Mayank Shekhar: Kitna traas dega, Thanos!
(Spoiler Alert) How Avengers, Guardians and company relentlessly conquered the earth while trying to save it on the big screen
A still from Marvel Studio's Avengers: Infinity War
Maybe because they thought I was some angrez-type, dissing one after another loads of films being dished out in the early 2000s - inevitably, a film producer or the other would proudly remind me back then, about how India (in this case, Bollywood) was absolutely the only movie market in the world where Hollywood, or the appearance of a Spielberg or George Lucas film in theatres, made no difference to the lives of local filmmakers, Subhash Ghai, Yash Chopra, if you may.
This was true for India, up until a decade ago; and yes, not true for anywhere else. Still, since the names mentioned to me were of filmmakers (no doubt, well-known/mainstream), I argued, this had a lot more to do with the reliably desi, nearly mythological star-system, that movies pivoted around and audiences lined up in cinemas for. You need a face to build a following (for anything). Any branding intern will tell you that. Hollywood had its own star-system. Few filmmaking cultures, apart from India and the US, did.
So sure, the handsomely paid Tom Cruise or Julia Roberts, or for that matter Superman/Batman, were huge in India as well. But, their films merely ran at exclusive cinemas for English films in bigger cities (say Chanakya, Sterling in South Delhi/Bombay).
Did the cash-rich Hollywood not wish to partake in the desi star, plus song, mainstream movies that enchanted millions? By late 2000s, American studios began setting up offices in Mumbai, cheekily over-paying Bollywood's lead cast, getting into lopsided deals favouring local producers, to make a direct entry into Indian markets, at last.
Bollywood films, more or less, remained the same, in terms of scale. For they weren't here to change the status quo. It suited them. The budgets (for them) were pocket-change, anyway. Major Indian filmmakers continued to feel safe in the face of a captive audience. In about a decade though, one region, small-town at a time, the American studios, having deepened a desi distribution network, began to spread out the release of their own global blockbusters that none in India could potentially compete with. The economics simply wouldn't match.
Spiderman first spoke to its audience in Bhojpuri in 2007. Ronald Emmerich's 2012 (2009), with the Taj Mahal in a shambles in the promo, with no such scene in the picture, had curious villagers walk over to nearest theatres to catch the end of the world. By 2012, even Ang Lee's deeply meditative, Life Of Pie, collecting R90 crore, had thumped the Akshay Kumar masala picture, Khiladi 786 (releasing around the same time), by a R20 crore margin!
Woah. Did desis stop loving their super-stars? Nope. They still do. Here's what happened. Hollywood altogether destroyed its own, entire 'star-system' instead - making films not about actors (or even directors, for that matter), but relentlessly concentrating their massive might/resources/energy on propping up super-heroes (several for the price of one), gigantic disasters, and dazzling 3D/IMAX special effect, to effectively conquer the earth while, sometimes, saving it on the big screen.
Perhaps 2015 was a turning point, when up until mid-year, three out of India's top five hits had emerged from Hollywood (rightly subtitled in English, even in their English versions). Fast & Furious 7 (basically racing cars) was the first film to hit R100 crore mark. Avengers: Age of the Ultron, and Jurassic World, had wholly crowded out domestic competition on the opening weekend.
These movies may have lacked a singular creative voice/vision, but they were fail-safe in the boardroom's understanding of markets, and shares. As is expectedly the case with the latest, stupendous success of Marvel's Avengers: Infinity War (having grossed over a record-breaking R200 crore, already) - where nothing exceeds like excess!
The global fan-boy pressure to get off on this pic (like many others), made critic-proof by critics themselves, is such that you simply don't want to be that guy pooping on everyone's parade. It's like being the first fellow to suggest the whisky being served from a Blue Label bottle at the boss's house-party tastes suspiciously like Aristocrat Premium: "Kya baat kar raha hai?" Naah, don't wanna be that guy!
Curiosity is irresistible. There's nothing to call out. Conditioning is complete. Indians can probably see in Thanos's quest for 'infinity stones' their own uncles, who wear similar rings for inter-planetary changes! Balance of the universe sounds a lot like 'srishti ka santulan' from Abhishek Bachchan's Drona.
The film itself being a Bollywood multi-multi-starrer, where in the end, Amrish Puri wins, and if you wonder how dead superheroes might stage a comeback-hey, Ekta Kapoor's been spinning this for decades. The premise of so many avengers, guardians, and devils, all in one, is lost on no one who devours Hindu mythology, with 330 million gods anyway. Yeah, this is desi entertainment. I say this listening to actor Ranveer Singh's voice in the Hindi trailer of Marvel's forthcoming Deadpool 2 go: "Kitna traas dega, Thanos." Sach mein, bro!
Mayank Shekhar attempts to make sense of mass culture. He tweets @mayankw14 Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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