It was a year of few highs and many lows for the Hindi film industry, trying to find its feet in a shifting post-pandemic world.
Last Updated: 09.48 AM, Dec 27, 2022
We're recapping a year in entertainment with a series of '2022: The Year In...' essays. Join us on the journey!
Hindi cinema has had a tough year. Despite audiences trickling back into theatres in a post-pandemic world, the films themselves have mostly missed. There is an ongoing debate about how much streaming has either recalibrated the palate, or reoriented audiences into spending only on a certain kind of theatrical experience. But it’s safe to say that Hindi cinema, at the moment, is struggling to define its ceiling and rebuild its basement. To add to Bollywood’s woes, the linguistic centre of the filmmaking business has been notionally upended by the pan-national surge of the film industries from the south. Here’s a quick refresher for the Hindi film industry’s 2022:
Everything started on a promising note with the success of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Gangubai Kathiawadi, a giant film mounted on the kind of scale that drew the best out of Alia Bhatt’s precocious talents. In fact, in a year where superstars have struggled, Bhatt has tightened her grip on her preeminence.
Amitabh Bachchan’s foray into everyman territory with Jhund teased a generational breakthrough of socio-political proportions but couldn’t quite deliver in the way Chak De! India did for Shah Rukh. Perhaps the difference is that Khan essayed that role at the peak of his career, while Bachchan has quietly enmeshed it with the tapering end of his. Despite his stature, Jhund has learnings about the diminishing returns of greatness.
Vivek Agnihotri’s The Kashmir Files was the talk of the town, and remained the talk of the town well into the latter stages of the year. The artistic merit and intent of the film is open for debate, but there is little denying that it did go places.
Shahid Kapoor’s Jersey was expected to be another Kabir Singh but despite the actor’s sincerity, couldn’t pull in the numbers. The Kartik Aaryan-led Bhool Bhulaiya 2, on the other hand, was expected to stutter. Instead, it raced past box office predictions, its engine revved by recall value and a stunning double role by Tabu. Ranveer Singh was embarrassed at the box-office in another reality check after 83, courtesy the serviceable yet forgettable Jayesbhai Jordaar. (Cirkus seems set to follow suit.)
Jugjugg Jeeyo served as a pleasant reminder that family-centric stories could still pull in crowds at the multiplexes, while Ranbir Kapoor’s Shamshera proved that though a film can vouch for scale, it must also learn to root itself in a milieu that feels earned rather than pasted-on.
Aamir Khan’s Laal Sigh Chaddha came unstuck at the theatres, and for once, Khan was the biggest problem with a film. Liger proved to be as regressive as it was senile. Brahmastra delivered on the pyrotechnics, but not quite on the narrative. It also boasted some of the worst dialogue ever written in Hindi film.
Drishyam 2 salvaged the year, in what was a hat-tip to the continued relevance of well-made remakes. Possibly the two biggest shocks of the year came in the rejection of Aamir Khan’s would-be magnum opus (LSC) and the venerated return of Sooraj Barjatya with Uunchai being commandeered to a box-office lull by an audience that had seemingly changed gears. It’s hard to rationalise the success stories of the year because there have been so few of them. Varun Dhawan was part of two modest earners (Bhediya, in addition to Jugjugg…), both comedies of different ilk, but also films that subtly fed into the mainstream interpretation of conflict — be it personal or political. Ayushmann Khuranna and Rajkummar Rao, bankable actors in their own right, struggled in a year that also hinted at a rift between the kind of cinema that was being made for streaming as opposed to the theatres.
The rift wasn’t just platform specific, but also geographic. Cinema from India’s southern film industries has, over the last couple of years, garnered the kind of clout that has rendered borders indistinct. Language has been colonised by the universality of masculinity, as testosterone-heavy films like RRR, KGF Chapter 2, Vikram, Kantara (and to a lesser extent PS-1) travelled into the heartland where even Hindi cinema struggled. There were social media boycotts, hesitancy to commit to passable projects, and a clear demarcation for tentpole films. Kantara was an exciting rebuttal to the star theory, but star power continued to wield its influence over everything else that pulled in the numbers.
In the Hindi industry, contrarily, stars have had to grapple with sobering reality-checks. Akshay Kumar delivered a staggering line of flops — too many to count really. Even the duo of Hrithik Roshan and Saif Ali Khan couldn’t lift a well-made remake of Vikram Vedha from the clutches of a tepid response. Ajay Devgn, with the exception of the Drishyam 2, wobbled before eventually falling over. Perhaps the most concerning trend of 2022 has been the underperformance of female-led films: Tapsee Pannu’s Shabaash Mitthu and Dobaraa disappeared without making a mark, Kangana Ranaut’s Dhaakad failed to match the swashbuckling nature of its genre, and Janhvi Kapoor’s best efforts (Mili) proved to be in vain.
There is some empirical evidence here that the centre of pan-Indian cinema has shifted towards the grammar of the south. Vikram Vedha’s poor performance, however, counters the idea of unilaterality, i.e. that the language of cinema from south India can just as easily be adapted for the Hindi audience. Issue-based films, the toast of Bollywood a couple of years ago, have been called out; it’s also unlikely that larger-than-life romances will return anytime soon. The successful films of the year emphasise conviction and have embraced the kind of packaging that treats cinema as an event, rather than a story. Sequels and remakes might only increase in terms of frequency, although the tools may have to be borrowed from Hindi cinema’s lexicon. There is, thankfully, no formula to turn to and 2022 has only underscored the point that everyone — irrespective of reputation — will have to earn their cinematic stripes.