New Delhi: A day before Sajid Khan released his film 'Himmatwala', a remake of an 1980's film with the same name, he was fairly confident that he knew the pulse of Indian film audience. He went as far as to say "I knew my film will be a hit when I started writing it."
Khan, who has repeatedly clashed with film critics, said he did not even want a half-star review for 'Himmatwala'. "I will not even read one review. I don't hate critics, but I feel that 90 percent of them don't love cinema". If there is one thing he was absolutely sure of, it was the audience's response to Himmatwala.
But from the box office collection reports coming in, it seems Khan may have spoken too soon. Which brings up the question - can Khan or any director making cinema for the masses really claim to know 'what the public wants'?
The best and most awarded films of last year were the ones that had intelligent writing, a tight plot and great performances. 'Barfi', 'Vicky Donor', 'Kahaani', 'Paan Singh Tomaar' and 'English Vinglish' were both critically and commercially successful. It wasn't nearly an indication of the changing taste of Indian audience as it was a testimony to the fatigue that seemed to have set in for senseless gore and slapstick fests.
Khan is a successful filmmaker. He has scored hits such as 'Heyy Babby', 'Housefull' and 'Housefull 2' in the past, all hinging on loud, garish comedy. His confidence in his own ability perhaps led him to overshoot this time. He announced even before the film's release that 'Himmatwala' would be Ajay Devgn's biggest grosser till date. Devgn, on the other hand has been quoted in many media outlets as saying that "Critics are like eunuchs, they know how to do it but they can't do it themselves." Classy.
There's no denying that escapism is a big reality for filmmakers transporting their audiences to a make-believe realm of destiny, crime, romance and retribution. But arrogance has been the cause of downfall of bigger and better filmmakers in the past.
"If 80 per cent of the audience in a theatre doesn't whistle and clap during Ajay's entry, I will change my name. It will be among the top three hero entries in Hindi cinema," Khan had said.
'Himmatwala' is a testimony to the fact that sometimes a director can misread his audience. But the race to score Rs 100 crore at the ticket window is also to be blamed for recent directors focussing more on the collections than on the soundness of their content. The first weekend collection- which filmmakers consider as the most crucial one - has been dismal. Film critic and trade analyst Taran Adarsh said the film collected Rs 31.1 crore nett in its opening weekend.
"In view of the fact that UTV has given Himmatwala a wide release, the weekend numbers are shockingly low," he said. The overseas collection of the film has been poor and the film hasn't been received well in the multiplexes.
Khan has clearly overplayed his hand this time. But this is also a good time to revive the debate on the collective taste of a nation as vast and divided culturally as India. What is good cinema? Granted that Khan knows his art but can he claim to dictate whether his form of art is what is most acceptable to a country of billion?