Was 2017 the worst year for Bollywood? Not quite, but it did have a staggering number of egregious entertainers. Apart from dubious experiments, there were risk-free productions that smacked of an over-reliance on movie stars, the lack of attention to strong and effective screenplays, and dated ideas. Every month brought in a new source of sheer wonder at the hubris and laziness that sometimes characterise Bollywood at its blinkered best.
Ok Jaanu Casting is everything, it is said, and nowhere was this more evident than in Shaad Ali’s remake of Mani Ratnam’s Mumbai-set romance O Kadal Kanmani (2015). Blank-faced beauties Shraddha Kapoor and Aditya Roy Kapur played the young couple pretending that they were not madly in love. The actors were hardly the only culprits: Ali flubbed his Hindi version despite replicating the original in nearly every way, and Gulzar’s off-key dialogue didn’t help matters.
Rangoon Vishal Bhardwaj’s period love triangle between a producer, his actress protege and her soldier lover was as underdeveloped as it was ambitious. The film was bursting with ideas – the early history of Hindi cinema, the place of women in a male-dominated world, the intersection of the personal and the political, the role of protest art in the freedom struggle – but collapsed early on under the weight of its self-importance. Apart from two fabulous versions of the song Yeh Ishq Hai, and efficient turns by Kangana Ranaut and Saif Ali Khan, the February release was yet another sign of the director’s difficulties in handling big-canvas ideas.
Begum Jaan Srijit Mukherji’s remake of his 2015 Bengali movie Rajkahini, set during August 1947 and focusing on a brothel conveniently located on the border between India and the newly formed Pakistan, featured several breast-heaving and screeching women flouncing about in the name of female empowerment. Chunky Pandey, playing a perversely cruel mercenary, topped the list of eye-rolling and foul-mouthed characters designed to shock but succeeding only in dulling the senses.
Meri Pyaari Bindu The Manic Pixie Dream Girl of the male imagination is one of Hollywood’s most annoying archetypes. This creature of whimsy and instability who breaks hearts before settling into domesticity needs to be banished along with the whimpering virgins of yore. And yet, there she was in Akshay Roy’s debut. Parineeti Chopra played the next-door neighbour whose indomitable sex appeal scarred Kolkata native Bubla (Ayushmann Khurrana) and drove him to typing up lurid pulp fiction on his fashionably distressed typewriter.
Sarkaar 3 The year is incomplete without a Ram Gopal Varma movie and the accompanying rant about the director’s unchecked free-fall from form. A sequel that nobody wanted, Sarkar 3 continued the adventures of Amitabh Bachchan’s Subhash Nagre, the hoodlum-turned-power broker who rules Mumbai in ways that have still not been understood. The underlit interiors, over-the-top villains, grim-faced women, ponderous tea ceremonies, and Bachchan’s near-parodic baritone were paraded yet again to no effect.
Half Girlfriend Mohit Suri’s adaptation of Chetan Bhagat’s 2014 bestseller proved to be expendable as the source material. Arjun Kapoor and Shraddha Kapoor lived up to their reputations as second-generation progeny who get the breaks that better actors deserve. Suri’s flat-footed direction ensured that all the contrivances and annoyances of Bhagat’s novel were faithfully transported on to the screen. The question of which is better, the book or the movie, didn’t have an easy answer this time round.
Raabta Dinesh Vijan’s directorial debut was a failed attempted to resurrect the dated reincarnation movie, the one in which star-crossed lovers separated in one birth are finally united in the next. Banker Sushant Singh Rajput and pastry shop owner Kriti Sanon pawed each other as a friendly comet hovered in the skies over Budapest, only to be separated by Jim Sarbh’s sepulchral businessman. The hamminess was matched every step of the way by the cheesiness.
