Now, FINALLY, we reach the films people know! Which is a story in itself, the way films were ignored and forgotten during the early years, even TV only plays stuff from after 1970, let alone being able to find it streaming or on DVD or VHS. But, setting that aside for a moment, let’s look at these new “modern” films. (part 1 here and part 2 here)
Non-Usual Disclaimer: this list is from wikipedia, if it is wrong blame them, not me.
1971: Haathi Mere Saathi (M. A. Thirumugam): Well this is a nice journeyman kind of movie! The director had made dozens of films by this time, most of them produced by his brother, in all kinds of different languages. And then somehow they stumbled on the simple but brilliant idea of a man and his elephants, put in an incredibly catchy title song, and lucked into Rajesh Khanna right at the peak of his career. And TA-DA! A hit is born! 16.35 crore (equivalent to 611 crore)
(I dare you not to sing along)
1972: Seeta Aur Geeta (Ramesh Sippy) Woot! Hemaji!!!! Sure, Sanjeev Kumar and Dharmendra were there too, but it’s really her film. First female lead film we have seen on this list since Meena Kumari. And, of course, also the first Ramesh Sippy film. His career started like gangbusters. 19.53 crore (equivalent to 692 crore)
1973: Bobby (Raj Kapoor) And it is the return of Raj! Only 9 years after his last appearance, but what a change there has been! He is no longer starring, for one thing, now it is his son while he focuses on directing. And instead of making a mature complicated story between mature complicated people, he is doing a teenage romance. A complicated teenage romance, but still teenage. Oh, and one thing hasn’t changed, he is still setting box office records that make everything else look like a joke. 30.24 crore (equivalent to 1,155 crore)
(To this day, no one makes movies like this)
1974: Roti Kapda Aur Makan (Manoj Kumar): Huh! I had no idea this film made so much money! I had always slotted it in more of the Hrishikesh Mukherjee level, good stars and good script and all that, but a little too intellectual and subtle for the general audience. But look at that, this is technically the first Amitabh film to make this list, even though it isn’t really an “Amitabh” film at all, just a movie in which he happened to act. It’s TOTALLY a Manoj Kumar film, deep social statements and blah blah. Oh, and even if it was a hit film for this year, it really wasn’t that big of a hit. Only made 1/3rd as much as Bobby the year before. 10.5 crore (equivalent to 220 crore)
1975: Sholay (Ramesh Sippy) Did anyone NOT know this was coming? I’m not even bothering to confirm it with the wiki list, it would be like confirming that the sky is blue. Sky blue, Sholay came out in 1975 and broke all records. Here’s the interesting thing, it actually DIDN’T break all records! It made .24 crore less than Bobby in real money, and even less than that in adjusted-for-inflation money. The legend of Sholay isn’t from that opening weekend, or first year, or whatever this figure comes from. It’s because it ran for 5 years, 5 years in one theater without stopping. And because people memorized the dialogues, dressed like the characters, etc. etc. A nice reminder that the big box office figures we look at aren’t actually that important, not in the long term. There are other considerations that matter much more. 30 crore (equivalent to 1,068 crore)
1976: Barood (Pramod Chakravorty) And now we have the adjustment period, as everyone in the industry takes a deep breath and prepares for the Reign of Amitabh. This is a romance/mystery from a small production house with Rishi and Reena Roy, plus Ashok Kumar and Ajit and Prem Chopra and all the other 1970s usual suspects. Here’s something interesting: it was a massive hit in the Soviet Union! On par with Awara and Bobby. It did okay at home, but no where close to the previous year’s hits. So I guess this could be the first film to have that foreign vs. home market kind of release? 19.32 crore (equivalent to 591 crore)
1977: Amar Akbar Anthony (Manmohan Desai) And the Amitabh era starts! With a great film, super fun and happy and entertaining and wonderful. I didn’t realize it was the top of it’s year, but I’m not surprised. 15.5 crore (equivalent to 304 crore)
(Dare you not to sing along again)
1978: Muqaddar Ki Sikander (Prakash Mehra) Amitabh continues. Plus, such an interesting diversity in his films! We had Roti Kapda Aur Makan (intense social drama/statement), we had Sholay (Greatest Movie Ever), and then Amar Akbar Anthony (comedy farce thing). And now we have an intense tragedy, and they are all hits! Although, this is also the peak of the Masala era, so even the tragedies had comedies and the comedies had tragedy and so on. Oh, and it made a lot of money 26.89 crore (equivalent to 447 crore)
1979: Suhaag (Manmohan Desai) Okay, now we are getting into the interesting era! The era when only Amitabh films are making money, but they aren’t actually making that much money. Suhaag is a hilarious wonderful film, but it is nowhere near as good as Amar Akbar Anthony was. And it made nowhere near as much money, 10 crore (equivalent to 180 crore)
1980: Qurbani (Feroz Khan) This was that first little “wait, is this the end of Amitabh?” moment. He’d lasted 5 years, and now for the first time there was a non-Amitabh film setting records. A GREAT non-Amitabh film!!!! Seriously, SO FUN! But still, not an Amitabh movie. His movies were still doing super well, but they were no longer the best. 12 crore (equivalent to 296 crore)
(Okay, this one maybe you aren’t singing, but you are head bobbing a little, right?)
