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Bobby Deol: ‘Yes the film industry has let me down, but I can’t keep sulking’

After a four year hiatus, Bobby Deol — the flamboyant star of the 90s — is back on the big screen.

He hopes to win back his audience and his fading stardom, and revive his career with the upcoming comedy, Poster Boys, which marks the directorial debut of actor Shreyas Talpade, and also features his older brother, Sunny Deol. “People ask me why was I so choosy and why I didn’t do any film in the last four years. I tell them that I wasn’t choosy but people had become choosy about me,” says the actor candidly.

After a successful debut with Rajkumar Santoshi’s Barsaat (opposite Twinkle Khanna) in 1995, he went on to appear in many hits and is best remembered for his thriller and action films like Gupt, Soldier, Hamraaz, Ajnabee among others. Bobby’s career slowed down with duds like Chor Machaaye Shor, Kismat, Bardaasht, Tango Charlie. Years later, his fading career got a new lease of life with Yamla Pagla Deewana (2011) but his success was short-lived as younger actors displaced the once blue-eyed boy of the 90s. To make it worse, his films like Thank You and Players tanked at the box office.

He’s back in his flashy avatar — donning trendy shades and leather boots — and Bobby has now decided to speak his heart out.

“This is me, there is no defense mechanism,” he reiterates, adding, “I have no idea what went wrong with my career. I haven’t worked for four years, and these four years of my life has gone so fast but it has made me a better and stronger person. I have been dying to work, I love being on the sets. Now I feel refreshed, more positive in life and it reflects in my attitude or else I wouldn’t have been able to talk so openly. This way I will attract people’s attention and get more work.”

“A good subject, a good script is hard to find, God doesn’t give you chances again and again,” he says, as he looks around at his fans waiting for selfie. “I hate these selfie pics, it is the worst photograph possible…you look so distorted and ugly. We look like mannequins,” laughs Bobby, and gets down to chatting with Firstpost.

The actor says that the perception that he’ll only do starry roles and central characters has caused a dent in his career. “People started carrying false news about me and maligning me. The industry and social media kept saying that I don’t want to work. That I was content and happy. That I was busy as my wife’s going through a legal battle, but nobody knows the reality. It was tough for me to come out of all that. I want to change their outlook. I am now meeting people and telling them that I want to do good characters. Nice and meaty roles in all genres,” he says.

Few months back, Bobby had opened up about how the industry let him down and as a result he missed chances of doing hits like Jab We Met and Highway with director Imtiaz Ali, but without holding any grudges, he says, “Yes, the industry let me down but I can’t keep sulking. If work comes my way and people don’t ditch me, I would love to work with dedicated people and with some of the contemporary directors. Abbas Mustan are the only directors I have worked the maximum with. But somehow we have not been able to work together because when you are not in circulation then it is very difficult to get the project on floor.”

He further adds, “I haven’t really seen too many films off-late but I will start watching now. But I like the way Akshay is picking up scripts these days.”

While in the past Bobby was often refused roles of a small town guy, he grabbed the opportunity with Poster Boys in which he plays a naive, sincere and honest school teacher. “That’s going to be my approach now — to break stereotypes and surprise people. Earlier, whenever I would ask for the role of a poor guy, I was refused because I didn’t look like one. I always played a rich guy in many of these thrillers and rom-coms. The only time I played a small town boy was probably in Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Kareeb. I never looked at myself as good looking or bad looking. There are so many films made where actors don’t look the part but perform the part. That is what I am hoping for,” says Bobby.

But one thing that will never change with Bobby is ‘disappearing’ from the city on the eve of his film’s release. Laughing out loud, he says, “I really get stressed with these box office collections. This time I am leaving for Manali. I would always run away on the release day. I am too sensitive a person, I can’t handle all this. I won’t lie; I get nervous and scared.

Kung Fu Yoga: Why Indian film industry can’t forget Jackie Chan-starrer in a hurry

Early reports indicate Kung Fu Yoga is not doing well commercially, in spite of Jackie Chan’s popularity. A newspaper article states that just 14 viewers watched the film on its release day (3 February) in a Mumbai multiplex. According to a film industry representative, it is expected to do better in south India than the rest of the country. However, its overall performance is unlikely to be impressive. The impact of Kung Fu Yoga on India’s film trade is going to be limited. At worst, the importer and his distributors stand to lose money. Small change, for an industry that routinely fails to recover production costs from the box office. Nevertheless, Kung Fu Yoga is not a film which the Indian film industry can afford to forget in a hurry. Because it was a part of an ambitious — and potentially game changing — plan by the Chinese and Indian governments.

Jackie Chan and Sonu Sood in 'Kung Fu Yoga'

The film has been panned by Indian critics too. Kung Fu Yoga’s failure on critical and commercial fronts in India is a pointer to a larger problem that Indian and Chinese film industries face all the time. Ironically, this film was meant to address the very problem that it now stands as the latest example of. A majority of Indian and Chinese films earn their revenues from viewers who are of Indian or Chinese origin, as the case may be. Both industries struggle to realise value from markets beyond the overseas markets where there is a significant presence of expatriates. Of course, we need to expand our understanding of the expat to include the South Asian diaspora and “Three Chinas” (Mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong) plus Singapore, with reference to Indian and Chinese cinemas respectively.

Kung Fu Yoga’s poor showing in India is not for the want for effort. Apparently, Aamir Khan and Katrina Kaif were approached, but were unavailable. As a result, the final lineup of Indian actors, which includes Sonu Sood, Disha Patani and Amyra Dastur, is not exactly stellar. Undaunted, Jackie Chan charmed his Indian fans and local media representatives alike during his much publicised promotional tour in the run up to the film’s release. I do not wish to go into why it didn’t work — several reviewers have done that already. Instead, I would like to draw attention to two points. First, the film worked for Chinese audiences and critics alike. Second, this is a failed Indo-Chinese co-production.