Tubelight Kabir Khan’s unfortunately titled remake of the 2015 Hollywood film Little Boy was a classic example of bad decision-making all the way. The movie starred Salman Khan as Laxman, an overgrown man-child who believes in the power of miracles, Sohail Khan as his burly soldier brother who disappears during the 1962 Sino-Indian war, and Chinese actress Zhu Zhu in her first and possibly final Bollywood appearance. The original movie was silly enough to begin with, and the real miracle of Tubelight is that somebody in Bollywood thought that Little Boy was worthy of a remake.
Mubarakan Comedies scored well with audiences this year, and we assume this had nothing to do with the anxiety that raged beyond the movie theatre’s doorstep. Anees Bazmee’s solid record of delivering light-on-the-brain laugh fests was absent from the London-set Mubarakan, starring Arjun Kapoor in a double role with no less than three heroines, Anil Kapoor as the embodiment of movie Punjabiness (loud, louder and loudest) and veterans Pavan Malhotra and Ratna Pathak Shah sweating it out in foreign climes.ٜ
Jab Harry Met Sejal Imtiaz Ali’s romance-on-the-road formula reached its final destination with the wholly dispensable saga of the romantic entanglement between a tour guide (Shah Rukh Khan) and a diamond merchant’s daughter (Anushka Sharma) in search of her missing engagement ring. The loss of the ring was a poor excuse to notch up traveller miles across Europe’s most camera-friendly cities and roll out a series of cliches about self-discovery and the meaning of true love. Jab Harry Met Sejal was Ali’s laziest movie till date, one that never went anywhere despite promising to reach somewhere.
Haseena Parkar Apoorva Lakhia’s hagiography of the sister of fugitive don Dawood Ibrahim proved to be yet another nail in the coffin of the Mumbai gangster film genre. The movie starred Shraddha Kapoor as Parkar (who died of a heart attack in 2014 in Mumbai) and her real-life brother Siddhant Kapoor as Ibrahim. Packed with pantomime performances, shoddy writing, and an unearned valourisation of criminals, Haseena Parkar was somewhere at the top of the Why Did They Even Bother list.
Judwaa 2 David Dhawan’s 1997 hit Judwaa, which starred Salman Khan as identical twins, was an unacknowledged rip-off from the Jackie Chan starrer Twin Dragons. Judwaa 2 claimed to be a sequel, but was in many respects even closer to the source material. Varun Dhawan, attempting to channel Salman Khan and Govinda, jumped through the hoops as twins separated at birth and reunited after a series of screenwriting convulsions, but the material was too loud, dated, and sexist to count (its lowlights include non-consensual bottom pats and uninvited clinches).
A Gentleman As flat as its title, Raj and DK’s comedy-laced actioner tried to sell Sidharth Malhotra as the sexy and smouldering spy next door. Malhotra played a corporate drone who was actually a deadly mercenary in his previous avatar. Unmoved at the best of times even by the oomph-oozing Jacqueline Fernandez, Malhotra’s Rishi/Gaurav character took his cue from the listless script, which packed in action sequences, high-speed chases, pole dancing and jokes about afternoon sex to no avail.
Baadshaho The 1975 Emergency inspired two of the year’s most insipid films: Madhur Bhandarkar’s Indu Sarkar (released in July) and Milan Luthria’s September release Baadshaho. Revolving around a stash of royal treasure, double-cross and four thieves with honour, the heist thriller was memorable only for its supposedly sexy and slinky but ultimately howlarious moments: a leery gent modelled on Sanjay Gandhi; an underwire bra worn by Esha Gupta’s fatal female that came handy in lock-picking; Emraan Hashmi slithering about with Sunny Leone in a song desperately hoping to raise flagging spirits; Vidyut Jammwal’s abs-exposing Army officer; dialogue that equates “haraamis” and the Army.
Firangi Troubled television star Kapil Sharma’s famed comic timing and gift for sharp-tongued repartee were absent in his performance as a dim-witted villager trying to impress his lover’s family by seeking employment with the British. The period drama Firangi was unable to dispel doubts over Sharma’s leading man abilities, proving that his appeal is confined to the four corners of the television set.