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Saibal Chatterjee: Tiger roared too late
January 01, 2018
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Mainstream Bollywood flirted with inanities all through 2017. Until Tiger roared at the fag-end of December and announced to the world that he was still zinda (alive) and kicking, 2017 was turning out to be a dispiritingly lacklustre year for Bollywood. Not that Tiger Zinda Hai, starring Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif, made amends in any way for the string of terrible commercial films the industry churned out in the previous 12 months. It was a pedestrian and predictable espionage thriller but just good enough for Hindi popular cinema’s undemanding consumer base and Salman’s constituency.

But Tiger Zinda Hai at least served to put Bollywood back on an even keel. Just as well given that duds like Half Girlfriend, Raabta, Baadshaho, Haseena Parkar, Sarkar 3 and A Gentleman, among several others, dotted the rest of the year.

A host of films that were expected to set the box-office on fire – Kaabil, Tubelight, Jab Harry Met Sejal – failed to live up to their billing. That apart, releases such as Vishal Bhardwaj’s Rangoon and Anurag Basu’s Jagga Jasoos, which sought to break the Bollywood narrative mould while trying to stay within its parameters, did not find too many takers.

It was the kind of year when ordinary comedies like Mubarakan, Judwaa 2 and Golmaal Again made pots of money, reinforcing the belief that it takes no great skill to win a certain section of the audience over. The only commercial Hindi film that could be described as above average was Secret Superstar, in which Zaira Wasim delivered a commendable performance as the titular character.

Mercifully, however, small independent films (Newton, Mukti Bhawan, Trapped, A Death in the Gunj, Tu Hai Mera Sunday) saved the day for Hindi cinema, while off-mainstream entertainers like Hindi Medium, Bareilly Ki Barfi, Shubh Mangal Savdhaan and Qarib Qarib Singlle punched well above their weight and gave Hindi movie fans some reason for cheer in an otherwise dull year.

All these four films gave their lead actresses an opportunity to excel. Saba Qamar (Hindi Medium), Kriti Sanon (Bareilly Ki Barfi), Bhumi Pedneker (Shubh Mangal Savdhaan) and Parvathy Thiruvoth (Qarib Qarib Singlle), gave strong accounts of themselves. Pednekar had another success in the form of Toilet – Ek Prem Katha. In Chef, a Saif Ali Khan starrer that received a lukewarm response, Padmapriya Janakiraman, made her presence felt.      

For the more established Bollywood actresses, the year brought largely unhappy tidings. Jagga Jasoos was as much a setback for Katrina Kaif as it was for lead actor Ranbir Kapoor. Luckily for Kat, Tiger Zinda Hai happened when questions had begun to be raised about her status in the industry.

Kangana Ranaut, despite being a strong presence in both Rangoon and Hansal Mehta’s Simran, had nothing to show for her efforts during the year. Anushka Sharma, who ended the year on a high on the personal front, suffered two reverses in the professional sphere. Neither her home production Phillauri, in which she was cast opposite Punjabi star Diljit Dosanjh, nor the Shahrukh Khan starrer Jab Harry Met Sejal, directed by Imtiaz Ali, yielded the kind of result she would have hoped for.

Shraddha Kapoor had a particularly terrible year. All her three 2017 releases (OK Jaanu, Haseena Parkar and Half Girlfriend) ended in disaster. Noor and Ittefaq, both starring Sonakshi Sinha in the female lead, were box-office under-performers.

Sonakshi had to carry Noor on her own shoulders. The burden told on her. In Ittefaq, she had the support of Sidharth Malhotra and Akshaye Khanna. Khanna, an actor who rarely gets his due in Bollywood, demonstrated why he is a class apart. But that could not save the ill-advised remake from spinning out of control. 

Alia Bhatt had a relatively quiet year although Badrinath Ki Dulhania, in which she was cast opposite Varun Dhawan, did make enough noise for her not to give her fans something to exult over.

Vidya Balan, after the debacle of Begum Jaan, bounced back with the delightfully charming Tumhari Sulu. The film saw her delivering one of the best performances of her career as a homemaker who strikes out into the world of radio jockeying. Her co-actor Manav Kaul, playing her husband, matched her step for step, enhancing the impact of Tumhari Suli in the process.

The independent Hindi films that made a mark in 2017 were all boosted by strong central performances. Rajkummar Rao in Trapped and Newton, Adil Hussain in Mukti Bhawan, Manoj Bajpayee in Rukh, Vikrant Massey in A Death in the Gunj and Irrfan Khan in Hindi Medium and Qarib Qarib Singlle delivered exceptionally brilliant performances.

On the distaff side, apart from Vidya Balan, Swara Bhaskar (Anaarkali of Aarah), Ratna Pathak Shah (Lipstick Under My Burkha), Kalki Koechlin (Ribbon), Shweta Tripathi in Haraamkhor and Sayani Gupta in a cameo in Jolly LLB 2 grabbed their chances.

Wish that could be said for mainstream Bollywood as a whole. It produced more whimpers than bangs in 2017. Tiger showed up too late. 

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