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Can Bollywood do an Avengers: Infinity War and break the box office with a multi-superstar film?

In Indian cinema, it is an actor’s dream to do a solo-hero film and deliver a success story. Once you achieve that, there’s no looking back. There are other reasons actors prefer solo-hero movies. Two-hero movies tend to make actors insecure – if the movie is a hit, who would walk away with the credit? And when it’s a multi-starrer, there is always a struggle and comparisons over who has the meatier role.

But it wasn’t always like this in the Hindi film industry. Take the examples of Rajkumar Kohli’s Raj Tilak, Nagin, Jaani Dushman and Badle Ki Aag; Sultan Ahmed’s Dharam Kaata; Yash Chopra’s Waqt, Kabhi Kabhie, Kaala Patthar, Parampara and Trishul; Manmohan Desai’s Amar Akbar Anthony and Naseeb; Ramesh Sippy’s Sholay; S Ramanathan’s Giraftaar, Mukul S Anand’s Hum, Mahasangram and Khoon Ka Karz; J P Dutta’s Ghulami and Border; Sanjay Gupta’s Aatish and Kaante; Prakash Jha’s Raajneeti and… the list is endless. And, remember, most of these films were blockbusters.

The encouraging news is that, in the recent past, there have been two-hero projects and a few movies have been announced with two leading men coming together in one single project. Yet, it has been ages since any filmmaker has been able to bring three or more actors on board to make a BIG multi-starrer movie.

While our A-list actors shy away from featuring in multi-starrers and egos need to be placated, things are very different in Hollywood, where the craft takes precedence over individual aspirations. The latest example is Avengers: Infinity War, which is ruling the box office across the world.

Hollywood has been increasing its footprint in India for the last few years but we have never seen a phenomenon like the Avengers before. More specifically, we have never seen collections of the kind raked in by Avengers: Infinity War.

The Marvel Universe has always held a special place for urban viewers in India but these movies are now finding a pan-India audience. Thanks to its larger-than-life visuals and the considerable publicity surrounding this spectacle, the film became the biggest opener of 2018 in India.

One of the reasons the film was able to keep the buzz going and then live up to the hype was its humungous star cast. Fans could barely wait to watch Iron Man aka Robert Downey Jr team up with Doctor Strange aka Benedict Cumberbatch, Christ Pratt and Chris Hemsworth in this mega film that had the audience hanging on to the edge of their seats throughout.

The point we are leading up to is a parallel – or hypothetical parallel – with the Hindi film industry. There was a time in the Hindi film industry when films like Naseeb, Amar Akbar Anthony and Kabhi Kabhie had big names featuring together. They were co-stars instead of doing cameos in each other’s films, which is what they do today.

So, with the whopping success of Avengers: Infinity War, the question is: Can Bollywood’s superstars move past solo films and work together on a multi-superstar movie? Given the fan following that each actor enjoys, a movie like this would break the box office.

We spoke to some noted filmmakers and some distributors and asked them why the Hindi film industry has taken a long break from making multi-superstar films.

Ramesh Taurani, Producer

There are films being made in Bollywood with an ensemble cast. As franchises become more popular in India, actors are more willing to work together and bring something bigger and better to a project. Race and Dhoom are franchises that have struck a good balance. Thugs of Hindostan is another example coming up later this year. Kapoor & Sons is also a great example since it is a film of a different genre.

The younger generation is a little sceptical about multi-starrers as, understandably, they want to establish their own footing in the industry first – but this is also changing. Actors are realising they draw a larger fan base to the cinema with such projects, benefitting everyone. Ultimately, it is always dependent on the script and on whether each actor feels their role adds substantial value to the multi-cast film.

Ratan Jain, Producer

There are a lot of filmmakers who definitely want to make multi-star films but it is difficult to get such a cast together. Also, you can’t make a social film with four or five big actors. You need a film like Avengers: Infinity War. You need a big canvas, a film of that scale. I don’t think stars are all that conscious of their image; especially nowadays, when actors are striving to do different kinds of films.

There may be a dearth of multi-starrer films but actors are pushing boundaries to try new things. Some ensemble films are due for release soon, like Kalank and Race 3 but it is difficult to make films with multiple top actors. Also, people start comparing their roles and end up feeling insecure. In recent times, it has become more difficult.

Anees Bazmee, Director

If such multi-starrers were made in India, they would be 100 per cent successful at the box office. If Salman and Shah Rukh come together for a film, that would be a huge opener at the box office. Multi-starrers like these were made earlier and they were easier to make too; it is becoming more and more difficult now. If movies like the Avengers series could be made in India, sky would be the limit in terms of business. If you make good films with a strong ensemble star cast, then business will know no bounds. An SRK or Aamir solo starrer earns so much! The biggest challenge is making a good film, getting so many actors on board and doing justice to every character.

