Just half a century ago when people flocked to the theatres and stood in long queues to watch history re-enacted (also fictionalised to a certain degree) by their favourite actors play the character of noble humans, they did so to feel like a part of a story they have only heard or read. Watching a movie on a 35mm screen or “bada parda” (Big Screen) was nothing less than freedom where they saw our rich culture, heritage, nobility, palaces, wars for land and love.
Specially now, in this post 2000 era the confluence of arts and technology has made us experiencing the past in 3D. There sure is a price for everything and since the audience today is global and don’t mind spending an extra buck or two on a good movie, moviemakers don’t mind either!
A Santosh Sivan movie starring Shahrukh Khan and Kareena Kapoor, Asoka is the story of the Mauryan Emperor who started following Buddhism after he realises that in his lust for power and authority he razed cities and killed millions. It was a commercial success which earned about 19 Cr and was produced at a comparatively lower production budget (12.5 Cr) in the sense that The Legend of Bhagat Singh (Starring Ajay Devgan) which released just 6 months later had a budget of 20 Cr and despite being well received by the audience, tanked at box office.
Image source: http://www.angelfire.com/film/filmreviews1/asoka.html
Mughal-e-azam (1960 and 2004)
Staring Prithviraj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, and Madhubala, it is one of the most iconic films ever created in India. Before the release, movie houses were pre-booked for over three weeks and people had been waiting in queues for hours and days to get a ticket which was priced at Rs. 100 in black when at the time the normal movie ticket sold at Rs. 1.5 balcony and Rs. 3 for stall.
Video Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bd25VcCtE1Q
Originally a B/W film made at budget of 1.5 Cr in 1960, the movie was restored and released in 2004 in color. Sterling Investment Corporation spent 5 Cr on colorisation. Globally the movie has collected over 11 Cr (gross) and earned in revenue about 5.5 Cr only in India. If we were to adjust the gross earnings for inflation, the figures for Mughal-e-Azam stand at 2000 Cr, making it the highest ever grossing Bollywood movie!
Jodhaa Akbar (2008)
However disappointed we might be with Hrithik Roshan in the last couple of years due to his controversies, his portrayal of Emperor Akbar in Ashustosh Gowariker’s Jodhaa Akbar was just how one would imagine the great emperor. Jodhaa Akbar was created at a production budget of 55 Cr and released in over 1000 screens globally with a gross box office collection of little over 115 Cr. It earned 77.8 Cr in revenue.
Bajirao Mastani (2015)
One of Bollywood most ambitious filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali always weaves magic with his choice of characters, story, actors, sets, music, etc. Ranveer Singh’s energy, Deepika Padukone’s poise, SLB’s music combined with the melodious voice of Arijit Singh made the movie a must watch. SLB spent about 145 Cr to produce the movie and it generated a revenue of 255 Cr. The movie was released globally in 2700 screens.
SLB tried his two time successful duo of Ranveer and Deepika once again for this period drama on Rani Padmaavati of Chittor. Set in the 13th century, the movie revolves around Padmaavati, Maharawal Ratan Singh (Shahid Kapoor) and the tyrant sultan Allaudin Khilji. Like always SLB created a larger than life image of ancient India with Padmaavat. The release was anticipated all over owing to the controversies surrounding the plot which as per some religious sects portrayed the Queen in a bad light the movie and hence was released in less screens compared to Bajirao Mastani. Controversies or not, audiences applaud the genius of SLB in creating a visual treat though the movie has been critiqued by audiences and experts for a loose script. Produced with a whopping 200 Cr budget, the revenue till date has been over 265 Cr.
In terms of interest of audiences who want to watch a period drama based on ancient India, there has been a steep increase. Today realistic and artsy movies do get a lot of attention and it’s definitely good for the industry which has been dominated by the stars. But once in a while when a story portrays the Kings, Queens, their palaces and the battles, even an occasional movie goer likes to indulge himself and buys a ticket. For though TV or smartphones have made it easy for one to access cinema where one desires, it’s not the same as watching a feature film on a big screen with dolby surround sound and recently in IMAX & 3D.
Filmmakers don’t shy away when it comes to spending extra to give their story the right amount of detailing that distinguishes it from other such films. From Asoka to Padmaavat the budgets for producing stories that radiate greatness of Kings and Queens who have ruled this land has increased nearly twenty times.
Bollywood has always delivered venerating pieces of stories that are part of larger narrative of the Indian culture and ethos. The best Bollywood movies have always been the ones that come as package where the audiences realize their love for beauty, character, music, drama, and magnanimity!