With Bhoot, Gunjan Saxena, Dostana 2 and Takht, Dharma Productions seems to be going through a revival
Dharma Productions has gotten a new lease of life with Karan Johar encouraging genres like horror, biopic, and historicals.
The list of Padma Shri awardees this year also features Karan Johar, and the announcement could not have come at a more opportune time. This news also coincides with a phase when Dharma Productions, the Karan Johar-owned banner, is going through a metamorphosis, for the better. The winds of change at Dharma only indicate the banner is all set for a makeover in 2020.
The release of the first looks of two films from Dharma Productions in a span of just two days says a lot about the intention of the banner in the near future. While 14 January saw the release of a teaser poster of Shashank Khaitan’s Mr. Lele with Varun Dhawan stripped down to the basics, 16 January saw the release of teaser poster of Shershaah, based on the life of Param Vir Chakra Awardee Captain Vikram Batra.
It seems the banner is all set to shed their tag of being conventional and playing it safe. The banner’s line-up of films in coming months only suggests 'edgy' and 'unconventional' seem to be the two core words that might define them in days to come.
With Bhoot – Part One: The Haunted Ship, they will step out once again in the horror genre after 15 years after the much-derided Kaal. Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl will be their first foray into the world of biopics. The sequel of Dostana this time will have a desi flavour. And the mega-starrer Brahmastra might just be Bollywood’s answer to Baahubali.
It was a dream launch for Dharma when they assembled stalwarts like Amitabh Bachchan, Shatrughan Sinha, and director Raj Khosla under one roof, and made their foray into the industry with Dostana. Yash Johar was at the helm of the banner, and it was not until 1998 when they tasted their first success with Kuch Kuch Hota Hai.
The real turnaround came when the baton was passed on to Karan Johar. His charm, wittiness, and suave behavior won over all. In a very short span since he took over, he made Dharma a force to reckon with, and delivered blockbusters like Kal Ho Na Ho, Dostana, and Agneepath. But the pattern they adhered to also bracketed them in a defined format. The production house seemed out of bounds for people who were not connected to the industry. It also gave others a notion they make film only with superstars and small films figure nowhere on their horizon. It was a strong perception which seeped into the mindsets of people, which Dharma found it extremely difficult to shake off. But being a charming orator that Karan is, he has slowly managed to remove the perception through his chat show, interviews, and appearances.
The Dharma of yesteryear was synonymous with two things – they pandered to family audiences and paid obeisance to superstars. While Janhvi Kapoor and Sidharth Malhotra's stardom might have attained a stratospheric proportion amongst the Instagram generation but they are not really known to set the box office on fire.
Karan himself will helm Takht – a period plot the rivalry between Darashikoh and Aurangzeb. At face value, this might look a typical Karan Johar film but the screenplay and dialogues are written by complete outsiders. Sumit Roy and Hussain Haidry have no record of working with Dharma Productions before. It takes gumption for someone like Karan to outsource writers, knowing fully well he is someone who prefers to write his own films. One must not forget that while Karan has played safe in terms of story, he did make Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna 15 years ago.
The root of this edginess and defying the conventional norm can be traced back to the debacle of Kalank, and success of films like Raazi and Kapoor & Sons. These films were as different as chalk and cheese. While Kalank ticked all the boxes Dharma Productions is known for, Raazi and Kapoor & Sons were just the opposite. The latter were so true and rooted to the milieu that even Alia Bhatt, who played the lead role of Sehmat in Raazi, was skeptical about its success.
The opportunity to direct a short horror film for Netflix as part of Ghost Stories too must have given a thrust to Karan’s instincts to explore the unexplored. Horror films and Karan Johar do not really gel together at all. The success of hinterland films and edgy content on various OTT platforms too must have motivated and forced the scion at Dharma to adopt an approach which matches the changing tastes of the audience.
It is a welcome sign Dharma too is changing with the time and ready to embrace the audience’s choice. While Dharma may have delivered blockbusters like Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, Kal Ho Naa Ho and Dostana, it has always been films like The Lunchbox, Kapoor & Sons, and Raazi, which helped Dharma in getting both respect from the audience and a good profit margin. While the signs were always there with films like Wake Up Sid and 2 States, it seems Dharma has now adopted the mantra that in the current era, unconventional content will be the game changer.
It is apparent this year will see Dharma more as a cogent and streamlined force. With new people helming things at Dharma, it is evident the winds of change are visible. If they can retain the essence of those aesthetics which define Hindi cinema for almost two decades and bring in a touch of storytelling rooted in realism, they have emerged as a tour de force in Hindi cinema.
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