There was a lot at stake for Bollywood when two big titles were released on the extended Independence Day weekend. Aamir Khan’s Laal Singh Chaddha, and the Akshay Kumar starrer, Raksha Bandhan, were both expected to give the Hindi film industry a much-needed boost after movie audiences had disappeared during the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, both movies belied expectations and created negative records by registering a 20% or more decline in revenue on a National Holiday. Laal Singh Chaddha, made on a budget of nearly Rs 200 crore, turned in just Rs 46 crore over the extended five-day weekend. Raksha Bandhan too flopped with box office collections of Rs 32 crore, having burnt Rs 130 crore in the making. These films are as good as gone as box office revenue is all front-loaded.
The opening is make-or-break. Many reasons are being cited for the debacle.
Khan’s adaptation of the Tom Hanks hit Forrest Gump is localised in Punjab, where the story of the meandering simpleton just does not seem to have resonated with the audience.
Raksha Bandhan, on the other hand, tries to pull off a comedy layered on backward social and cultural mores, but it does not work. As the lesson has been repeatedly taught, big stars are a draw, but they are not an answer to a sloppy production with no story to tell.
Who should know this better than Aamir Khan, whose first 2001 production Lagaan pulled off Bollywood history with a powerful plot of Village India fighting the British colonial tax regime with a game of cricket? Did boycott calls go against Laal Singh Chaddha? Could be, but then, there is nothing that can stop a strong performance.
Dangal, another 2016 Aamir Khan film about the story of two female wrestlers, was a runaway hit despite negative publicity. There is a lot of lip service paid to the importance of storytelling. Filmmakers still spend over 50% of their budgets on star power and 35% on marketing, leaving little or nothing for research and story development. Besides, entertainment options are multiplying by the day, so showtime on the Big Screen is only getting tougher.