From Masaan to Mukkabaaz: Does success at international festivals guarantee big box office results?

Abhinav Jai Singh

January 10, 2018 18:14:24 IST

Bollywood is split into two wide groups: the big-budgeted box-office moneymakers, and the small-budget niche movies.

Over the years, as Bollywood grew exponentially in terms of money it makes, we saw the formation of the 100, 200, 300, 400 and 500 crore clubs. The big names, be it Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, Akshay Kumar or Ajay Devgn, all started to roll-out over-the-top, brazen, boisterous and banal movies. These movies, right up from Christopher Nolan's Memento remake Ghajini to the very recent Salman Khan starrer Tiger Zinda Hai, had a hero, a villain, and an actress in distress waiting to be saved. The same old formula was repeated over and over again, and box-office records were shattered with every new big-budget movie that hit the screens. Today, a movie's success is measured by how much money it makes.

A still from Tiger Zinda Hai which has earned more than 300 crores at the box-office/Image from Twitter.

A still from Tiger Zinda Hai which has earned more than 300 crores at the box-office/Image from Twitter.

The movies that fall into the latter category — ones which have relatively unknown faces and are made on a shoestring budget — rely on word-of-mouth advertising, compelling storytelling, stellar performances, and the uniqueness of the plot to make it successful. Many such movies have come out of India throughout Bollywood's history.

Now, when making a movie profitable is more important than writing a good script, small budget movies are relying on film festivals to grab the audience's attention. Last year, Anurag Kashyap's Mukkabaaz premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). This wasn't the first Anurag Kashyap movie to premiere at an international film festival. Before this, Paanch, Gangs of Wasseypur, No Smoking, Dev.D, Ugly and Raman Raghav 2.0 have all been screened at international film festivals. But here a question arises: Do international film festival screenings help with the box-office performance of an Indian movie?

In recent times, independent movies have had a considerable impact on the minds of moviegoers. The Lunchbox, for example, received widespread critical acclaim, and ended up making over 100 crores worldwide. The movie not only captured the audience's imagination, but was also praised by reputed international publications. The Lunchbox, which had Irrfan Khan and Nimrat Kaur in the lead roles, made around 22 crores in India, and the rest at the international box-office. But, The Lunchbox also had the much needed support from domestic powerhouse production companies like Dharma Productions, UTV Motion Pictures, NFDC, DAR Motion Pictures and Sikhya Entertainment.

Poster for The Lunchbox/Image from Twitter.

Poster for The Lunchbox/Image from Twitter.

Another movie that made big waves across film festivals was Neeraj Ghaywan's Masaan. Released in 2015, Masaan — which delicately tells the story of a lower-caste boy falling in love with an upper-caste Hindu girl — was loved by audiences worldwide. It won two awards at Cannes, and received a standing ovation at the prestigious film festival. Back home, after its release, the movie grossed a total of just 4 crores. Its collection worldwide remained at 6 crores. Similarly, for the Nawazuddin Siddiqui starrer Miss Lovely, box office numbers were disappointing. Miss Lovely, which competed in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival and was screened at TIFF and International Film Festival Rotterdam, grossed only 52 lakh at the box-office in India.

Radhika Apte's Parched, too, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, and was praised by critics worldwide. Based around the lives of four women in a desert village of Rajasthan, Parched didn't perform well at the domestic box-office. It was able to gross a total of 1.43 crores in India. Movies such as Rajkumar Rao's Shahid, Ranveer Shorey's Titli, Kalki Koechlin's Margarita With a Straw, and Nawazuddin Siddiqui's Raman Raghav 2.0, have all received accolades world over, but international appreciation and special screenings didn't translate into impressive box-office numbers.

A still from Masaan/Image from YouTube.

A still from Masaan/Image from YouTube.

What is it that keeps critically acclaimed small-budget movies from making money at the box-office? Is it the lack of funds for advertising and marketing? Is is the absence of big names associated with the project? Or is it reason something entirely different?

Vikramaditya Motwane's Udaan, for example, is a cult classic today. Bollywood lovers swear by its simple brilliance and heart-warming story. But when it released, it grossed only 3 crores at the box-office and was declared to be a flop. These movies, be it the Marathi-language Court, Parched, I Am Kalam, or Aligarh, are loved because they tackle sensitive, controversial and morose topics in a nuanced manner. People in India tend go to theatres in order to forget their problems. Watching a movie that serves the truth about our society, or brings forward uncomfortable feelings, is not preferred by the audiences. Their definition of a movie is something that lets you unwind and crawl around in your own ignorance; not something that questions your beliefs or brings forth overlooked truths.

Poster for Udaan/Image from Twitter.

Poster for Udaan/Image from Twitter.

Mukkabaaz is set to release on 12 January. Hansal Mehta's Omerta and Bornila Chatterjee’s The Hungry will also be released in 2018. Omerta, which stars Rajkumar Rao, is based on the life of Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the British-born terrorist who was involved in several high-profile cases, including the kidnapping of three tourists in Delhi and the execution of Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl. The Hungry is an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus incorporated into a wedding in Delhi. All three of these movies have been screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, but will probably not make a huge impact at the box-office.

Movies that deal with homosexuality, caste, patriarchy and sexism, parental pressures, monotony of life, and terrorism from reversed perspectives aren't deemed to be entertaining. The audience in the country need to undergo a fundamental change. They have to start viewing movies as a medium for truth telling, realistic characters, and reflection of the actual society we live in. Inequality, injustices, poverty, hunger, destruction, death, grief and violence are all part of the real world. Someone will have to tell these stories too. Not everything is as high-budgeted, explosive, dazzling and noisy as a Karan Johar or Rohit Shetty production. These movies — about rich kids who drive luxury Italian cars and get married in exotic locations — won't ever go away, and that's alright, but to popularize alternative cinema we'd have to expand our understanding of stories that deserve to be told.

Updated Date: Jan 10, 2018 22:35 PM