The year 2023 was when Bollywood rediscovered its mojo. The buoyancy, created mainly by Pathaan, Jawan, Animal, Gadar 2, was expected to carry through into 2024. But the sad truth is that at the six-month mark, Big Bollywood is reeling under no-shows.

No boom, only bust. The Hindi film industry has rarely had it so bad. If you go by how the biggies fared at the box office, and that’s pretty much the metric that matters, each big film meant to be a blockbuster has fallen flat on its face.

Fighter. Maidaan. Bade Miyan Chote Miyan. Chandu Champion, all big starry vehicles, expected to reel in the stars’ fan base at the very least, have underperformed. Which essentially means that an array of male A-list stars — Hrithik Roshan, Ajay Devgn, Akshay Kumar, Tiger Shroff, Kartik Aryan — whose very presence green-light projects, are experiencing turbulence. So is, consequently, the entire industry.

Don’t get misled by numbers. The so-called ‘market experts’ who keep both filmmakers and viewers enmeshed in the pointless ‘how many crores ki opening’ game deflect attention from the real thing: applying simple maths — how much was it made in, and how much did it make — tells you the dismal story of the first half of 2024. Not one of the big-budget films has made more than they cost to make.

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Festive offer

A bunch of mid-range, middling films, quite unexpectedly, have kept things from going totally under. Cue Teri Baaton Mein Aisa Uljha Jiya. Shaitaan. Article 370. Madgaon Express. Crew. Swatantrya Veer Savarkar. The only thing common in these films is that they weren’t mounted as starry vehicles revolving around heroes.

Take, for example, Teri Baaton Mein Aisa Uljha Jiya: If Shahid Kapoor was the big male star in this human-robot love story, leading lady Kriti Sanon had an equally sizeable part, and a crack climactic sequence featuring the latter became the thing viewers. laughed the most at.

Shaitaan had both Ajay Devgn and R Madhavan doing the heavy lifting, with the latter comprehensively stealing the film from the former, but the stars did the story’s bidding, not the other way round.

Shaitaan collection Films like Shaitaan, Teri Baaton Mein Aisa Uljha Jiya, Article 370, Madgaon Express, Crew and Swatantrya Veer Savarkar kept things from going totally under.

Article 370 was straight-up propaganda, yes, but this set-in-Kashmir-fighting-terrorism film smartly set up a brisk pace, and let its leading ladies Yami Gautam and Priyamani lead the narrative, making it a refreshing change from the jaded male stars doing ditto.

I’m really not mad about Madgaon Express, but compared to the sad-sack starry outings, this three-bumbling-guys-in-Goa-caper, starring Avinash Tiwary, Divyenndu and Pratik Gandhi, is a clear winner. Its high point was Pratik Gandhi, who turned out to be a revelation: Who knew he could do loonytunes as well as a cheating husband in the Netflix rom-com ‘Do Aur Do Pyaar’?

Speaking of streaming, all I’ll say for this year’s ‘original’ OTT films is that they didn’t exactly cover themselves with glory, the last one being the disappointing ‘Maharaj’; except for the Diljit Dosanjh-Parineeti Chopra musical starrer ‘Amar Singh Chamkila’, nothing else shone. But more on the streamers later; back to theaters for now.

Randeep Hooda’s let’s-get-Savarkar-on-the-right-side-of-history was worth my time simply because of his terrific performance as the titular character. You can see where he’s going with the rest of it, including his attempt to diminish Gandhi’s stature, and you can safely ignore it.

One of my favorite Bollywood films of the year (up until now) is ‘Crew’, which got on board two of Bollywood’s snazziest, sassiest female stars, Tabu and Kareena, gave them Kriti Sanon to make up a trio, and let them loose. in a plot driven by fun. This is one of those films whose success is a marker: not only will it encourage the producers to go down the less-beaten path, it will get more bums on seats for films featuring ladies log, who are not scared to own their age, or their libido, or both.

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It’s worth noting that ‘women-oriented’ films have always been looked down upon as somehow lesser, just the way ‘chick-lit’ is used dismissively for books. Well, sucks to that. The ‘Crew’ ladies are here to tell us that they are the right choice, baybee: ‘Kitna foundation lagayegi Cleopatra’ is destined to go down as one of 2024’s catchiest lines.

It’s worth nothing, though, that none of these Bollywood films has come anywhere close to the fine, fine films being made in Malayalam: it’s not as if the previous decade and more hasn’t seen one ace film after another coming out of the Kochi. Collective, but this year, it’s been a flood.

The all-boys-rescue-team in ‘Manjummel Boys‘, Fahad Faasil’s blindingly white-on-white version of krazycool in ‘Aavesham’, Prithviraj Sukumaran’s jaw-dropping transformation in survival thriller ‘Aadujeevitham‘, leading up to the last fortnight’s superb outing, ‘Ullozhukku’, starring Urvashi and Parvathy, in a tale full of piercing humanity. And Prasanna Vithanage may be a Sri Lankan director, but his fabulous drama ‘Paradise’ is headlined by Roshan Mathew and Darshana Rajendran, both actors working primarily in Malayalam movies.

Ullozhukku‘ is produced by Ronnie Screwala’s RSVP, and is a welcome step towards setting up collaborations across regions and languages, which may be an important way to break the stasis Bollywood finds itself in. Letting in fresh talent, breaking gate-keeping codes, and yes, most importantly, reducing back-breaking star fees: the faster Bollywood realizes how urgent these course-corrections are, the faster it will revive.

kalki 2898 ad Kalki 2898 AD is currently dominating the Indian box office.

Or we will be back to playing the numbers game: did ‘Kalki 2898 AD‘, the mega-budget (Rs 600 crores!!!) sci-fi tentpole starring Amitabh Bachchan, Kamal Haasan, Prabhas and Deepika Padukone, get an opening? How much has it made? How much will it end up making? Is the South once again giving Bollywood a run for its money?

And once again, the real questions will be drowned.

The only question is: is Bollywood making anything that’s worth our while anymore? Hollywood, which was also in the doldrums these past sixth months, has got a serious shot in the arm by the bonafide blockbuster status of the beautifully done animation ‘Inside Outside 2’, still going strong domestically and overseas. Whether ‘Kalki 2898 AD’ rolls over into clear profits remains to be seen: yes, that pesky math thing.

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Does Bollywood have any upcoming films which will get us into the movie hall first-day-first-show and fork out money for overpriced tickets-and-popcorn, instead of waiting for it to come to a streaming platform?

You tell me.