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To The Victors, The Spoils Of War

The big (make that ‘massive’!) news to emerge from the week just ended was that of URI: The Surgical Strike storming past the Rs 200-crore mark at the domestic box office in the course of its fifth weekend in theatres.

The resounding success of the film goes way beyond just being the flavour of the week or even the biggest story of the year so far. It is significant and unprecedented on a number of counts.

For one, by becoming the first war film to score a double century, it marks a new high for its genre and serves as a pointer for the market potential of such films. Or any film, for that matter. With its imposing collections not just in India but also abroad (over Rs 26 crore in North America and counting, for example) coming off a product that cost less than Rs 30 crore to make and below RS 10 crore to market, the film has delivered perhaps the most impressive ROI (Return On Investment) ever seen in our industry, especially when one factors in additional revenues from ancillary streams like satellite, digital and music rights exploitation.

For those statistically inclined, this is the earliest release of any calendar year to go past the Rs 100-crore mark, with previous years getting on the century board with their Republic Day weekend releases, at best.

In addition to the records it has broken and registered, the film heralds a quantum leap in the trade cred and aura of its key architects.

While Ronnie Screwvala has for long been one of our most respected and pioneering film producers, RSVP Movies is the proverbial new-kid-on-the-block in the realm of contemporary production houses. By hitting the bull’s eye, both commercially as well as critically, with what is only its fourth theatrical release, RSVP Movies has catapulted itself into a lofty orbit that would be the envy of many much older banners.

For the film’s main lead, Vicky Kaushal, whose career has in any case been on the express elevator of late, URI: The Surgical Strike marks an emphatic and triumphant coming of age. He now joins a super exclusive club of such superstars as Aamir Khan, Salman Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Ajay Devgn, Ranveer Singh and Ranbir Kapoor, who have similarly top lined Rs 200 crore+ films and that, by any standard, is a great list to feature in!

And given that we are no strangers to the credentials of Messrs Screwvala and Kaushal, perhaps the film’s biggest revelation has been the assurance and finesse with which it has been helmed by its debutant writer-director, Aditya Dhar. It would be no exaggeration to say that with URI: The Surgical Strike, the Indian war film has been completely rebooted and massively upgraded for the naya Hindustan, and for this – as also for overseeing such a technically accomplished production in which each and every department has excelled – much credit has to go to the captain of the ship.

Hindsight is always 20/20 vision and it would be easy for us to look at the film’s numbers now and sagely proclaim that the film’s success was virtually a fait accompli.

A patriotic film on a hugely evocative national event that dominated the news headlines not too long ago: check. An adrenaline-pumping and aspirational tale that taps into the burning national yearning to take the fight to the enemy: check. A main lead who has zoomed up the star pecking order by being part of some very successful films in the course of the last year: check. With so many boxes ticked, how could this film not be anything but a sure shot hit?!

But as we all know – now more than ever before – there is no such thing as a ‘sure-shot hit’ in our business. And in the case of URI: The Surgical Strike, none of the post-facto explanations of its eventual success holds any water.

To begin with, it is nobody’s case that patriotism is an infallibly bankable genre. And we don’t have to look too far back into collections’ archives to find examples of failed films that tried to ride on nationalistic/patriotic fervor. Indeed, no genre comes with a guarantee of success – which is why the biopic of cricket Captain A may hit the ball out of the park while another on Captain B may be clean bowled pretty early in its innings; or one horror comedy may have set the cash registers ringing while another may have struck fear only in its investors by departing from screens with such alacrity that we can’t even remember its name any more.

Similarly, countless films have tried to cash in on the widespread awareness and curiosity surrounding high-profile recent events. Most of them have been dismissed at the box office with the same mercilessness with which the blaring headlines of the moment are buried by ever shortening news cycles.

And as far as the box office bankability of URI: The Surgical Strike’s leading man is concerned, it certainly wasn’t a given when the film started rolling. Even his subsequent string of successes during the course of the film’s making was seen by some as being attributable to other cast or crew members associated with those movies. But with this film, any such questions or doubts have been laid to rest with the same ruthless efficiency that Major Vihaan Singh Shergill displayed while eliminating his foes on-screen!

So without any ifs and buts or attempting to sift through facts to fit pet theories, here’s extending an unequivocal round of applause to everyone associated with this fabulously crafted and landmark film – a blockbuster whose own journey of creation mirrored much of the same precision, preparedness, ingenuity, calculated risks and audaciousness that wowed us in its captivating narrative.

- Nitin Tej Ahuja

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