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SRK Double Whammy Saved the Day
|by Saibal Chatterjee|
In 2007, Bollywood's fortunes swung like a wild pendulum. The industry was buffeted by a slew of potential blockbusters that fell way short of trade expectations. The under-performance of big-ticket films like "Tara Rum Pum", "Jhoom Barabar Jhoom", "Eklavya", "Nishabd", "Laaga Chunari Mein Daag" and "Saawariya" could have left the dream factory in the doldrums. It didn't. Two men - Shah Rukh Khan (riding the crest of an unstoppable wave) and Akshay Kumar (with a hat trick of hits) -- came to Mumbai moviedom's rescue.
The box office bloodbath began early in the year. Barring Mani Ratnam's "Guru", an epic drama loosely based on the life of Dhirubhai Ambani, and the breezy "Namaste London", an East-meets-West love story, no big Hindi film found takers in the first quarter of 2007.
Vidhu Vinod Chopra's stylised thriller "Eklavya - The Royal Guard" (India's controversial Oscar entry) and Ram Gopal Varma's Lolita-inspired drama "Nishabd", both starring Amitabh Bachchan, were complete washouts.
To make matters worse, Nikhil Advani's "Salaam-e-Ishq" keeled over under its own weight. Suneel Darshan's "Shakalaka Boom Boom", Milan Luthria's "Hattrick" and Vikram Bhatt's "Red" and "Life Mein Kabhi Kabhi" also sank without a trace. April-end saw the release of "Tara Rum Pum", starring Saif Ali Khan and Rani Mukherjee. The first of Yash Raj Films' five releases of the year did nothing to lift Bollywood's sagging spirits.
Succour came from completely unexpected quarters. First-time director Sagar Ballary's "Bheja Fry", which opened in mid April, had no saleable star names and rested on an unconventional plot premise - the film was inspired by Francis Weber's French satire "The Dinner Game" - but it clicked big time.
"Bheja Fry, driven by a clutch of fine actors who aren't saleable stars, wasn't the only offbeat film that achieved commercial success. The substantial domestic gross of Mira Nair's English-language "The Namesake", a fine adaptation of Jhumpa Lahiri's novel, gave UTV Motion Pictures much cause for cheer. Another surprise hit from the UTV stable in 2007 was Anurag Basu's freewheeling "Life in a... Metro".
Debutante Reema Kagti's "Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd.", a lively comedy of manners produced by Farhan Akhtar and Ritesh Sidhwani's Excel Entertainment, recovered its cost - and more.
By far the biggest disappointment of 2007 was Sanjay Leela Bhansali's self-indulgent "Saawariya", co-produced by Hollywood major Sony Pictures Entertainment. Critics pilloried the film. Moviegoers stayed away. No other Bollywood film of 2007, with the exception of "RGV Ki Aag", was as universally disliked as "Saawariya".
Reverses that YRF suffered in the shape of "Tara Rum Pum", "Jhoom Barabar Jhoom", "Laaga Chunari Mein Daag" and "Aaja Nachle" were somewhat offset by the superhit "Chak De India".
Directed by Ram Gopal Varma prot'g' Shimit Amin and scripted by one of Bollywood's most gifted screenwriters Jaideep Sahni, the film was as offbeat as a mass entertainer can ever get. The tale of a hockey coach who has a point to prove and a bunch of women who have nothing to lose may have had shades of "Lagaan", but it was driven by its own rhythm and logic. Shah Rukh, for a change, shed his starry mannerisms to come up with one of his most convincing screen performances ever.
The second Shah Rukh starrer of 2007, Farah Khan's "Om Shanti Om", bettered the stunning box office performance of "Chak De India". OSO, produced by the superstar himself, hit the screens on the same day as "Saawariya" and romped home with ease.
The appeal of the crowd-pleasing fantasy about a 1970s film extra enamored with a female star hinged on stale plot devices and infantile in-jokes, yet the film hit bull's eye owing to Shah Rukh's matchless ability to inveigle the masses with his unabashed hamming. OSO was unapologetic masala, and its runaway success proved that the song and dance formula will never go out of vogue, no matter how much Bollywood changes.
The other male star who could do no wrong in 2007 was Akshay Kumar. His report card for the year had a trio of huge hits - "Namaste London", "Heyy Babyy" and "Bhool Bhulaiya". Not one of the three films was cinema at its best. They worked because in 2007 audiences were in the mood for kitsch.
OSO established that beyond doubt, as did "Aap Ka Surroor", music man Himesh Reshammiya's first film as an actor, and David Dhawan's "Partner", which saw the return of the once-successful Salman Khan-Govinda onscreen team.
Significantly, India's first multiplex, New Delhi's PVR Anupam, celebrated its tenth anniversary in June 2007. In the fitness of things, the year saw a steady stream of unconventional 'multiplex' films making it to the theatres - "Gandhi My Father", "Parzania", "Black Friday", "1971", "Water", "Provoked", "The Blue Umbrella", "Manorama Six Feet Under", "Dil Dosti Etc", "No Smoking"... But not one could the "Bheja Fry" success story.
"Jab We Met", a romantic comedy about a loquacious Punjabi lass and a down-in-the-dumps scion of a corporate family, gave Shahid Kapur the first major hit since his debut film "Ishq Vishq". But the year also saw a break-up between him and the film's lead actress and his long-time girlfriend Kareena Kapoor. The latter's growing friendship with Saif Ali Khan quickly became grist for the gossip mills. TV news channels and shutterbugs had a great time following the twosome's moves.
Another pair that kept star watchers busy through the year was Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai. Every detail of their marriage -- from the moment Abhi proposed to Ash somewhere in the US to their frequent post-nuptial visits to temples across the country -- were recorded for posterity by TV channels and newspapers although nobody got a ringside glimpse of the actual wedding. But star-struck Indians, as always, lapped it up.
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