Mumbai: Beating back boycott calls, protests over an old statement from its star on beef and talk that Bollywood has lost its magic touch, “Brahmastra Part One: Shiva” may finally have sent out the message – don’t dismiss it yet. As the lavish epic fantasy crossed the Rs 220 crore gross box office worldwide mark in its opening weekend, industry insiders were watching anxiously to see if the trend holds.
The Ranbir Kapoor-Alia Bhatt starrer, produced by Star Studios and Dharma Productions, found itself under a cloud of controversy in the weeks preceding its release last Friday.
Ranbir’s comment from several years ago that he ate beef came back to haunt and protests broke out last week when he and wife Alia went to Ujjain’s Mahakal temple. This gave impetus to the #BoycottBrahmastra calls trending on social media. But that clearly hasn’t happened and “Brahmastra” is set to become a mega hit like spectacle South films such as “Pushpa: The Rise”, “KGF: Chapter 2” and “RRR”.
“It is the highest non-holiday opener and the second highest opening film after ‘KGF: Chapter 2’,” Rajendra Singh Jyala, chief programming officer at INOX Leisure, told PTI. “If boycott calls really had an impact, ‘Brahmastra’ wouldn’t have done these numbers,” he said. If the content is good, nothing can stop a film from becoming a hit, Jyala declared.
Other experts agreed, saying the initial success of “Brahmastra” could indicate that calls for boycotting Bollywood films have run out of steam. How much the finally profits is up for question. At a reported Rs 400 crore, it is believed to be one of the most expensive films ever made in India. The film follows Ranbir’s Shiva, a deejay who sets out on a journey to trace the origins of his special powers with Isha (Alia) as they try to thwart evil forces, led by TV star Mouni Roy’s Junoon, from destroying the world.
According to Manoj Desai, executive director, G7 Multiplex and Maratha Mandir Cinema, “Brahmastra” may end the slump the Hindi exhibition industry has been in. “People have come to watch the film in theatres because it is a big-screen spectacle, besides there is a curiosity to see this film as it has been in the making for years. Looks like the good old days are back,” he added. For the film, which also stars Amitabh Bachchan, Nagarjuna and Shah Rukh Khan for good measure, Desai said they have set aside four shows each in Galaxy and Gaiety (both 2,000 seaters), and three shows in the 1,100-capacity Maratha Mandir.
The film was released in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, and Kannada on September 9 worldwide. And the magic seems to be working – at least for now. It is probably for the first time after theatres reopened following pandemic-induced lockdowns that more screenings are being added for the film.
Multiplex chain PVR Cinemas announced on Instagram on Sunday that it was adding two special shows at its IMAX and PXL screens – at the unearthly hours of 2.30 am and 2.45 am. Citing the dismal box office numbers of Aamir Khan’s “Laal Singh Chaddha”, Akshay Kumar’s “Raksha Bandhan”, and Vijay Devarakonda’s “Liger”, senior film critic Saibal Chatterjee said, “The boycott calls worked in the case of three-four films but it has become a joke now.”
As Dharma Productions’ Karan Johar put out a tweet saying, “Humbled… grateful… yet can’t control my excitement! Thank you”, filmmaker Hansal Mehta detailed his troubles arranging for tickets.
“I really enjoyed #Brahmastra. What I enjoyed, even more, is going to a cinema hall for a nearly 60-70% full morning show after failing to get tickets for last night’s shows. And long queues for the later shows at the same multiplex. The 2nd part is going to be HUGE,” the “Scam 1992” director tweeted on Sunday.
Writer and director Ayan Mukerji’s vision of an Indian cinematic universe ‘Astraverse’ and the hype around stars backing a film blending technology and Hindu mythology seems to have won against critics. Some of them called it a mishmash of Hollywood superhero films with a smattering of Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings.
“I liked the whole mythology and modern-day world-building. It gets a bit overwhelming towards the end but at least it’s something homegrown and original,” added a viewer who watched “Brahmastra” first day-first show in a Mumbai cinema hall. Responding to the protests that prevented them from entering the Mahakal temple in Ujjain, Alia said at a press conference in Delhi last week, “There is no negative environment. There’s no such thing. It’s a beautiful environment to release a film…”
Asked whether Hindi movies are being unfairly treated, Ranbir added, “If a film doesn’t work, there is no other reason. It is because the content is not good… I will give the example of my own film. I will not talk about other films. Few weeks ago, my film ‘Shamshera’ was released… The film didn’t run at the box office. It is probably because the audience didn’t like the film.”
It’s no longer a spoiler that Shah Rukh stars in an extended guest appearance in “Brahmastra“. He recently had cameos in “Rocketry: The Nambi Effect” and “Laal Singh Chaddha”. In this film, Khan plays a scientist called Mohan Bhargava, a nod to his character in “Swades” on which Mukerji served as an assistant director.
The presence of Khan, whose last film was 2018’s “Zero”, adds gravitas to the film ably supported by veterans Bachchan and Nagarjuna. “It proves people are waiting for Shah Rukh to return. That augurs well for his films that will come next year,” Chatterjee added. Analysing the positive reception, Jyala said, “It is a larger-than-life film, the visuals are good. Two-three songs of the film were hit before its release. All these factors have worked despite mixed reviews and boycott calls. The general audience doesn’t care about all this.”
In Chatterjee’s view, it’s a movie veering toward the conventional battle of “light versus darkness”. “The villain is a woman, the female lead is not a pushover. It’s a fine film in this sense. It is loud, over-the-top but it manages to push in these things which are interesting,” he said. This film has some sensitivity towards gender, which is an “improvement” on the hypermasculinity in south Indian films that have gone on to become big money spinners, he said.
Unlike the epic films of the South that have done so well recently, the hero here does not exude machismo. Ranbir’s Shiva is uncertain and unsure, on a journey of self-discovery. So if ‘Brahmastra’ works, it’s good news for the industry, which employs thousands of people.