1981: Kranti (Manoj Kumar) What? Who? How? ANOTHER non-Amitabh film!!!! Here’s the thing though, Amitabh had big big hits both these years. Multiple big big hits. Hits so big that some lists have them as the top (because the margin of error is so close), not these two. So even if there is an occasional non-Amitabh film that makes money, it doesn’t take away from the fact that EVERY Amitabh film is making money. 20 crore (equivalent to 286 crore)
1982: Disco Dancer (Babbar Subhash) I AM A DISCO DANCER!!!!! Just had to get that out of the way. What a totally strange and fun and different film this is! Similar to Qurbani, it took the Amitabh-style film, and made it fun again. And the audience LOVED it. Plus, you know, I AM A DISCO DANCER. This is a box office that wouldn’t be matched until Kuch Kuch. 99.12 crore (equivalent to 1,240 crore)
(I AM A DISCO DANCER!)
1983: Coolie (Manmohan Desai) And here’s Amitabh again! There was no way this film wouldn’t be the biggest hit of 1983, not after all of India rediscovered their love for him as he lay on his deathbed, and not with the promise of seeing the moment he faced death all highlighted and screen grabbed for them (more details on all this in my Coolie Incident post here) 18 crore (equivalent to 213 crore)
1984: Jagir (Pramod Chakravorty) DHARMENDRA!!!! Also, Amrish Puri. And Mithun Chakraborty. Once again, Amitabh had a few huge hit films this year, but this non-Amitabh film happened to be the top grosser. However, this was also the year that Amitabh started to take a step back, to join in politics. The industry was preparing too, it needed some new blood to fill that void. 15.79 crore (equivalent to 181 crore)
1985: Ram Tera Ganga Mali (Raj Kapoor) Or, as I think of it, “Ram, your ganga is dirty”. For some reason this is the one Hindi film title that just will not stay in my head. Anyway, if you have seen or heard of this film, you know the one reason it was a hit, Raj Kapoor’s last great gift to Indian film: The Wet White Sari scene. If the back benchers can’t have Amitabh, we will give them something else to whistle at. 19 crore (equivalent to 197 crore)
(There’s also an explicit breastfeeding scene. Raj Kapoor always knew what the public wanted)
So, what can we learn from this? The biggest story here is what it looks like when the film industry is dominated by one person. First Rajesh, then Amitabh. See, no one even thought the industry could be dominated that way until Rajesh came along. And then he had hit after hit, and everyone just figured that’s how it was going to be forever. And then he started having a few flops, but suddenly Amitabh was having hit after hit. So now everyone just assumed that this is how it would be, Amitabh would have hit after hit until he suddenly stopped.
But that’s not exactly what happened. Amitabh had hit after hit after hit. But after the first few years, while he as still having crazy hits all the time, there were occasional hits from other people too. Which didn’t mean Amitabh was over, it just meant there was space for Manoj Kumar and Dharmendra to share with him.
And see, even during 1980-81-84-85, when Amitabh wasn’t at the top, he was still the biggest earner for the industry. Like, “2/3rds of all profits are just Amitabh” kind of earner. Maybe he didn’t have the record breaking film of the year, but he cranked out his 3-5 films a hear which each individually made almost as much as that one top non-Amitabh film.
It was a confusing time (in many ways! This also covers the Emergency through the Assassination era of India), because people kept looking for a pattern, and there wasn’t one, not one that fit. Amitabh wasn’t the same as Rajesh, but he also wasn’t the same as Raj or Dilip or Dev or Shammi. He was so big, that one film a year couldn’t define him, box office didn’t define him, there were no measurable limitations on what he was.
And so I can look at all these other films and say “Disco Dancer had a great soundtrack and a new look” or “Ram Tera Ganga Mali had boobs” and explain their success. But there is no real explanation for something like, say, Suhaag. It’s an okay film, not great but fine. And yet it was a massive hit, just because it had Amitabh.
And then next time you get to come back for the super exciting era when there was no Amitabh!!!! When he was off getting caught up in political scandals instead of making movies and no one really knew what to do. Until he came back like to rule again (SHAHENSHAH!!!!)