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As most people who have been following the box office will know, OSO has outdone Saawariya internationally as well as in India. In fact, OSO has outdone Lion for Lambs in the UK, ranking top which is no mean feat for an entirely Indian film (B&P wasn’t an Indian film). So what actually happened? How did a filmmaker and his dream project go from being the most highly anticipated film (with newcomers and the makers) to being reprimanded at the box office? There is more than one reason.
Genre: OSO is the ultimate Indian masala flick. It was a blatant flashback of Indian cinema’s Golden Years. The filmmakers established that from the very beginning. You were going to get a true-blue Indian film with the yesteryear songs and feel with the age old Indian film story — love lost and redeemed using the tools from Karz and Karan Arjun. After all, who doesn’t like vindication? It was a straight-forward romance/action/drama film. It’s Diwali. People like feel-good films that they don’t have to overthink, that they can watch with their family and dialogues where they don’t have to read in-between the lines.
Saawariya suffered its fate because of the genre. SLB should have stated that this film was a fairytale epic and not a romantic epic (do we recall what happened with Veer-Zaara when YR decided to call it a love epic?). SLB talked in great detail about his emotional involvement in the film and to the story and how it reflected his grandmother’s wait for his grandfather. He talked about everything except the plot. Never a good idea when it is effectively experimental cinema. In a recent interview, he stated rather heatedly that the Indian media is underestimating the audience and their taste for classical music and stories. As it stands, I think SLB is overestimated his audience — they loved the music but didn’t understand the story. No one felt they could connect to the characters. The point of his film was that you weren’t meant to connect to the characters — you were supposed to want to be the characters. The folklore genre doesn’t do well in India — do we remember the disaster called Paheli?
PR: OSO had considerable advantage over Saawariya from the word-go. It was a Farrah Khan film. She is known to create masala flicks. She is known to execute them fabulously. It was backed by SRK, which means the world’s most aggressive PR. SRK also has a fantastic relationship with the media and the public, if you have the media on your side, you will automatically have a considerable portion of the public on your side. The PR campaigns worked over-time. It wasn’t just one or two TV shows. It was every TV show that was being aired. Every event they could take over — they had their own fashion event at the fashion week. It had Deepika, who has been touted by many as the next Aishwarya. Deepika became the first face of the Indian Vogue. Deepika also had the advantage of being a model so while she was highly anticipated as an actress, the expectations of her delivery were low. There were interviews everywhere, to everyone for everyone by everyone — from Farrah to Shreyas. They graced magazine covers as individuals and as ensembles. The unbelievable cast ensemble of 30 Bollywood stars and the constant clips and behind-the-scenes footage of the film familiarised the audience with the film. OSO could have only been promoted more, if SRK and co. had decided to visit the house of every single cine-goer. If SRK ever decides to expand his production company, he really should think about opening a PR division.
Saawariya lost out here. Ranbir Kapoor and Sonam Kapoor were making their debut. They already had the burden of living to up to pretty established and phenomenal legacies. They were also completely new to the world (at least stars/actors in their own right as opposed to the children of stars) — they could only campaign as much as a newbie can manage when they aren’t aware of the ropes. Expectations were high. And for all of SLB’s talent and vision, he is so self-exiling, that he is very far removed from the media. In doing so, the media didn’t have any issues in choosing SRK. There were no competition. SLB’s lack of interpersonal skills has not helped the Saawariya cause. He hoped the film would speak for itself — and the film does, but only to those who are willing to live in dream worlds and see the film for what it is, an abstract and symbolic notion of what emotions are. The PR campaign wasn’t nearly as aggressive as OSO. There were TV spots or a few interviews and promotional campaigns but they were controlled by SLB’s choices and that’s a bad idea. He doesn’t know how to play the media game as per se — he was hoping to create mystery around the film and therefore arouse people’s interest. That doesn’t work at Diwali. Actually that rarely works, as a general rule, people like to be involved with the film. Saawariya was an elusive dream by an elusive filmmaker with rising stars and not shooting stars.
