Jolly LLB 2, Rangoon, Trapped: First quarter of 2017 has been a see-saw for Hindi cinema
A slew of great films have released this year — some critically acclaimed but not successful, and some problematic, but winners at the box office. However, the biggest surprise of 2017 has been Akshay Kumar's Jolly LLB 2.
When 2017 began, it looked ominous – in a good way.
Fresh off Dangal, 2017 had big releases lined up right from the top. A quarter of the year down, though, and the story remains the same – it’s the smaller films that have impressed more, most of the bigger ones tripping over their own size, so to speak.
Raees and Rangoon are the two culprits here – both excellent ideas on paper, yet the former was under-executed, while the latter was over-done.
Shah Rukh Khan’s attempt to pull in the so-called ‘mass’ audiences failed, because its Robin Hood story set within Gujarat’s famed prohibition never quite came alive. It was a weakly written film that couldn’t capitalise on the fact that SRK was appearing in an avatar that managed to intrigue even cynics.
Neither was the film a faithful biopic, nor was it a smartly written commercial caper. Stuck somewhere in between, it quickly became a film not worth caring about. (Sigh, SRK. You keep us waiting, again.)
Barely a month later, Vishal Bhardwaj’s Rangoon arrived and became what’s easily the biggest disappointment of 2017 so far, for me.
Its striking imagery – DoP Pankaj Kumar is a bit of a genius, if that isn’t apparent already – doesn’t elevate the mundane goings-on, and neither does the stellar cast. Fact is this: Despite some terrific choices and performances, Shahid Kapur is still too weak an actor to shoulder something as intense as Rangoon. Kangana, with all her fire, is saddled with a role that should have been written better. And sheer charm can take Saif Ali Khan only so far. You don’t give the man who played (read: immortalised) Langda Tyagi something as lightweight as this.
On the other hand, 2017 has also seen two big films work (and quite unexpectedly, I must admit).
Kaabil looked terrible right from the first trailer of the film, and it has music that sounded like Rajesh Roshan took it out of the freezer where he stored rejects from the Kaho Naa Pyaar Hai soundtrack.
Despite that — and despite the fact that Hrithik has been battling an endless saga of bad PR, making the mistake of taking on the currently-invincible Kangana Ranaut last year – Kaabil managed to draw in footfalls. It’s an old-school masala film air-brushed with contemporary trappings – enough to win over its Tier 1/2/3 target audience.
It was good to watch a film that very clearly knew who it was made for. Kaabil is the kind of film the urban elite would dismiss, but the film remained steadfast in what it was serving and to whom.
But the surprise of the year so far has to be Jolly LLB 2.
Who'd have thought that Akshay Kumar would be subservient to the script and character, in a film that frequently shows his character to be inherently flawed all through?
Jolly LLB 2 stays true to its script almost throughout, letting stalwarts like Saurabh Shukla and Annu Kapoor steal all the limelight. The move to replace Arshad Warsi seemed purely driven by commerce, and it threatened to compromise on the sheer honesty of the original. Yet, the film, despite not having a more identifiable plot (which the first film did have), manages to work.
Two films that managed to create waves despite being under the radar for the most, were debutante director Sankalp Reddy’s The Ghazi Attack and Vikramaditya Motwane’s Trapped.
Both relatively low-budget films, largely set in confined spaces, they proved that you don’t need scale to create tension. Both of them had one thing in common – tight screenplays that kept things moving. Yes, they sometimes eschewed logic, but they covered up loopholes by ensuring wholesome interest in what’s going to happen next.
Of course, in terms of sheer impact, the biggest film of the year so far has been Shashank Khaitan’s Badrinath Ki Dulhania.
The film spawned opinion pieces on its understanding and portrayal of the nuances of gender and sexuality – more, in fact, than were strictly necessary.
It also had audiences flocking to cinema halls across the country. Yes, the film’s understanding of patriarchy is patchy at best, with feminism clearly being force-fit as a choice of theme because it sells. It also had a rather inane plot, one that was neither fresh, nor as cheerfully contrived as a homage, like Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania was.
But through it all, Varun Dhawan and Alia Bhatt showed us where commercial Hindi cinema is heading.
The two of them glide across the screen effortlessly, burning it up whenever they get the chance. (Varun’s acting chops are debatable, but he’s going to get better. You can sense it.) Remember, these are two young actors who have barely put a foot wrong in careers that are now almost half a decade old, each. Their appeal cuts across class, and they seem to be the ones helping decide the future course of commercial Hindi cinema.
Speaking of which, 2017 so far also has seen some films that seemed interesting at the concept level, but failed to make any real impact.
Phillauri, Naam Shabana, Irada, Ok Jaanu (that hideous title notwithstanding), Anarkali of Aaraah and the likes raised a few eyebrows with their trailers, but none of them lived up in substantial measure to their potential.
Finally, let’s also mention two films associated with once-big names, that probably no one ended up watching.
Govinda’s comeback vehicle Aa Gaya Hero and Abbas-Mastan’s Machine — an attempt to launch someone’s son (not sure whose, don’t care enough to Google) — disappeared without so much as a whimper. They ended up merely as a gentle reminder of the frailties of the movie business.
2017 is still loaded with ample promise, but you can never it for granted.