Perhaps the top stars have not worked together because they haven’t received a script that was good enough to work on together. Also, their solo films do such massive business that they are secure in their space and have no reason to venture into something different unless the script is absolutely amazing.

It is a dream for every director and producer to get a huge star cast on board for a film. The excitement among the audience would be huge and the film would do very well at the box office. But, it is a difficult task. Doing a single-hero film is so difficult; imagine working with an ensemble star cast!

The script or story would also need to be something that requires a star cast; we shouldn’t write a script for a star cast only for the sake of it. For example, a story like Mahabharat would actually require a star cast.

Madhur Bhandarkar, Director

It is true that we don’t have our big stars featuring together today, but we did in the past. I can recall Waqt, directed by Yash Chopra, which starred Balraj Sahni, Raj Kumar, Sunil Dutt and Shashi Kapoor. It happened later with Manmohan Desai’s films, and Rajkumar Kohli’s films like Jaani Dushman and Naagin, which had many big stars in each. After that, the big stars no longer came together and they wanted to do solo films or two-hero films. I think they didn’t want to share credit or each one feared they may get less mileage or screen time compared to the others in the film. Multi-starrers made them feel insecure and they were more comfortable doing solo or two-hero films.

In a film with many big stars, it is not clear what role each one will play. The last film I can recollect that had a multi-star cast was J P Dutta’s LOC. As a regular movie-goer, I would want to see many actors on screen together, like all the Khans featuring in the same film. A film like this would definitely take a blockbuster opening, not only in India but overseas as well. I don’t know why they don’t work together any more.

I think when a film earns, say, `100 crore or more, a superstar may not want to share the pie with other superstars. Yet, Avengers: Infinity War has shown Bollywood and the entire world that a multi-starrer of such a scale can be done and with success.

I really wish we can do this here. It is a massive logistical exercise; it takes a long time to pull together; it takes a lot to convince the actors; and it takes a lot to make each actor feel secure about their role. But, today’s generation of actors is intelligent and they understand the dynamics of Hollywood. I am confident that in the future we will have a film like Avengers: Infinity War.

Sanjay Gupta, Producer-Director

The thing is, right now, none of our actors wants to star even in two-hero films, never mind multi-starrers. Everybody is obsessed with superhero films and I don’t know what exactly it is – over-confidence or lack of confidence – but most stars do not want to work in multi-starrers. And they don’t even have the confidence in directors, that they will do full justice to their stardom. I don’t see something like a multi-starrer movie happening in the near future. And Bollywood does not have any superheroes. We only have only one superhero and that is Krrish. So, we’ll have to create some superheroes to make such a film. 

Kumar Mangat, Producer

One needs to understand that the phenomenal collections of Avengers: Infinity War cannot be attributed solely to the top stars coming together. The film is a combination of blockbuster film franchises like Iron Man, Thor and others, brought together in one film and which itself is the third film in the Avengers series, where the earlier two films were blockbusters too.

Outside the Avengers franchise, many of its lead stars have not seen collections like this for any of their non-superhero films, which means the actual reason for this success is the franchise value and fan base of these characters from the Marvel universe, and the entertainment value of these films.

Regarding our Hindi film industry, multi-starrers have been made.... Welcome, Golmaal, Housefull and many other films which are multi-star cast films and now the forthcoming Total Dhamaal and Kalank. Basically, one does not make a multi-star cast film for the sake of making it. The most important criterion is whether the script requires it and that is always the starting point.

Dinesh Vijan, Producer-Director

I believe a star cast is dictated by the storyline. Having so many actors come together in one film is a visual delight! The excitement it brings filmmakers and audiences alike is clear, but in the end, the story needs to warrant that many integral characters. Avengers: Infinity War has brought together an ensemble cast drawn from different franchises, establishing each character and their back stories. This took them a decade to create, and the intention was to create a universe where all these characters come together. In our industry, I’m sure if a story is strong enough, the cast will come together and the makers will find a way to make it!

Ananth Mahadevan, Director 

Let me go back to the late ’60s and early ’70s when the James Bond formula had always been the bane of Hindi cinema. I wouldn’t say this about the rest of the country, because regional cinema is doing it in its own way and in their own budgets.