Kung Fu Yoga earned US $ 138.8 million (around Rs 940 crore) at the box office in China alone during the first week of its release. That is double the estimated cost of the film. Notably, the film’s takings are already way higher than the worldwide collections of India’s most successful film, Dangal. More importantly, it reminds us of the size of the Chinese market and the drawing power of Jackie Chan.

Released during the Chinese New Year (CNY) weekend, which usually witnesses the highest footfalls in theatres during the entire year, Kung Fu Yoga emerged as the second highest grosser of the season, after Journey to the West. The success of this year’s CNY releases is said to have cheered up the Chinese film industry, which had a dull year in 2016. Incidentally, Journey to the West is directed by Tsui Hark and produced by Stephen Chow (of Kung Fu Hustle fame), both of whom are Hong Kong industry stalwarts.

China’s quota system ensures that access of foreign companies to its enormous film market is severely restricted. At present, only two Indian films can be released in China annually, according to the website China Film Insider. This number is unlikely to increase in a hurry. In 2016 the quota for foreign films, a bulk of which are Hollywood productions, stood at 34. The only other way Indian production companies can enter this market is by making co-production deals with Chinese companies. Everyone in the film business knows this but, as always, the devil is in the detail: whom to work with, with what stories, and so on.

Don’t expect Bollywood stars to pull a Meryl Streep: Honesty’s never a virtue in the film industry

On the contrary, more often than not they succumb to political and ideological bullying – never standing up for their beleaguered colleagues or fellow citizens. That these stars, despite their hefty celebrity statuses, have ever so often failed to defend fellow actors who are hounded by fundamentalists and government alike, is indeed a sad commentary on the culture of the Bombay film industry.

Mercifully, not all celebrities across the world, are cut from the same cloth. When confronted with bullies, not all of them genuflect or become tongue–tied. Nor do they fear to take the powerful head on.

Meryl Streep poses in the press room with the Cecil B. DeMille award at the 74th annual Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2017, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

This Sunday night, the celebrated actor Meryl Streep, presented an inspiring template for the kind of outrage celebrities can put on display.

While accepting her lifetime achievement award at the Golden Globes, Streep turned the occasion into one which addressed many of the anxieties that have been racking America since the Presidential election this November. Speaking out against the dangerous and discriminatory politics practised by US president–elect Donald Trump, she said:

“Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners. And if we kick them all out you’ll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts which are not the arts. An actor’s only job is to enter the lives of people who are different from us, and let you feel what that feels like. And there were many, many, many powerful performances this year that did exactly that. Breathtaking, compassionate work.”

In a grand, eloquent sweep, the veteran actor gestured towards the challenges awaiting the acting fraternity, and many other diverse sections of the American public. She told the gathering how Trump’s imitation of a disabled reporter “broke her heart. … I still can’t get it out of my head, because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life. And this instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life, because it kinda gives permission for other people to do the same thing,” she said.

Faced with Meryl Streep’s speech, one cannot but consider how strikingly different the conduct of Bollywood stars has been when it comes to dealing with similar challenges; how abjectly they have failed in not just defending their own rights as a collective community of actors – but also thereby ending up backing retrogressive fiats by default.

Very recently we were witness to the manner in which Raj Thackeray’s Navnirman Chitrapat Karmachari Sena (MNS) bullied top Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan, and director Karan Johar, into giving an assurance that they would not work with Pakistani actors in future. The orchestrated uproar over the release of Khan’s film Raees this September, which had Mahira Khan, a Pakistani actress in a lead role, pushed Shah Rukh Khan into offering Thackeray an assurance that “they will not hire any Pakistani actor till the situation between the two countries (India and Pakistan) improved.”

Shalini Thackeray, general secretary of MNS Chitrapat Karamchari Sena, went to the extent of saying: “It is not a veiled threat. It’s a direct threat to producers like SRK and Karan Johar who take Pakistani actors in their movies.” Even in the face of such unabashed bullying, Bollywood kept totally silent.

The same way it kept mum when the Modi government attacked actor Aamir Khan last year for his comments on the prevailing culture of intolerance in the country.

The discomfiting truth is that in almost all such cases of covert and overt persecution, actors are left to fight lonely battles (that is if they themselves do not rush to placate the bullies,) while the industry heavyweight lapse into silence as a means of self–preservation and self–advancement.

In stark contrast to such servility, Meryl Streep spoke out not on just on behalf of her own fraternity – but also defended the interests of the larger fraternity of others who are feeling ever more alienated and threatened by Trump’s politics.

Her speech, in its wide scope, was political in content. “Disrespect invites disrespect, violence incites violence. And when the powerful use their position to bully others we all lose,” she said. Addressing the media, the actor called on the press to hold the government accountable and for the public to support independent reporting. She urged the “famously well-heeled Hollywood Foreign Press” to support the Committee to Protect Journalists. Saying “we’re going to need them, and they’ll need us to safeguard the truth.”

In a strangely fitting way, Streep’s speech comes days after the death of Indian actor Om Puri who, not only championed progressive causes throughout his career but was mercilessly hounded by the powers that be last year for his remarks on the controversy on hiring Pakistani actors.

Unsurprisingly, he found little vocal support within his own community. All too often, only the Anupam Khers of Bollywood are heard speaking out aloud – and that speaks volumes for the culture that seems to dominate the film industry in India.