Why what a film makes you feel is more important than what it earns.
Leaving aside what an artist feels versus what a person associated with numbers feels, because that’s an unending argument, let’s look at it from the point of view of any actor or director’s career, since to the common man these two are the first most prominent people associated with films.
Let us look at Shah Rukh Khan’s career. What are the films that made thousands of people name their kids Raj and Rahul? What made women feel that they wanted a husband or boyfriend like Shah Rukh Khan? It was films like DDLJ and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, films like Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa, that had well defined characters and storylines that made you feel strongly for the protagonists and their dramatic needs, feel for what they wanted and want it for them in equal measure and pain as they themselves wanted and felt. For an Aamir Khan it was a Rangeela, Sarfarosh, Rang De Basanti, Ghulam, Hum hain raahi pyaar ke, Dil hai ke manta nahin etc. Did anyone tell you how much those films earned? You related to their worlds, where the protagonists were representative of a milieu but were also individuals with very distinguished and specific wants and desires and they tried to become something more than just a reaction to these wants and desires. And at that time these films also made the maximum money. Because they ran for ages, a long run clearly being a much larger marker of the love of an audience than a 3 day run, because manipulation with psychotic marketing is nearly impossible with a 3 month run and clearly possible with a 3 day run.
Then came a time where films started trying to earn their money in 3 days. And the whole game changed.
It became a rush for more screens, mind-blowing marketing budgets, stars releasing films on Eid and Diwali, coming on to each and every television show to promote their films and an absolute overdose of marketing noise forcing each successive film to shout louder.
In this mayhem, cinema somewhere, though one can’t say completely, has lost connect between the films that make you feel the most and the films that make the most money.
A Dhoom 3 makes you feel not even a fraction of what a Taare Zameen Par makes you feel, a Chennai Express can barely arouse feelings that are even close to what a Queen and a Highway make you feel or what a Chak De India had made you feel. But the second it comes to numbers these films have made more money than anything else in the recent past. The last SRK film that made you really feel like crying and moved you was Chak De India and the last Aamir Khan film that stirred deep emotions was Dhobi Ghat and if we take into account a film that a lot of people watched, it was Taare Zameen Par, over 6-7 years ago.
The shouting out of numbers from billboards and every media reaches into the heart of this age-old association between success and money. It doesn’t call upon you to open up your heart and connect with a film, to form an individual connection with it, but to just make you want to feel that you also went for a film that seems so successful. Your neighbours will tell you how much it made and so will your friends and children. How could you not have gone for a film that made so much money? Just a decade ago people would tell you how they cried whilst watching a film or how much they laughed, but today, the first thing that comes into the conversation is how much the film made, when technically all this really says is that you spent 300 rupees on a film that made you feel nothing and got fleeced as a nation into making an average film gross millions.
And this system also ends up sucking the best of stars into its fold. Ranbir Kapoor for example. His best films, going by what they made you feel are Wake Up Sid, Barfi, and debatably but nonetheless Rockstar. But the film that’s pushed him into the 100 crore bracket is Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani.
The same with Salman Khan when it comes to Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Hum Aapke Hain Kaun, Maine Pyaar Kiya as opposed to a Bodyguard, Ready or a Dabangg 2.
Let’s speak of directors. Can anyone say that Gangs of Wasseypur made them feel as strongly for its protagonist as a Dev D, a Black Friday or a Gulaal did? Yet GOW is the film that has given Anurag Kashyap the maximum amount of money and power because it made more money.
Even with a Madhur Bhandarkar, his Fashion, a much more diluted version of his occupational dramas like Chandni Bar or Page Three, or even the forgotten Satta, was the one that made the maximum money. Post Fashion he tried repeating the same with Heroine that then tanked as the storyline was the weakest of all.
For a Farhan Akhtar, his Bhaag Milkha Bhaag gave him maximum earnings and put him in the 100 crore club. The film, though noble in its intentions and moments was not a match to his Rock On, ZMND and Kai Po Che which he held on to for over 3 years before then allowing it to go to UTV with smaller actors. As a director his weakest film emotionally, Don 2, earned the maximum money.
Of course one can say that each of these people earn more and more as they have more hits, but it is so crystal clear that they begin to end up choosing the kind of films that make more money rather than the kind of films that have ended up making people feel a lot more. And unfortunately as far as producers are concerned, they’ve begun to make a very painful yet clear demarcation between what is deep emotionally and what supposedly sells currently.
The biggest weakness of following this system of throwing numbers at a common man is that then soon the directors and stars themselves fall prey to this system and you end up with a Dhoom 3 that makes you feel lesser for it, and moves you less than any other Aamir Khan film in history and ends up also becoming his biggest hit. Not that it didn’t provide one with a certain form of entertainment but clearly can’t move one half as much as any of his previous deeper films. So you have an Aamir Khan now focusing clearly only on blockbusters, and every other star and director now lost to this new process.
When the fact of the matter is that the careers of all these stars and directors have actually statistically been made by the goodwill of the films they did that really moved people, even if they didn’t earn a 100 crore. An SRK seems to have forgotten that the love in the hearts of his fans emanates more from a DDLJ and a Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa and a Chak De India than a Chennai Express can ever hope to kindle and so also for Aamir Khan. One can only hope that soon stars and directors will begin to value and move towards doing films they feel the strongest for instead of the ones that seem to be the biggest money spinners so that it translates into us feeling strongly for them. Hope exists in the form of an Imtiaz Ali who’s gone and done a Highway with smaller stars and a Hansal Mehta who went and made Shahid and Citylights after much larger films like Woodstock Villa realising again the importance of just making a good film.
So the next time you need to decide which film to watch, just ask 10 people around you about what a particular film made them FEEL and avoid all the talk of what it earned and I guarantee you won’t miss any of the good films and can easily avoid all the average and below average fare.
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