I said there were 4 strong contenders for yesterday’s award, most disappointing. But there were 5 times as many for this award! And yet the box office this year was record breakingly bad. Which says interesting things about what kinds of promotions do and don’t work and what kind of films do and don’t work and so on.
Looking at my list of 2017 films, I was pleasantly surprised after minimal build-up by:
That is 10 separate films, none of them with big big name stars, none of which were promoted as “The Can’t Miss Movie of the Year”. And also none of which had big big box office. But they were all pleasant interesting enjoyable imaginative films. They may not have been for every audience, but I am guessing everyone reading this enjoyed at least one if not several of the films on that list, enjoyed them even more than they were expecting to. Looking at this list, 2017 seems like a pretty darn good year for movies. Mubarakan and Golmaal Again were solid comedy hits, Ittefaq and Mom were solid well-made and well-acted thrillers, Bareilly Ki Barfi, Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, Phillauri, and Running Shaadi were all nice low-budget clever romances. Tumhari Sulu was an off-beat character piece, and Raabta was a nice ridiculous over the top romance.
Those are just the films I saw. Of the films I missed, it sounds like Hindi Medium, Fukrey Returns, Newton, and Anaarkali of Aarah would also certainly fit as interesting enjoyable imaginative films. So that’s 14 films. More than one a month. With a lean towards light romance in a grounded setting that has just a touch of social issues, although also including a mixture of alternative genres.
(Don’t know what genre to put Anaarkali in. Female avenger? Social Justice? Courtroom drama?)
Looking at this list, 2017 was a GREAT year for film!!!!!! Lots of good stuff with promising new artists and a nice trend set up for the future. But the problem is, no one is looking at this list.
The films in yesterday’s post, they suffered from the curse of high expectations. The publicity campaigns, the wide release, the big name stars, we were ready for something so unusual and remarkable and stupendous that it would be almost impossible for a film to live up to that. But the flip side of allllllllllll this attention on these few films is that there is no attention on the other films, the little gems that came out this year and somehow slipped in and out of theaters without notice.
I landed on Running Shaadi as my winner because it got the least attention of all of them, but they suffered to some degree all around. The funny thing is, movies like Mom and Ittefaq and Muburakan made a fair amount of money. They had a nice tight publicity campaign which reached the right audience and made a nice solid profit. But I don’t see them mentioned in the end of the year round tables, the discussions of the “problems” with the Indian film box office. Here is the solution! Right here! Smaller films, smaller releases, smaller publicity. Stop focusing so much on that one big big budget film every year.
(This!!!! Make more stuff like this!)
Raabta may seem like it doesn’t belong on this list. After all, it had a big promotion campaign. But did it really? That first trailer was great, but then the “Boyfriend” song didn’t give a sense of the actual film at all, and the sort of lightness and humor of it got lost somewhere, overwhelmed by the spectacle. Ultimately it was another light grounded rom-com, just with some reincarnation sauce dumped on top. And that message didn’t come through. Heck, that film didn’t entirely come through! If it had been toned down about 10%, the audience and critics might have reacted more to the interesting unusual love triangle and less to the over the top action scenes.
Speaking of these smaller movies, I don’t even want to say “stop focusing on the star films”. Just, stop focusing on the same ones you always look at. I don’t want to hear “Shahrukh-Raees“, I want to hear “Shahrukh-Dear Zindagi“. Salman shouldn’t be “Tiger Zinda Hai” only, he should be Phir Milenge too. And Aamir shouldn’t be “Dangal” only, he should be “Secret Superstar” and “Talaash” too. It’s only in the past few years that so much pressure was put on each of their releases, that they weren’t allowed to take a risk and try multiple things instead of just one. And now, when they are starting to buck that trend, when Aamir and Shahrukh at least have tossed in smaller character parts with their big films, those smaller roles are being forgotten by the industry and the press. Removed from their filmographies in discussion because it doesn’t fit the settled narrative.
(Remember when even Salman Khan did small interesting films because he believed in them?)
And that’s what happened to all these films this year. They are ignored because they don’t fit the narrative. Instead of a narrative of “rise of the small film”, it has become “fall of the big film”. And that is the narrative that kept these films from being seen. The audience was so focused on the big films, the promise of Bahubali-like perfection, that they overlooked these small gems. The ones that did well, should have done a little better. And the ones that did poorly, like Running Shaadi, should have done a lot better.
Running Shaadi had a terrible ad campaign. One that was clearly an after thought by the studio, they didn’t think they could sell it for what it was, a slice of life romantic comedy, so they sold it as something else, a crude comedy about an internet start up. And then it was an after thought by the distributors too, given a pitiful number of screens. And finally, it was killed by the theaters, who were in a hurry to get rid of it after it failed to bring them the sort of instant massive success they were expecting. Given time, it could have had a decent word of mouth campaign, found an audience. Could have found an audience right when it released, if the ad campaign had been right. And if it had been given a proper release. But that didn’t happen, and so it floundered.
By the end of 2017, people were talking about Fukrey Returns, about the “surprising” hit of this small almost unnoticed film. And shortly before that, Tumhari Sulu benefited from an excellent promotion and release, one which emphasized what was truly special about the film. I hope that is the trend that continues into 2018, films like Running Shaadi get the right kind of promotion that lets them find an audience and be appreciated and public conversation adjusts to acknowledge that fact.