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Mixed Signals

Commercial-masala or content-based films? Which holds the key to the future success of Hindi cinema? Can they run shoulder to shoulder or will one out-perform the other at the box office?

017 has been a roller-coaster ride for Bollywood filmmakers. While on the one hand we had the biggest of stars disappointing the audience with their mediocre movies like Tubelight and Jab Harry Met Sejal, underdogs like Lipstick Under My BurkhaHindi MediumBareilly Ki Barfi and Shubh Mangal Saavdhan won the hearts of many with their content-based storylines. The latest one to join this league is Rajkummar Rao’s Newton that has not only been appreciated by the audience but is also selected as India’s official entry for the Oscars. Witnessing this particular trend this year, everyone was apprehensive about stepping into the theatre for any commercial movie.

Then came along Varun Dhawan’s latest release, the out-and-out commercial, masala film Judwaa 2 and the audience did a complete 180 degree turn, making it one of the biggest hits of the year. The movie has become one of tinsel town’s big budget stray paisa-vasool films to see success that was being enjoyed mainly by content-based films this year.

While this acceptance by the audience has massy filmmakers heaving a sigh of relief, it has left many confused regarding the mind of the viewer. Are they redefining themselves as careful and smart and dissing the star-studded no-brainers or are they dazzled by Bollywood glamour? Or is it both where the audience wants to have content-based films as well as paisa-vasool entertainers running side-by-side in their theatres? We spoke to many industry people and got their thoughts on this particular dilemma.


Judwaa 2 has successfully broken the myth that audiences are looking only for inspirational or slice-of-life films. A large part of the Indian audience waits for wholesome entertainment when they visit cinemas, not only in the vast Hindi heartland but also in the metros. So when a decent content-cum-commercial entertainment film is offered to the public, it breaks records. We have seen this with Baahubali and now, to a lesser extent, with Judwaa 2.


Double role films have mostly done well in India. Films under the garb of ‘good content’ fail to engage. Newton must be a good film to have generated that kind of revenue and Judwa 2 must have entertained. Formula and pattern film days are over. Audience likes originality today.


Even in a so-called commercial, masala entertainer, there needs to be content that connects with the audience. In whatever format there is, the content has to connect. And I think the way Judwaa 2 has been written and directed by Davidji (Dhawan), and performed by Varun (Dhawan) they have connected with the audience. If you go to the theatre, you can see the audience enjoying the scenes, laughing and cheering the film. So there is a content connect. It is just that some people like to segregate films into content versus commercial. And if we are talking about the 5 or 6 content-based films that have worked this year, then there are also examples of 20 so-called content films not working this year. Judwaa 2 is the most popular brand of cinema that is there which is the staple diet of the Indian movie-going audience. Varun has shown the courage to do so many things in this category and he has found success every single time. Whether it is Main Tera Hero with Davidji before, where he has tried this space before, it has always proven to be a success for him. His work has connected with people. Also, Sajid Nadiadwala is the producer and he has a knack of churning out commercial hits, one after the other. Their team work was a success here.


I think in the eyes of the audience, there is acceptance of all kinds of cinemas that has done well. I have made a larger-than-life film, David Dhawan has made a 90s masala, commercial pot-boiler. For me, I think there is still a bit of a divide between the multiplex and single screen. What happens is that multiplex friendly films do get higher ticket prices. There are genres which are more multiplex-friendly and get a certain kind of advantage. But what happens in the single screen, and what happened in our case with Baadshaho, was that the data of the single screen was not as well calibrated as the multiplex data is. It takes longer to assimilate and is not always accurate. I don’t think that at any given time anybody has been able to categorise films by genre. We were panned by critics and yet we had high numbers. The film had a different pattern – it did well in Rajasthan, Bihar, Delhi, Haryana, etc. I think that the audience is always half a step ahead. There are some films that are critically acclaimed but don’t do well and others which are not expected to do well but become big hits like Hindi Medium. So there is no pattern.

But yes, there is one thing that is very evident today. Films that entertain and engage the viewer and which have a certain kind of uniqueness to them, definitely do well. They appear to connect with the audience. The cinema-going habit of the audience has become more selective and choosy. They are very clear as to what they want. If they like something then they will go in large numbers to see it and if they don’t then they will completely reject it. There is no average in between. This year has shown us that we have to try and do something different every time. Whatever genre your next film is, it has to have something different, something compelling. A lot of different genre films have done well this year and rightfully so. But every movie has a different audience. If you manage to find your particular audience then you will be successful.


