Director’s ‘Believe It Or Not’ reason why ‘Fighter’ did not fly… read on to know more!

February 11, 2024
Director Siddharth Anand of the film 'Fighter' says that his film flopped because 90% of Indian moviegoers have never sat in an airplane!

I noticed something curious. Director Siddharth Anand of the film ‘Fighter’ says that his film flopped because 90% of Indian moviegoers have never sat in an airplane! I was amazed, amused, but, most of all, I was worried. Worried, because this is how the maker of a Rs 400-crore film thinks!

My mind instantly went back to Shakti Samanta’s ‘An Evening In Paris’ (1967), where a bikini-clad Sharmila Tagore is sea skiing as Shammi Kapoor courts her hanging from a helicopter. After learning what Malhotra had said to explain why his film had failed, I wondered how many people hang from a helicopter to court a woman! I don’t know anybody who has done such a thing and still, ‘An Evening In Paris’ was a major hit! I can cite hundreds of such examples.

Of course, the audience must first identify with the subject of a film. The other factor is fantasy – its content must make a viewer fantasise what the actor is doing on the screen. For instance, Rajesh Khanna driving parallel to a mini train of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway in ‘Aradhana’, another Shakti Samanta film, and on noticing Sharmila Tagore on the train, sings a song (‘Mere sapnon ki rani…’). That gives wings to the viewer’s fantasy. He would imagine his own self in that scene.

Similarly, when Amitabh Bachchan played his angry young man out to set the world right, it reflected the prevailing mood of the people of that time borne out of a rather authoritarian regime.

The prevailing national mood and the political dispensation usually have an undefined impact on the kind of films that work. Post-Independence, there was a brief period of time when films and songs were imbued with the spirit of nationalism. The period that followed was the celebration of independence. There was no media like the one that exists now and people lived believing that all was fine.

All genres, be it a family social, romance, musical, historical or mythological, found an audience. Action was accepted only as a part of the narrative; horror and extra-terrestrial movies held little appeal. People went to a cinema to be entertained and did not like to be burdened with ghost stories.

The second Prime Minister of India, Lal Bahadur Shastry, who fought a successful war and won it, brought nationalism back in his short tenure. Manoj Kumar’s ‘Shaheed’ as well as Gulshan Behl’s ‘Sikandar E Azam’, besides I S Johar’s comic take on Goa’s liberation, ‘Johar Mehmood In Goa’, managed to do well.

It was post the Shastri era that Manoj Kumar picked up the threads and cashed in on the national mood with his classic, ‘Upkar’. Jeetendra’s spy movie, ‘Farz’, struck a responsive chord in the audience because the film portrayed the Chinese as the antagonists.

Manoj Kumar continued driving home his theme of nationalism with ‘Purab Aur Paschim’, ‘Roti Kapada Aur Makaan’ and ‘Kranti’, all successful, thought the returns compared with ‘Upkar’ kept receding. Only ‘Upkar’ is considered a classic.

Then again, just about every genre was working with a new superstar, Rajesh Khanna, dominating the screen. Just as suddenly, anti-establishment films took over and became the norm. Films such as ‘Zanjeer’, ‘Deewaar’, ‘Trishul’, ‘Shahenshah’, ‘Inquilab’ and ‘Andhaa Kanoon’ ruled, all spun around the narrative of a one-man army taking on all that was wrong in the society.

After the Amitabh Bachchan angry young man era, however, no definite trend could be established that filmmakers could follow. There was only one formula for success and that was the musical love story. The new big stars – Aamir Khan, Salman Khan and Shah Rukh Khan – thrived on love stories. Even some one-film wonders such as Rahul Roy (Aashiqui) and Vivek Mushran (Saudagar) came up with hits.

So, Mr Director of ‘Fighter’, true nationalism and patriotism are the formulae that are in the air currently. Earlier, they hardly worked. Do you know that most war films don’t work in India unless they have human angles in valour shown by personnel and not machines, notably aircraft?

One of the earliest war films was Chetan Anand’s ‘Haqeeqat’. A perfectly blended film formula with family, emotions, romance and, most of all, one of the greatest musical scores a war movie could have. The film still got limited appreciation despite its tax-free tag in many parts of the country.

In your film, the family angle was corny. I can’t detail it because not many people have seen your film to understand it. You expect them to catch it on OTT so I won’t spoil the fun for them. I suppose being privileged enough to fly is not a prerequisite when it comes to watching the film on an OTT platform.

There is a list of war films that did not work and these include ‘Prem Pujari’, ‘Hindustan Ki Kasam’, ‘Vijeta’, ‘Aakraman’, ‘Mission Kashmir’, ‘Ab Tumhare Hawale Watan Saathiyo’, ‘The Ghazi Attack’ and ‘LOC’. ‘Uri: The Surgical Strike’ was the notable exception.

Is it surprising that ‘Fighter’ failed to get a decent opening collection? There are people who grew up playing video games flying and downing fighter planes!

The choice of making a Rs 400-plus crore film was wrong on all counts. In which box office would a film with this kind of a budget recover the investment and make a profit? The collection would need to be be more than Rs 1,000 crore. Does the Indian box-office business have that kind of a potential?

Even if you believe in the Rs 700 crore and Rs 500 crore business as claimed by the makers of some recent films, what do you think is the take home from these figures? It is less than 50%, for the multiplex chains demand 52.5% in the first week, 48.5 in the second week, and so on.

Finally, when you say ‘Fighter’ will be called a classic by OTT viewers, it is just solace you are offering to yourself if you check what has worked on OTT platforms.

Social media is a boon as well as a curse. Boon, because it is many minutes ahead in the business of propagating news before traditional media catches up with it. And it is a curse because that is where people end up being fools and vengeful.

Anand’s other excuse is that they made a mistake by releasing the film on January 25, a working day before the Republic Day holiday. He seems to have forgotten that his earlier film, ‘Jawan’, was released on January 25 in 2023, also a working day. The film is reported to have collected Rs 55 crore on January 25; ‘Fighter’ could fetch only Rs 20 crore.

Filmmakers, over the years, have come up with many excuses on why their films failed. But this one qualifies for Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! In that sense, the southern filmmakers have a more business-like approach. If a film fails to work, they accept it and move on to the next project.

When a plane flies overhead, not only children but also grownups look up instinctively. I have known people who are scared to travel in an airplane but never heard of those who would not welcome the experience of travelling in one or watching a film showing planes!

The fact is, people have had enough of this patriotism and war against Pakistan narrative. Indians don’t hate Pakistan anymore considering how poorly the country is placed. People pity and have sympathies for our neighbour. So, no use fighting a meek, distressed enemy.

And don’t lose heart. Our airlines have ordered some 1,000 new planes and the government is constructing many more airports. More people will fly.

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