From behind the camera to the backseat
The director is fast becoming insignificant in big-budget commercial Bollywood, in the era of PR-driven box-office kill and aggressive hardsell of superstars
Long after her swashbuckling swordplay in the film becomes history, Bollywood buffs will recall Kangana Ranaut’s Manikarnika for the ugly battle the actress waged over according due credit to the project’s original director, Krish Jagarlamudi.
Looking back it all adds up to a bizarre chain of events that also underlines the diminishing importance of the director in commercial Bollywood’s current scheme of things. The film overshot time frame and, about three months before release, Krish announced he couldn’t continue anymore because of prior commitment to the Telugu biggie NTR: Kathanayakudu. In no time, Kangana’s PR machinery, and her sister Rangoli in particular, were discrediting Krish, and claiming the actress herself had shot 70 per cent of the film. Krish’s retort was sharp: It is impossible to shoot 70 per cent of a film as mammoth as Manikarnika in three months. “Kangana’s sister decided Kangana has shot 70 per cent of Manikarnika... Just how she came to that percentage I don’t know. She simply picked ‘70’ and took off from there. The entire team knows how much I’ve shot,” Krish said, producing Twitter screenshots to prove he had shot almost all of the film.
The actress finally gave co-director’s status to Krish in the film’s credits. Manikarnika, though, will always be known as Kangana’s film.
There is a pattern here. Only last Diwali, as Thugs Of Hindostan (ToH) became Bollywood’s indisputably most aggressively promoted film, all the buzz naturally gathered around its stars — Amitabh Bachchan, Aamir Khan and Katrina Kaif — leaving the film’s director Vijay Krishna Acharya out in the cold. When the film ended up Bollywood’s most expensive box-office blunder ever, people panned its stars but couldn’t care less about directorial gaffes.
A quick stock of last year’s biggest blockbusters would throw up the names of Sanju, Simmba and Padmaavat. Sure, Rajkumar Hirani, Rohit Shetty and Sanjay Leela Bhansali made a difference, but they can never dream of basking in the same spotlight as their stars.
The fact becomes pertinent because we talk of perceptions changing in the industry. Yet, the reluctance to render due importance to the person who captains a film’s creative team continues to be symptomatic of all things Bollywood. It underlines how creativity is still not a priority in a gimmick-driven industry that primarily obsesses over the multiples of hundred crore.
The emergence of small-budget, content-driven fare has carved a sort of space for the director, but that works only within that particular genre. The larger-than-life brand of Hindi cinema, which continues to drive Bollywood economics, has learnt to ignore the person who wields the megaphone.
If cinema of any kind essentially defines the vision of its director, Krish or Vijay Krishna Acharya would perhaps not be amused at the idea that most among their films’ huge audience base probably have never heard their names.
There are many such instances in recent times. Salman Khan’s Race 3 and the Tiger Shroff-starrer Baaghi 2 were among the most-hyped commercial releases of 2018. Remo D’Souza and Ahmed Khan, respective directors of these films, would struggle to garner fan recall. The scene is no different for directors of the 50-odd formula flicks Bollywood released over the past 12 months.
The obvious retort is that stars attracts crowds, so they are publicised. Kangana is the reason people watched Manikarnika, just as the disastrous ToH tried banking on Big B, Aamir and Katrina for ticket sales.
One needs to understand, in this context, that despite the presence of Amitabh Bachchan, Dharmendra, Hema Malini, Sridevi or Madhuri Dixit in their heydays, filmmakers such as Manmohan Desai, Prakash Mehra or Subhash Ghai held their own, thanks to trademark filmmaking styles. Perhaps the changing popular mindset is an explanation: by now, the audience has figured out that being a Hindi commercial director hardly demands original brainwork.
Lately, the issue of which directors thrive in mainstream Bollywood has depended on which camp they align with, and whether the camp is ‘in power’ at the moment. Most directors now are less of creative heads and more of caretakers of film projects on behalf of stars who agree to work with them. Aamir and ToH producers Yash Raj Films have lately banked on Acharya, who directed Dhoom 3 earlier, just as Salman seems to have found a sturdy option in Ali Abbas Zafar — director of Sultan, Tiger Zinda Hai and the upcoming Bharat — after falling out with Kabir Khan post the Tubelight debacle.
The fading importance of the commercial filmmaker is perhaps also because the genre by and large does not appeal to new-age filmmakers with bright ideas. That breed of creative brains has lately been inclined towards the small-budget multiplex movie, a genre that allows them to experiment even as they entertain. Sriram Raghavan (AndhaDhun), Meghna Gulzar (Raazi), Amar Kaushik (Stree), Amit Sharma (Badhaai Ho) or Shelly Chopra Dhar (Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga) would testify to this fact.
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