I don’t know if people know about this but Hollywood films were not allowed to be released in India till after, say two years of their release abroad. So, when we got films like The Godfather, Saturday Night Fever, Jaws or The Towering Inferno, or any other big blockbuster, they all came in after a good two years of their run in their country. There was even a ban on the number of Hollywood films that could be released because of the business they did in India. Hindi cinema had good filmmakers like Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Basu Chatterji, Gulzar followed by Shyam Benegal. Even the so-called mainstream filmmakers like Manmohan Desai, Prakash Mehra and Nasir Hussain, made multi-starrers with a certain naivety about them that appealed to the audiences. Hindi cinema still held its own all through till the ’80s when Shyam Benegal and Govind Nihlani were making films. After that we never recovered such films and the days of the multi-starrer almost became extinct. Can you imagine the three Khans coming together in a single film? Or can you imagine some of the other top stars like Ranbir Kapoor and Aamir Khan and some other top actor coming together to create a film that could be a potential box office success? Hollywood doesn’t have any such qualms. You put all those superheroes and super names together and they have a money spinner on hand. We don’t have something that I could name from the past, like from the ’90s that could really have given Hollywood films a run for their money. So, naturally people are hungry and they are waiting for films like Avengers. People who are hooked on to video games or the superhero characters will always go for it. So, unless you pull up your socks, decide what your script would be, it is difficult to see a change in Hindi cinema. Let us not compete with Hollywood in the action department or in the superhero department. Also, I feel we are just not giving this genre a thought. We need to do that so we can hold our own products or films against whatever Hollywood might bring to India. We cannot carry on with this devil-may-care attitude. It’s not going to work. And with films not working, we need to stop crying over it. Let’s not be a crybaby saying Hollywood is more progressive. If all the people in our country came together, I don’t think the British or the foreigners would have made it and plundered India, like they did. And it’s almost parallel to what’s happening with the cinema industry as well. I think that is what it is.    

Prerna Arora, Producer

The canvas on which any Hollywood movie is made is very different than Bollywood. These days a lot of actors are busy doing many projects and there’s often unavailability of dates from them so a film with an ensemble cast is impractical unless planned accordingly. There’s a shift in pattern on which a film is planned and made these days compared to yester year. These days, actors are just not actors they are a brand and they represent themselves on a larger level. So, the films they choose also depend on the kind of role they are portraying.

Milap Zaveri, Writer-Director

Avengers : Infinity war worked because it was the result of a process that unfolded across a decade. When they started with Iron Man, Robert Downey Jr was not a big star and Iron Man was the most unheard of superhero in the world. Even Chris Evans was not a big star; Mark Ruffalo, who plays The Hulk, was not a box office star over there. They invested in these people and they created these brands and made so many films, almost a dozen films, and they have reached this stage.

In India, we once had films like Sholay, Shaan and Naseeb, which featured big stars and the last really big star cast film, I think, was Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham. We had Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan and Hrithik. It was unbelievable, it was such a big cast and I don’t think such a big cast has come again after that. Then there was Karan Arjun, where there was Shah Rukh sir and Salman sir, but after that we have not seen them together except for cameos.

I think the economics of filmmaking is another hurdle. Big stars obviously charge big prices. And this increases the cost of making the film, so recovery may become difficult. But, I think as Avengers did so well, that should not necessarily be the case. There is a market for such films. If Baahubali can earn 500 crore, even though it is not a Hindi film, it shows that eventually content and entertainment are key.

Recently, there was an announcement about Ranbir and Ajay Devgn, which is a great announcement and it’s a big star cast. I think Kalank also has a good star cast; it has Varun, Aditya, Sanju sir, Madhuri, Alia, Sonakshi. I hope these films will bring that trend back because I feel audiences will flock to theatres to watch them.

Even my own Satyameva Jayate, with John and Manoj sir, is a very exciting pair. We have tried to make a mafia entertainer that has dialogue-baazi and action. If we don’t make big films, people will not come to theatres. We need the 100-200-300 crore films, which are big events, the larger-than-life films which you will not enjoy watching on a laptop or on your phone. I want to see Avengers in the theatre, in 3D with that atmosphere, with that sound.

So, I think we need to take a cue from Avengers, Baahubali, Baaghi, Golmaal, Judwaa and Tiger Zinda Hai, that we need to go bigger. I think what Manmohan Desai sir and Prakash Mehra sir used to do with their larger-than-life films… that trend is back. Of course, intellectual and content-driven films will continue working but we have to have balance. I am hopeful someone, as in Shah Rukh sir, Aamir sir and Salman sir, or the young breed of actors, gives the audience a larger-than-life cinematic experience.

