand hoga, Ik bagal mein rotiyan.”

Big bucks

Sanjay Ghai of Mukta Arts is elated becausebig business is back in Bollywood with three films — “Rowdy Rathore”, “Agneepath” and “Housefull 2” — crossing the 100 crore mark. “All three were typical masala films which we have been making for years and they have done good business both in single screens and multiplexes”, he says.

Subhash Ghai, who has delivered such films in the past, points out, “The wallets of today’s audience have more cash; they demand better facilities in theatres but their tastes remain the same.” Anil Sharma, another director in the same league, puts the 100 crore club concept in perspective. “The story of100 crore club was created by distributors who were happy when they started having business from Indian territory after a lull period when NRI market had become the major source of revenue. They don’t take inflation or ticket price into account. And the media doesn’t question. The truth is, the number of audience and theatres have increased. A couple of years back, big films were released with 500 prints. Today, the number has risen to 2000 and then, there are digital prints.”

And hence, the 100 crore club, creating reasons for distributors like Sanjay to smile away to the bank. For Sanjay, who is now banking on “Bol Bachchan”, releasing this week, big budget entertainers are the safest best. “It is like, I can have pasta or noodles for a day or two but aloo gobhi remains my staple diet.”

In an interview to AFP, Anurag Kashyap presented the other side of the story. “Our strength is that we don’t need to sell one ticket to a non-Indian, world over, to sustain ourselves, and that’s also our weakness, because it’s precisely the reason that we don’t grow.”

But Kashyap also admits that it is the “Housefulls” that bring money to the market, which allows films like “Kahaani” and “Gangs of Wasseypur” to see the light of the day, giving audience the much needed choice.

Sanjay claims surveys have shown that only a very small percentage of Indians watch films. “There is an audience waiting to be tapped. Hollywood has realised it. From 40, we have become their 11th preferred destination. Recently, ‘The Amazing Spiderman’ has been released in India before its U.S. release.”

Finally, it seems the big and small can coexist in Bollywood as the first half also saw the theatrical release of truly independent films like “Kshay”and “Good Night Good Morning” in theatres, courtesy PVR’s Director’s Rare initiative. They get one show and are pulled out even before the word of mouth spreads but still it is a start worth applauding.

Talking of applause, CBFC has shown amazing maturity in the past few months but some concerns remain. As through promos and U/A certificate you can’t make out that while watching “Rowdy Rathore” you have to guide your kid why a mother was verbally and physically assaulted in front of her kids on screen. Anjum Rajabali, member CBFC, shares the concern. “Soon we will have a single line explanation clarifying as to why the film has been certified A or U/A,” he promises.

Here is a lowdown on what clicked and what bombed in the first half of the year that surprised with its diversity of themes, when content truly remained the king as no Khan was required to pull the audience to the box office.

Club class (or is it crass?)

Rowdy Rathore: Critics found this remake of a Telugu hit offensive but the queues at the ticket counters showed that audience is lapping up Prabhu Dheva’s cues. Akshay Kumar made an entry into the 100 crore club singing “Chinta ta”.

Agneepath: Hrithik Roshan didn’t try to fit into the sizeable shoes of Amitabh Bachchan and gave us an implosive interpretation of Vijay Dinanath Chauhan. Again, Karan Malhotra’s film had some regressive undertones and unexplained violence but the masses were so high on masala and “Chikni Chameli” that the details became immaterial.

Housefull-2: The mindless comedy proved that Sajid Khan’s brand of humour is far from its expiry date as Akshay Kumar showed how he is still a safe bet when it comes to holding a string of gags together.

The crests

Paan Singh Tomar: A delayed release and poor publicity could not prevent Paan Singh Tomar from delivering an athletic performance at the box office. The Tigmanshu Dhulia film won effusive praise from critics and was embraced by audience for successfully turning the pain of a forgotten athlete- turned-dacoit into something universal.

Gangs of Wasseypur: A potent prelude to the game that will culminate this August, Anurag Kashyap’s dark tale on the coal mafia, will be remembered for its, immaculate detailing, music and Manoj Bajpayee.

Kahaani: Vidya Balan erased “The Dirty Picture” within months and painted an equally powerful Vidya Bagchi in the Sujoy Ghosh film which captured the lilt of Kolkata in the midst of a hair raising thriller.

Vicky Donor: A hilarious yet sensitive take on sperm donation, the Soojit Sircar film proved that romantic comedy need not be dumb and sperm donation could be discussed in the open.

Offensive stuff

Jannat-2: The abuses were uncalled for in this high octane thriller where Randeep Hooda walked away with glory in an Emraan Hashmi film.

Hate Story: Paoli Dam’s steamy scenes managed to bring some eyeballs but failed to shore up Vivek Agnihotri’s story of revenge.

The pits

Department: A head spinner from Ram Gopal Varma, it literally turned technology on its head!

Players: The usually reliable Abbas Mustan did an unusually shoddy job of “The Italian Job”.

Dangerous Ishq: Marked the return of Karisma Kapur but turned out to be a three-dimensional torture from Vikram Bhatt

Tezz: Priyadarshan’s unstoppable train unleashed a trail of badly copied sequences from Hollywood films and Zayed Khan.

Deserved a better deal

Shanghai: The critics loved Dibakar Banerjee’s uncompromised take on politics of development and how our system functions but it failed to spur audience interest. Perhaps they were looking for a hero to root for….

Agent Vinod: Sriram Raghavan created an authentic Indian spy agent but his refined indulgences and cross references to his favourite films prevented Vinod from becoming the darling of the masses. Ahead of its time? May be!

Almost there

Ishaqzaade: After treating us with a wicked love story and Parineeti Chopra, Habib Faisal decides to live up to Yash Raj banner’s sanitised image.

Ferrari Ki Sawaari: Sugar-coated yes, but a film that gives you hope and something you can recommend to your kid.

Tere Naal Love Ho Gaya: A surprise package where real life couple Riteish Deshmukh and Genelia D’Souza almost managed to pull this rom-com through.

London Paris New York: A rare romantic film set in foreign locales where the protagonists speak like you and me.