From Sooryavanshi to Spider-Man: No Way Home, how makers are using crossover cameos to bring audiences back to theatres
From Simmba (Ranveer Singh) and Singham's (Ajay Devgn) cameos in Akshay Kumar's Sooryavanshi to the rumoured appearances of former Spideys and villains in Spider-Man: No Way Home, crossover cameos have become a tool to increase a film's star power without proportionate increase in the budget.
When Ajay Devgn’s Bajirao Singham and Ranveer Singh's Sangram Bhalerao Simmba played back-up force to hero Akshay Kumar in Rohit Shetty’s action finale, Sooryavanshi, they did more than boost the box-office gross of the film. Shetty’s idea to bring together the three heroes of his cop universe through crossover cameos for Devgn and Singh would point at an emerging fad at a time commercial Bollywood hunts for fresh gimmicks to woo the buffs back to theatres.
Shetty had soft-launched the formula in his cop universe with the 2018 release, Simmba. The Ranveer Singh-starrer had introduced Akshay Kumar as ATS chief Veer Sooryavanshi while Devgn’s Singham kicked some serious butt in the climax. Even as Sooryavanshi rakes it in at the box office, smart PR is already spreading word that Shetty’s cop trio could be up for more action collaboration on Devgn’s home turf in Singham 3.
Other filmmakers in the Bollywood mainstream, cutting across genres, are looking at the idea too. Farhan Akhtar returns as director with Jee Le Zaraa, the all-girl road trip saga starring Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Katrina Kaif, and Alia Bhatt. No sooner was the film announced came the buzz that Hrithik Roshan, Abhay Deol, and Akhtar himself — the boys from Zoya Akhtar’s all-guys road trip hit Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara — could be seen making crossover cameos in Akhtar’s new directorial.
Cameos, guest roles, and special appearances have been conventional tricks in cinema to up ticket sales. Seventies through the nineties, stars appeared in projects of other stars with the sole motive of raising a film’s glamour quotient by widening fan base, in turn multiplying box-office revenue. The trend had somewhat slowed down with commercial cinema getting comparatively real in Bollywood over the past decade or so.
Things seem to be changing now, with Bollywood pulling all stops as it opens up in the post-COVID era. With films and filmmakers that are primarily driven by content favouring OTT releases, the big screen needs to supply bigger bang for the bucks to patrons. If the multistarrer, as a genre, has always been an easy quick-sell formula in Hindi commercial cinema, crossover cameos would seem to give the genre a new twist. For filmmakers, the math is simple.
Escalating star prices and egos have increasingly made the production of multistarrers a risky deal. With crossover cameos, a filmmaker manages to unite multiple stars within a budget.
The new lot of Bollywood filmmakers, driven by the logistics of Hollywood franchises and spin-offs, seem to have understood the importance of getting into character specifics with crossover cameos. In Sooryavanshi, for instance, the appearances are as much about Singham and Simmba appearing in Sooryavanshi’s world as they are about the screen superstars that portray these roles.
As most things Bollywood, of course, the idea had to be imported from Hollywood. Over the decades, Hollywood franchises produced by the same studio — especially superhero films — have lucratively tapped the idea. Bollywood had to follow suit.
Right now, Hollywood addicts are excited about leaked photos of the upcoming Spider-Man: No Way Home, which hint at the fact that the past stars who have essayed the superhero in earlier live-action films — Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield — will join the latest Spidey, Tom Holland, in the latest adventure of the comic-book franchise. Earlier this year, the web series Loki saw the multiverse burst open, and we know the villains of earlier Spider-Man films will make appearances in No Way Home, which will feature crossover cameos by fellow superheroes Dr Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Tony Revolori’s Eugene “Flash” Thompson. The new leaked pictures suggest Daredevil/Matt Murdoch will also make a cameo appearance in the December release.
Knowing the fan power of Spider-Man in India, the crossover cameo bug would only bite desi fans harder when the film opens in this country. As the audience cautiously returns to theatres, Bollywood, be assured, will take a cue.
Sooryavanshi is playing in cinemas. Spider-Man: No Way Home is slated to release in India on 17 December.
Vinayak Chakravorty is a senior film critic, columnist, and film journalist based in Delhi-NCR.
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