Balkrishna Shroff, Distributor

I think the biggest problem in making a movie with a multi-star cast in Bollywood would be the egos. No big star wants to work with others of the same stature. And even if they agreed, there would be complications like who gets the biggest role or the most screen time. Their egos are the biggest stumbling block to a multi-starrer like this. It would not be possible to for any producer or director to handle a multi-star cast. 

Brijesh Tandon, Distributor

I think it’s because they want to work in solo movies. They want to work with stars that are not equal to them because they are worried that the other actor will do better than them or will get better lines than they do. In principle, if something like this happened, if they all came together, it would be very beneficial for the trade and very good for the audience.

Blockbuster movies like Sholay, Amar Akbar Anthony, Muqaddar Ka Sikandar, Naseeb, Hera Pheri, Parvarish have been multi-starrers. People like Manmohan Desai, Ramesh Sippy, Prakash Mehra have made these multi-starrers. I don’t think finding a director or the budget would be a problem; bringing the stars together is a big challenge. Some director or producer will have to work towards it, write on a subject that warranted it, and then gather the team together. It would be a difficult task. It is definitely possible and if someone did it, the results would be amazing. Big filmmakers like Karan Johar, who made Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, and Yash Raj Films, could make such a movie. Whoever takes on that challenge will be a big winner.

Rajesh Thadani, Distributor

It’s obvious that we cannot reach Hollywood’s level because they have so many stars. Here, just the cost of a film with three huge stars – let’s say you got Salman (Khan), Shah Rukh (Khan) and Aamir (Khan) together – is an altogether different proposition. Plus, trying to get their dates to sync would be a huge challenge. They are all committed for the next two years to different projects. Then, again, people want the best role for themselves. In Hollywood, it’s not like that; I think they tend to go with the flow. Here, there would be ego issues. Still, I am sure that since Avengers: Infinity War is working so well, the day is not so far off when something like this will happen in Bollywood too. It has definitely set an example for Bollywood. In fact, someone is probably already working on something along these lines.

Vinay Chowksey, Distributor

This kind of film does not happen in Bollywood because there are a lot of ego issues. Everybody wants their own screen space. In Avengers: Infinity War, many of the big stars had small parts but everybody cooperated. Here, many of the stars do not want to work with certain producers. It is a brand that they have created for themselves.

Plus, everybody wants a share of the collections. Even when two big stars work together in a film, there are questions about who is responsible for the film doing that well. In the past, we have seen a lot of Manmohan Desai films with multi-star casts. That does not happen now, when a big star is usually paired with a much-less-experienced star in a film. All the big stars want to have the benefit of better collections. Hollywood is not plagued by issues like this.

BH Basha, Distributor

Avengers… has done extraordinary business in Mysore as compared to other films. It is a Hollywood multi-starrer. All the major artistes feature in just one film. It has an element of action, of thrill, and it has extraordinary content. People have not watched a film like this before, which is why they are flocking to cinemas to watch it.

If a Bollywood film were made with an ensemble star cast, it would also definitely run very well in theatres. In fact, it would do a hundred times better business than Avengers: Infinity War. If a film had so many of the biggest Bollywood stars in it, say Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, Aamir Khan, Akshay Kumar, Ranveer Singh, it would definitely surpass the collections of Avengers

But, in Bollywood, the stars have massive egos. They would think, ‘Why should I work with another star?’ or ‘What if my role is smaller than the others?’ Hollywood stars do not think on those lines. They do not think of their screen time; they look at films as a form of art. They act according to the narrative and the direction. That is why they are appreciated all over the world.

A single director would not be able to get all the major stars together for a film. At least four or five big directors would have to come together to make a multi-starrer. If they did work together, we would definitely get to see a film with a huge ensemble star cast.

Ravi Machchar, Distributor

The thing is that Avengers: Infinity War is basically a superhero film, and in India there is no superhero and there have been no superhero films all these years. In this film, basically all the superheroes are present in one movie. Here, a major issue is that all five or seven top-selling stars have started their own companies, barring two – Ranbir Kapoor and Ranveer Singh. So they are busy with their own commitments and productions and they don’t want to waste their time on one ensemble film.

Now, Karan Johar is making Kalank, with a big star cast. If that movie does well, then stars might think about it, and big production houses like Aamir Khan’s or Akshay Kumar’s might come up with such a multi-star film.

Stars also tend to worry about who will get the better role and things like that but I think if one could get past that, the film would have a great opening. There should be films where Salman, Aamir and Shah Rukh Khan work together, or Salman Khan, Ranveer Singh and Ranbir Kapoor work together. We should make films like these. Avengers: Infinity War has done an amazing job.

- Bhakti Mehta, Suranjana Biswas, Bhavi Gathani, Titas Chowdhury

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