I feel films that are honest to the genre they belong to are the ones that are doing well. Judwaa 2 delivers exactly what it promises in the trailer. So people who are going into the cinema hall are having a good time and they know exactly what to expect. I think that is one of the reasons why it is doing the kind of numbers it is doing. Of course, you have to factor in that Varun is also a very loved actor. The star cast does matter. But I guess at the end, David Dhawan knows his audience. This is the kind of film he truly believes in and he delivers it with conviction. I don’t think all content-based films have done well. I think honest films have done well this year. The ones that are delivering what they promised. They are not misleading. The most sincere films have been Bareilly Ki Barfi or Shubh Mangal Saavdhan or Hindi Medium, where they connected with the audience. This has been the year. It will be foolish of me to say that we know what works or what doesn’t. Judwaa 2 never pretended to be anything it was not whether it was the original, 20 years back, or this one. It promised to give you a good time in the theatre and people got that. I enjoyed myself throughout the film.


It’s such a great sign for the industry. This year has been dull so far and this movie has proven that people are always hungry for an entertaining mainstream commercial film. Content-driven films will continue and I am sure they will do well too. It’s not necessarily a competition between the two kinds of cinema but an encouraging sign that there’s place for both to co-exist.


Firstly, I feel that Judwaa 2 is a formula film and this formula has always worked. And that formula is of double role movies. So if you see the history of movies with double roles, you’ll find movies like Ram Aur ShyamHum DonoChaalbaazSeeta Aur Geeta, many films of Amitabh Bachchan like Don, Shah Rukh Khan’s DonGopi Kishan with Suniel Shetty and many others. There are very less double role movies that have not worked at the box office. Otherwise all films are hits. So they have used this super-hit formula. And this particular movie, Judwaa, is already a hit given by Salman Khan in the 90s. It wasn’t that the original film had faded from our memory like Ram Aur Shyam or some other old movie. It is still very fresh in everyone’s minds. Another thing that played a huge part in Judwaa 2’s success is the music. They have recreated the hit numbers from the original movie which were already popular on YouTube. So this helped a lot too. And the final factor that made it such a big hit was David Dhawan. If you look at his filmography, he is the only director who has given 80 per cent hits in his career. These elements are there in the formula. Plus, the writing by Yunus Sajawal and Sajid-Farhad is also very good. And Varun Dhawan is one actor who is very popular among the youth today. He has a huge fan following in kids and girls also. This is an entertaining, family film. David Dhawan’s movies are always neat and clean, watchable by families. Also, let’s not forget the release factor. It was a solo release on a Friday which was a long weekend. And Sajid (Nadiadwala) is known for his commercial films as a producer. He has clarity of the commerce. He knows that he doesn’t want a Highway, but a masala movie. I think all these things worked very well for the film.


I think the audience wants to get entertained. They don’t have any perceptions of small or big films. For them, if it is an entertaining film, they will go and watch it. We have coined terms like ‘this film is big’ and ‘this film is small’, but there is nothing like that. The audience just wants to watch a good film. And whenever a film comes that connects with them, it does good numbers. Whatever kind of film it is, if it is Newton or Judwaa 2, if the content is good, people will go to the theatre to watch it. And the theatres also have always had space for all kinds of cinema, it is not just now. Plenty of non-commercial movies have been hits in the past. Like Ardh Satya was a huge hit when it released and Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro is a cult movie. All these films have always been there. Everybody is doing their cinema, making good films and the story that connects with the audience does well.


I am very happy that Judwaa 2 is such a big blockbuster. I always believe that the mass of India wants entertaining, commercial cinema. And David sir has been giving that to the audience successfully over 44 films. Also, Varun is the new superstar of our country who pulled it off so amazingly. He has done Main Tera Hero earlier which I had written and his dad had directed. The film was a huge success and it was his second film. I think this cinema will never go out of fashion. This year too saw an extremely commercial masala movie Baahubali: The Conclusion, become a massive hit. Now Judwaa 2 is the next biggest hit of this year. We had actually stopped understanding that the real audience of India is in the mass. Sometimes, good and bad films come in all genres. But the business that these commercial movies can do all over India, other concept or multiplex films cannot do. These are the genres which make a film work throughout the country. Like Golmaal Again!!! is coming this Diwali and it is going to be a blockbuster. People have been talking about how content-based films have worked this year but the two saviours of this year are going to be commercial movies like Judwaa 2 and Golmaal Again. These are the outright masala films that critics are not going to like. I think whichever genre you’re doing, you should do it honestly. For us, with Judwaa 2, it is a wake-up call that we cannot forget the aam janta of India who want to be entertained in the theatres. Even a simple sabzi needs masala to be tasty. Even the content films this year like Shubh Mangal SaavdhanHindi MediumBareilly Ki Barfi or Newton for that matter, all have a generous dose of masala in their respective genres. There is humour, drama, filmygiri, etc. They are all crowd pleasers and aren’t depressing. Even Newton is a black comedy and makes you laugh. We cannot forget commercial entertainment in movies. I am very glad that Judwaa 2 and now Golmaal Again are going to bring that realisation back.


