The Pathaan of Bollywood

Pathaan crossing the unimaginable milestone of INR 1000 crores at the worldwide box-office is the stuff that legendary and historic comebacks are made up of; not just of SRK but that of Bollywood in general and of the sense of righteousness in the general discourse of the Indian movie industry. The 1000 crores’ club now consists of 5 Indian movies- Dangal, Baahubali 2, KGF 2, RRR and Pathaan, in that order. However, Pathaan’s journey to the top is definitely the most significant of them all.

Long before the first teaser/poster or any detail of the movie was out, social media was full of calls of ‘Boycott Pathaan’, often accompanied by morphed images of SRK in an Afghani dress and beard et al – in a complete lack of decency or even a pretense of respect for multicultural fabric of our country. (Maybe the makers got the catchphrase – Besharam Rang from there only). With the SSR suicide episode and the frantic calls of Boycott Bollywood, or Urduwood as many referred it to – Pathaan was a very easy target with its Urdu title and ugly discourse around it. And when the trailer and songs came out – it just escalated and political leaders and priests all came together to fuel the boycott calls for reasons as bizarre as color of the bikini worn by Deepika. However to his credit – Mr. Modi did indirectly address this in his party meeting a couple of days before the release and asked his team to not comment on ‘movies’. And when it released – the hype and craze was unimaginable and the rest is history.

Putting aside the artistic merits – the messaging from this event of a movie and its outcome couldn’t have been sweeter. Perhaps, all the toxicity that we come across on and off social media is just a minority view, of the group which doesn’t really make up the core of our society or influence the collective decisions. Perhaps, like in most of our ideals we are selective in hatred and boycott also and the love that India has for SRK triumphs all other emotions which that minority group has been trying to leverage and burn fires of their own. Perhaps, we were sick with the excess of hatred and division in the name of religion and politics and this was a resounding answer to that with love. Perhaps, the brilliant business mind(s) at the Yash Raj Films just knew how to mix India’s love for SRK with the current sentiment and just gave the audience what they wanted. After all, despite all the risks and threats, Pathaan did take a brave stand via its story. It has Muslim characters as the lead actor and actress, it has the customary good Pakistani (a good ISI agent, no less) fighting alongside a good Indian against a rogue Indian ex-army agent – in short ticking all the wrong boxes in the book of the right-wing discourse that is being pushed down our throats these days. That the paying public in the country spent more than 500 crores on it just goes on to show how irrelevant the whole narrative is.

However, while Pathaan may have broken through most barriers, one which it couldn’t break was that of the south of the Vindhyas. Its Tamil & Telugu dubbed versions together have earned a meagre 18 crores and almost entire 500 cr+ collection in India is from its hindi version. It remains unexplainable why the Bollywood movies fail to appeal to the large markets of South India , while the reverse has been increasingly true over the years. Artistic excellence is definitely not the reason for this – the levels of excessive irrationality in action sequences and casual misogyny is something which has always been higher in South Indian masala movies and Bollywood has often tried to emulate it to occasional successes. Its just a total indifference or lack of interest of the non-Hindi speaking population towards watching hindi movies dubbed in their language. It is the lack of this big chunk of collections because of which Pathaan couldn’t cross 1000 crores mark in the country itself – the way Baahubali 2 or KGF 2 did. And this is also what makes Pathaan crossing the 1000 crores mark globally even more significant. For all the theories about South Indian cinema taking over Bollywood, the list of top 10 highest grossing movies of India is still dominated by Hindi movies (6/10), with Dangal comfortably being at the top.

But does that mean Dangal is the best movie made in India ever, followed by the other 4 in that order? Definitely no. The movies are a classic case of art and business coming together but not necessarily walking together always. Something that is perceived by majority as that of high artistic value may not generate revenue and vice versa. Hence, in popular discourse the idea is to create something which the largest group can enjoy and achieve what they seek out of it – which is in most cases, entertainment. That is what Yashraj exactly did with Pathaan – a superstar whom the nation loved to love but was not getting opportunities to; a script which sounded much more intelligent than it actually is; some never-seen-before action scenes even at the cost of logic and physics, not taking itself seriously; super rich production value and fast-paced screenplay with moments designed to elicit hysteria; and the result is for all of us to see.

Pathaan is a month old today in the cinemas, and if you open the bookmyshow app, you are highly likely to see some of the shows colored as red.  And while the 2 movies which came after Pathaan haven’t really done well, I couldn’t find a single comment on social media calling for their boycott – and this in itself might be start of the good times for Bollywood.


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