No one was happier than me when the Munna Bhai films succeeded so well. For one, they are both great films, thoroughly enjoyable and ample proof that you can make good and sensible films within the mainstream Hindi film format. A bigger reason for me to smile was that the main crew was all FTII (Film and Television Institute of India, Pune) graduates who had proved how good we are if given the chance. Somewhere these films went a big, big way in countering the ‘arty’ image of films made by FTII graduates. To me, the films succeeded entirely on their own merit especially Munna Bhai MBBS, which opened rather weakly and took off with the sheer power of word-of-mouth appreciation. In fact, these are films I can see repeatedly and marvel at, and am extremely elated with their deserving success.
So when the same team got together for 3 Idiots, obviously the baggage this film came with was huge, the expectations sky high. And sure enough it has taken what is called an earth-shattering initial. The film, having got it share of glowing reviews, is likely to be a blockbuster, possibly not just the highest earner of the year but one of all time and no doubt will win award after award as well. Critical AND commercial acclaim. What could be better than that?
So where’s the catch? The catch to me is that unlike the earlier films which tread their own paths and destiny, 3 Idiots has followed the road already taken and succumbed to the ‘Bollywood system’ of stars, marketing, overhype and yes, overkill at the cost of making another great film. OK, no doubt it is still easily one of the best films of the year, but that is not saying much in a year of shockingly high mediocrity. After all, the filmmaking crew is the same, it has a fantastic star cast, all the technicalities are in place. And though many people will not agree with me on this, I still say it is not Rajkumar Hirani at his best. The adulation this film is getting proves that even a Hirani not at his best is a filmmaker several yards ahead of the others. The film has managed to cover up most of its flaws with some great comic moments and dialogue but scratch the surface and I did not find that All Izz Well as emphatically as the film and many reviewers have put it. Somewhat so, but not absolutely so.
For all its pluses, the film rattled me in a lot of places as well. And without going into details here, I was also put off by the excess marketing, the creation of hype and the sheer desperation to rake in the money. I agree the stakes are extremely high in filmmaking today, the idea today is to make maximum money in the first 3 days as the days of silver jubilees and golden jubilees are long gone and very few films have made money this year but the methods being used for the same rankle. C’mon, this film already had sky high expectations with an Aamir Khan thrown in so why all this? People would have thronged the theatres anyway so why these absurd ticket prices in the cities, with some evening shows as high as Rs 400 one is told? This is making money playing on people’s expectations and at their cost. Of course, with all the buzz created, people are still paying and rushing to the theatres but will the film have a repeat viewing factor at these prices one wonders. Would a family of 4 shell out more than a thousand rupees to see the film again?
The prices are not the only factor. Having a rave review out on Monday itself on a popular Bollywood site, to me raises suspicions of the worst sort of plugging, even if the reviewer genuinely liked the film. What if the reviewer had not liked the film? Would his or her review have gone up even a day earlier then? Obviously not. Normally, films have a single or two paid previews on Thursday night. But 10 (two shows in each screen with a gap of 15 minutes screen to screen) in Fame In Orbit and a similar number at Fame Adlabs alone at prices of Rs 250 and 270! Even a cheaper morning show is hyped up by being held at 6 am at a multiplex for a ‘cheaper’ price of Rs 150 (first 2 rows) and Rs 200 otherwise.
The gimmicks used to promote a film are getting worse and worse. One simply did not know what to make out of the whole circus of the film’s leading man travelling all over India in disguise. Though it was made to look like he disappeared and went off in disguise leaving the actual final marketing blitz to the makers, in reality it was he who made the news at every level.
In the final analysis, everything is justified by saying that all’s fair in love and war and making that hit film. And if it’s a superhit, all izz well!
Still, there is one big, big plus in all this. After delivering at the box-office with the Munna Bhais and now 3 Idiots, Rajkumar Hirani is in a position to do exactly as he pleases (Being an Aamir starrer, 3 Idiots has had its share of rumours of Aamir’s legendary interference and taking over of the film) and dictate the making of his films from now onwards from A to Z. There can be no better creative situation for a filmmaker than this. Here’s to some more truly great films from him. Lage Raho Rajkumar Hirani!