I think the biggest thing that comes to my mind for Judwaa 2’s success is that all Salman Khan fans have gone to watch the film and are appreciating it. Also Varun Dhawan has his own strong fan following. There is entertainment in the film plus we have the iconic songs — Tan tana tan and Oonchi hai building — which have been recreated and have gained a lot of popularity. Plus David Dhawan is the king of comedy. Nobody can make films like he does. Today, we have films like Rohit Shetty’s Golmaal, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Bajirao Mastani and nobody can make these films like they do. Then there is Sajid Nadiadwala as the producer. This combination has worked very well for the film. The movie has a come a week after Newton but the universe of Newton is very small. Whereas the universe of Judwaa 2 is very big and spans the entire India. The kind of movie it is defines the universe it has and Judwaa 2 was definitely bigger than Newton although both films did well. Judwaa 2 had Varun Dhawan, his fans, Salman Khan fans, a commercial genre, songs, etc. A lot of people have gone to see the movie to compare it to the first film too. But Varun has done really well by getting such a huge opening. With this film and Badrinath Ki Dulhania earlier this year, he has two films doing 100 crores in the same year.


A strong release date, Varun power and entertaining content led to an early Diwali at the box office. Currently, some actors are box office-guarantors and Varun is unarguably one of them. Varun has a very loyal audience which is why even his Badlapur did so well even though it was such an unconventional film for him. And the release date makes a huge difference especially since there was no opposition. And you’re giving them comedy, something light, fun and quirky. We talk about content films working but humour is a form of content and there was no reason for this film not to work.


Judwaa 2 has received a great response. The audience has liked it very much. Whether it is the youth or family audience, everyone is coming to watch the film. The reason that this commercial movie is a success is because the makers have worked on the songs. Not many directors worked on their songs in other films this year. Also, many small films don’t work unless they have a good concept and Judwaa 2 has the concept of comedy. Theatres are accommodating all kinds of films that are working and whether it is Newton or Judwaa 2, both are being liked by the audience. As for commercial movies, they will work if the content and music is good.


We have had a lot of releases this year. If you look at the weekend report of Judwaa 2, it totaled to a 60 crore collection. If you look at the graph of the financial year from April to September, there is no other Bollywood movie that has come close to that number except Baahubali which was a South film. This year, we have seen Shah Rukh Khan’s Jab Harry Met Sejal and Salman Khan’s Tubelight among other flops at the box office due to bad content. What my perception is that Judwaa 2 is complete entertainment content for the masses. People need that and we are the industry which is common for both – mass and class. If the industry demands entertaining content and if we are able to deliver it with the proper punches and a decent story like Judwaa 2, then that movie will be a major success, in my opinion. Comedy is a genre that is highly accepted in India, it stands a good chance of doing well at the box office. Also, Varun Dhawan is an upcoming star with great potential. He is the next Salman Khan. While other content has worked on and off, Judwaa 2 will be in demand for a longer time. People have suffered GST and demonetization so they want entertaining content. And it is movies like Judwaa 2 that are required in the market right now. Even the Diwali weekend is looking promising as two different genre films – Secret Superstar and Golmaal Again!!! are creating so much buzz. It is going to be very good for the industry.


I think the combination of three factors played in favour of Judwaa 2: First, the release date with Navratri and Dusshera. Second, the comedy content and third the franchise itself. Apart from this, it is more a family comedy so it is watchable by everyone. Today, we’re seeing behavourial changes in the audience – they prefer content-based cinema irrespective of the stars, budget, banner, distribution house and director.

If content is strong, no matter what kind of film it is, the movie will do well. If content is bad, again no matter what film it is, it will not do business. If the look and feel is good, the movie will be successful. As far as content is concerned, Newton and Lipstick Under My Burkha are both strong. But they are off-beat kind of films whereas Judwaa 2 is an out-and-out commercial film. The first two movies did well in the A-class centres due to their stories but they won’t do well in the B and C-class centres. Judwaa 2 will do well there because it is for the masses.


The multiplex business is an unpredictable market where one often wins on day one and loses on day two. Its unpredictable nature rises from the fact that the audience has an ever-changing mentality and its taste varies day-to-day. This answers why after the furor of Newton, a movie like Judwaa 2 which has resorted to formulaic treatment of a typical Bollywood movie, garners acceptance.

While movies like Newton are gaining recognition, clichéd story lines are also being accepted full-throttle by movie goers.

– Bhakti Mehta, Suranjana Biswas

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