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Chronicle Of Many Deaths Foretold

Nothing succeeds like success in our business. Conversely, nothing flips perceptions like a flop either!

That being so, it is hardly surprising that the flavour of the last few weeks has been much discussion (read: derision) about the future prospects of the key personnel associated with the recent high-profile releases, Tubelight and Jagga Jasoos, both of which failed to achieve the numbers that they were expected to.

The key word here is ‘expected’. While collections in excess of `100 crore or even `50 crore that Tubelight and Jagga Jasoos mustered respectively could well have triggered success parties for some other projects, they fell well short of the perceived potential of both films, given the profile and pedigree of the two films’ leading men as also their directors.

But the point of this note is not to put a positive spin on the performance of the two films. In commercial terms – which really is the only term that matters – they both failed, period. Nor is this note intended to defend the formidable track record of Messrs Salman Khan, Ranbir Kapoor, Kabir Khan and Anurag Basu. One can safely bet that this setback notwithstanding, these stalwarts will get by just fine.

Finally, what this note is certainly not about is undermining the critical importance of accepting, and learning from, the verdict meted out by the box office. Our very survival, both as individuals and as an industry, depends on understanding what the audience is telling us with their rejection of our films and pinpointing what went wrong – be it the script or the treatment or the casting or the budgeting or the marketing or any other factor. And it is only right that the losses incurred (or profits made) on each release have a direct impact on the immediate commercial prospects of the key people involved, especially the leading stars and big-name directors. As they say, you are only as good as your last Friday.

What we are really reflecting on here is our fraternity’s widespread and rather unfortunate tendency to revel in others’ failures and make doomsday predictions about their careers. This is not the first time that we have felt compelled to comment on this trait, but that’s only because this is not the first time that it has reared its ugly head. Indeed, it would be no exaggeration to say that this morbid fascination with misfortunate seems to have become part of our collective DNA.

This unbecoming phenomenon is all the more baffling because, given the abysmal success rate of our products, failure is the norm rather than the exception, and anyone who has spent a reasonable amount of time in this business has had their share of Black Fridays. So if news of the latest box office casualty has to evoke any emotion at all among others in the fraternity, it ought to be a sense of sympathetic empathy rather than the snide sniggering that we so often witness.

So while we should, and do, take issue with the external threats that afflict us – whether an unfriendly tax environment or excessive and arbitrary censorship or vandalism on our sets – it is equally important that we cast a critical eye at the mirror too. We need to acknowledge our own shortcomings because these, unlike the external ills that plague us, are at least within our control to rectify.    

On a totally different note, far away from the doom and daggers of the Hindi film trade, a remarkable journey began 10 days after Tubelight’s release and climaxed 2 days after Jagga Jasoos hit the screens. We are referring to Roger Federer’s astonishing and triumphant campaign on the grass courts of Wimbledon that saw him enter the record books as the first man to win 8 Wimbledon titles and extend his number of career grand slams to 19 – another unprecedented feat.

Less than a year back, Federer had been pretty much written off as a potent force and experts doubted whether he would even continue playing the sport, let alone win titles. Yet, arguably the greatest tennis player ever confounded critics (and frankly, even supporters!)  by capturing the Australian Open title at the start of the year and following it up with the emphatic run at Wimbledon. Incidentally, the other Grand Slam title of the year so far, the French Open, was won by Rafael Nadal – another all-time great, who too was seen as a spent force not too long ago.

No, we are not adding sports reportage to our editorial mandate and still remain very much a film trade magazine! The objective of this digression into recent tennis results is to underline that when it comes to true champions in any domain – films included – one really shouldn’t be in a hurry to write premature obituaries. To use a sporting cliché – form is temporary, class is permanent.

And a little bit of class is exactly what our fraternity would do well to cultivate. While we are at it, some grace and a sense of empathy may not be out of order either.

After all, if there is anything that is guaranteed in this business of no guarantees, it is the fact that no one – including the greatest of the greats – is immune to failure. So each time we are tempted to heap scorn on the latest victim of box office roulette, let us not forget, it could well be our own turn next.

To quote the Biblical exhortation: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you…

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