A Year in Bollywood: 2008 – Part One

When I originally thought of this post, I had something very different in mind. I was hoping to write about how 2oo8 in Bollywood would be remembered as the year of the ‘small’ film going from strength to strength; a wonderful summer which saw 4 films in a row wow the box office and defy the world recession; how wonderful it is that a film like Dostana has been so warmly accepted and appreciated. Unfortunately, that has all been clouded over by the terrorist attacks in Mumbai which hit not only the film industry and India but shocked the world with its brutality and unrelenting determination to cause unprecedented carnage.

That Bollywood has felt the effect of this attack is an understatement – the aftershocks are still running their course with people afraid to venture out to cinemas as the country is put on its highest level of alert. Top stars such as Aamir Khan, Karan Johar and Amitabh Bachchan have used their blogs to express their horror and shock and more recently, their anger at the authorities for their handling of the situation. (I actually learned about the attacks from Mr Bachchan’s blog – an entry that was a bit vague at the time prompted me to turn on the news and learn of the events unfolding). Ram Gopal Varma has been criticised by the media after it was heard he escorted the actor Ritesh Deshmukh around the Taj hotel after the attacks to survey the destruction caused- RGV amongst others have been asked not to make a film on the subject glorifying the terrorists (which in itself has resumed RGV’s continual war of words with the media). As well as many reports coming out of actors and stars nearly being caught up in the attacks, there was the sad news of actor Ashish Chaudhary’s sister and brother in law being killed in the attacks.

This is but the tip of the iceberg – as people begin to pick up the pieces, one cannot help but wonder how Bollywood will recover – after all, this attack has occurred on Bollywood’s doorstep. In the short term, many of the releases in the past two weeks have all done badly at the box office, perhaps with the exception of Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye which has had favourable reports but had it released under different circumstances, it would have been another ‘small’ film success story. Then there is the penultimate biggie of the year Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi releasing on the 12th Dec – that this one comes with its own baggage is known (see First Look, two posts below this one) but how it will fare in this difficult set of circumstances is anyone’s guess.

Then there is also Ghajini, Aamir Khan’s offering for the year releasing on Christmas Day – according to his blog and media reports, Aamir has been so affected by the attacks and other personal circumstances, that he has cancelled promotional activity for Ghajini until further notice. With Bollywood relying on RNBDJ and Ghajini to put the balance sheet for the year in black (especially as the other Khan in the Khan trio – Salman’s latest release Yuvraaj, was poorly received by both critics and the audience), all eyes will be on the box office to see if these films can lure audiences back into cinemas and boost industry morale going into 2009.

In the long term, the attacks will definitely shape content and the way terrorism is approached in Bollywood. We have had films like A Wednesday and Aamir, both about terrorism doing well at the box office, but whether we can expect films of this calibre in the future is unknown. Mumbai and Bollywood have both bounced back from terrorist attacks before, such as the bomb blasts in the 90’s or the 2006 attack. But with the world recession also affecting the film industry, with budgets being slashed and films being shelved, Bollywood is perhaps going through one of the toughest periods it has ever known and how the industry deals with this will be something keenly followed by insiders and the audiences alike in 2009. Here’s to hoping that Bollywood’s stays resilient and comes out on top in these strangest of times.

Don’t miss Part 2 of A Year In Bollywood: 2008 where I tell you who I thought had a good year in films and who didn’t. Also, I’ll be talking about some of my favourite films and songs of the year, as well as a review of Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi and some films to look out for in 2009.

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