Welcome the new movie making strategy. Hit the audience with an ad blitzkrieg. Recover the money before it can decide whether the movie is good or bad. They don't make movies like they used to in the old days, do they?
It is no longer about artistic endeavours. Or quality. What matters is how many zeroes you add to the box office returns. How much it rakes in the first three (or is it five?) days. From an appalling “Ghajini” to an even more appalling “Ra.One”, of late we have seen a steady decline of creativity on screen and an alarming increase in the numbers that are cited as returns in the initial euphoric days when news chan nels unabashedly endorse the star and his vehicle and leading newspapers rave about the work in planted reviews that never seem to bestow anything less than three and a half to four stars out of five for these mindless offerings.
We are better than Hollywood when it comes to marketing strategies to woo the audiences inside the multiplexes to sample what the superstars have laid out and ironically enough this astuteness has been accompanied by a brazen disregard for content. The new mantra appears to be the larger-than-life star can do anything on screen and get away with it as long as it can be sold to the gullible movie crazed fans before they have a chance to discern.
It's not as if we didn't have lavishly mounted blockbusters before. There is that immortal classic “Mughal-e- Azam”. Or the all time favourite “Sholay”. But we never thought about these films in terms of the zeroes they added to the box office returns or the amount that was spent in making them. When “Look how much we spent on making this spectacle” became the focus rather than what the film had to offer, audiences were quick to reject like it happened in the case of a “Razia Sultan” or for that matter “Roop ki Rani, Choron ka Raja”.
Things have changed in the last few years and not for the better. Big budget films are anchored on greed and competition and it's all about how quickly you can maximise your return on investment. Hollywood always had its studios trying to outmanoeuvre each other in order to be more profitable. Lately we have our superstars who started out by wanting to be actors but are now intent on running the same production houses to ground that made them the names they are today. It's not the Chopras or the Sippys or the Barjatyas who are mounting the biggest of them. They have faded in the background while Aamir Khan touts his own production house as a haven of good cinema, Salman Khan ensures members of his large family produce his biggest extravaganzas and Shah Rukh Khan never misses an opportunity to motor mouth about his ‘Red Chillies'. Not to mention an Akshay Kumar or Ajay Devgn who are desperately trying to keep up with the Khans by floating their own production houses.
When the megalomaniac superstar decides to not just act in a film, but take over all aspects of production, calamity is bound to follow. It does not matter whether a “Ready” or “Bodyguard” crosses the 100 crores mark in the first two weeks; the all-important question is, does anyone remember what these films were about after a lapse of a few months. Apart from setting new standards in bad taste, that is.
The latest “Ra.One”, with its nearly 50 marketing tie-ups and a simultaneous release in an unbelievable number of theatres on Deepavali day is yet another assault on audience sensibilities. It is a shockingly bad film by a superstar whose only intent in making this disaster appears to have been his desperate need to beat his rivals at their own game. Why else would a man who comes across as suave and intelligent in his interviews make a film that he claims is for kids and fill it with sexually explicit innuendoes. What was he thinking of?
A new low
The problem with “Ra.One” is not that its script is tailored to challenge the intelligence of the audience. Commercial Hindi films have never been about pleasing the intellectual palate and we all accept that. But how low a film and its star are willing to stoop to provide cheap thrills. Just when you thought it can't get any worse than a gruesome “Ghajini” or a manipulative “3 idiots” or for that matter the recent Salman Khan blockbusters, each outdoing the other in the sheer idiocy quotient and each more forgetful than the other, Shah Rukh Khan decides to prove that it can indeed get a lot worse.
The animated avatar in the film first gropes the protesting leading lady and then follows this shameless act by groping the bewildered villain who wants to know what the hero is doing to him. He is also frisked by a seriously lecherous gay man in the airport. The animation tops his bizarre acts by cracking jokes about condoms to a mother in the presence of her pre-adolescent son and who later joins in the fun by cracking his own jokes about contraceptives. We are not talking cheesy here. The film abounds with these kinds of depraved and perverse scenes. The more harmless fun in the film is about targeting South Indians. According to Khan's twisted logic they eat noodles with curd and pronounce keys as kiss. What can you say to that?
It's one thing to chuckle along with a bunch of young bachelors cracking risqué jokes and doling out abuses by the dozen in a film meant only for adults. It's quite another to watch a middle-aged father engaging in crotch grabbing brand of bawdy moments in the presence of his son. The film has a token director who was in news recently for protesting against the sleaze in an adult comedy like “Delhi Belly”. Clearly, he was not present when his middle-aged star was trying to be ‘cool' in front of the camera and falling flat on his face.
But does any of this matter in the final analysis? For all we know, by the time the audience discovers they have been taken for a ride, “Ra.One” would have generated a healthy surplus and Khan may very well be counting it as a path-breaking success. Never mind the much publicised technical wizardry which is not a patch on the superhero films Hollywood doles out regularly. Never mind if ‘G.One' in “Ra.One” has no emotional core to boast of and there is nothing for the audience to connect with him. These may not be serious considerations in a sweepstake where all that matters is whether the first day collections of one Khan vehicle manages to surpass that of another Khan who came up with an equally stupid and incoherent film a few weeks earlier.
I only wish they would leave children out of it.
Vijay Nair is the author of the best selling The Boss is Not your Friend and the novel Master of Life Skills.