Truth indeed is stranger than fiction. The Bhatts – Mukesh and Mahesh – at one time known for modest-budget music-rich and emotion-laden movies that generally made a pre-release table profit and then did well at the theatres, have actually, audaciously, taken on Hollywood for the second time!
Now the words “taking on” Hollywood do not normally apply to a big Hindi film’s release, because their audiences are quite different and nine of ten Indians react more to a popular Indian star than to the biggest Hollywood actor.
However, with a major Hollywood release, things change if the Hindi co-release is not high on face-value and the foreign one is strong on presentation or genre, like extraordinary action, VFX or a hit franchise. With Indian language dubbing common now, multiplexes usually reserve more screens (and better show timings) for them. Fast & Furious 7, for example, annihilated Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!, which had never been attractive to the masses anyway!
In 2009, the Bhatts released Tum Mile, a love story set against the 26/7 downpour in Mumbai. It had skilled but expensive VFX (visual effects), was deftly directed, emotionally intense (despite Soha Ali Khan’s flat performance) and had music that was both chartbusting and brilliant. As per Mahesh Bhatt’s statement on record, “Tum Mile is the only film where we did not recover the budget, as it was our most expensive film.”
Releasing this film—on November 13, 2009— with the Hollywood blockbuster 2012, also a disaster movie, was a disaster in itself. 2012 also had a vague Indian connection: it was partly shot in the Himalayas. With the advantage of its sheer scale, narrative skills and technological superiority, 2012 decimated Tum Mile on home (Indian) turf.
2015 sees the Bhatts courting trouble again: Hamari Adhuri Kahani stars the Tum Mile hero Emraan Hashmi with Vidya Balan and Rajkummar Rao, and it has released, disastrously again, against the Irrfan Khan Hollywood biggie Jurassic World, an epic with the Jurassic Park franchise of over 35 years solidly behind it.
If that was not business hara-kiri by itself, the intrinsic deficiencies of HAK has completed the process. This time round, the title is unattractive (though coincidentally again based on an old hit song!), the story silly and melodramatic rather than intense, the music devoid of substance or appeal, and thus the reviews are even more unkind than those for Tum Mile.
The last straws are the higher ticket prices vis-à-vis 2009 for HAK, the high cost of the film (in the vicinity of Rs 45-50 crore) and the poor opening it has taken. Last, but not the least, is an increasingly decisive and ruthlessly corrective pan-Indian audience that will just not tolerate sub-standard fare anymore.
Sadly, like the dinosaur portrayed in the Jurassic franchise, the new Bhatt film is on the way to extinction. And the process could have been at least slowed by not taking on such a reckless challenge. In films, David rarely wins against a Goliath.
– Rajiv Vijayakar, a Senior Journalist, Film & Music Critic and Historian for Hindi cinema and Film Music is also an Author and Twice Jury Member at 58th and 62nd National Film Awards.
Rajiv Vijayakar tweets @rajivvijayakar