Money, Star Value & Story: OSO was always, always, always going to win this. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying I prefer either but when it comes to selling power, it was a no-brainer. 30 Bollywood stars were making cameo appearances. It was a film under the same style of MHN which had been one of THE biggest hits of 2004. It had SRK and the Farrah Khan duo. Enough said. The two together are powerhouses that have outmanoeuvred Yash Raj. They don’t play the ‘It’s something new card’. They take Indian cinema for what is was and is and execute it beautifully. Just because you’ve seen the storyline before doesn’t mean you’ve seen the film before. MHN told a story that was not remotely new but packaged and presented it in such a way, that everyone had an opinion on it and for the most part, it was a positive one. They weren’t being experimental. They delivered what the audience wants at this time of the year or in fact any time of the year — a happy-ending relatable film with a superstar gracing their screen and immensely beautiful woman in tow. OSO was made for two reasons: 1) the fun and frivolity of yesteryear cinema and 2) the financial success that was guaranteed. The film wasn’t made for the sole purpose of critical success and because it was geared for financial success, it was going to become one.
Saawariya, had a star cast of 6. Out of which only two are established stars, and they weren’t taking centre stage. The story and characters were nothing you have seen before on celluloid. Well you have, but usually in a Disney animation. There is this constant complaint that none of the characters were well thought-out or established. Not true. The characters aren’t very well explained because SLB wanted you to focus on those four nights and that interaction and he assumed that people would be able to create a back history to the characters. The characters are consistent and have a back history, just not one that the public is aware of. Being a fairytale, it has the disadvantage of not being established in the way Sohni Mahiwal etc were. SLB did something very daring and unbelievably beautiful but didn’t sell it enough. He should have sold the story more for the pas two years but that is where the difference lies between SLB and the regular filmmaker. SLB made the film not so much for profit but because he loves to bring his vision and dreams to life. He has maintained that while he would like his films to do well financially, it is the joy of making the film that matters to him. I think all his outbursts to this point have not been because of the financial short fall but because of the criticism the film and its stars have faced. SLB has been in love with this story for the past 10 years that we know of. It is a tribute to his grandmother. It is very personal to him. This became the film’s shortcoming — that it was made for a dream and love rather than financial success which makes it harder for a film to be successful. His film is so abstract that only people, who live in a world like his, will understand what the film is about. People want escapism but ultimately like to return to the real world. A dream world is emotionally and mentally exhausting and very few people can sustain it and bringing that dream to film, was a mistake in the sense that he overestimated the public.
Premiere: Now it might appear odd that I have listed the premiere in this analysis but I can tell you that the premieres were very reflective of the way the films would be received and it was also a reflection of the mindset of the respective filmmakers.
OSO. Talk about breaking the mould — the first Indian film to premiere in Leicester Square. An exclusive red carpet list. Well organised. Very media-friendly, with only the stars of the film gracing the red carpet. Stars, who I might add, were appropriately dressed and mingling with the media. In being exclusive on the red carpet, they were effectively inclusive of the media and the public, which will always help the cause of a film. People want to feel a part of something in order to participate and enjoy it. The grandeur and the formality in which it was presented, also created the electric atmosphere so much so that people felt that they were part of something very grand and historical, which it proved to be since OSO broke records that no Indian film has done before.
Saawariya was chaotic. Having seen the event, there was chaos in the attired — ranging form uber formal traditional Indian women to the slobby Western attire on the men. There was no uniformity in their appearance. There was chaos in the organisation and the arrivals. The stars were out in mass. The entire film fraternity came out for the premiere from Yash Raj to Adnan Sami Khan. In doing so the premiere’s atmosphere alienated the masses and the media, which was prophetic of what happened to the film. The stars of the film eluded mystery or aura or even confidence, and therein lay a problem. The atmosphere instead of being electrifying, felt claustrophobic, unsure and confused. The premiere didn’t reflect the film but it ended up being glimpse of what was to happen at the box office.
Having seen both films, I couldn’t pick one over the other. SLB’s Saawariya brought to life the world I live in (not saying that I am talented like SLB but I definitely get the whole dreamer approach to everything) whereas OSO reminded me of what it is like laugh without reason. The success and failure of these two films has not been decided by what they are but how they have become what they are. Had SLB been more aggressive with the promotion and been more vocal and involved with the media, then perhaps Saawariya’s fate would have been different. But as it stands the film’s failure isn’t on the shoulder of mediocre acting (because there was no mediocre acting) or the delusions of a filmmaker (because he is far from) but the failure can be solely placed on the mindset of an audience and the media that created that mindset. And it is this media and the mindset that they created, that OSO can thank its success to.