• Friday, June 21, 2024


Bollywood’s plane problem

How Hindi cinema has had a high-flying curse for over 50 years.

Stills from Fighter.

By: Asjad Nazir

CLASSIC Bollywood films Sangam (1964) and Aradhana (1969) had two things in common. They were the highest grossing films of the respective years, and both had heroes who played Indian Air Force (IAF) officers.

The super hit movies were game changers that made a major impact for multiple reasons, but not for popularising planes in commercial Hindi cinema.

Ever since they became soaring successes, pretty much any movie that has had an airplane associated with it has crashed at the box office. The only two moderate successes have centred on air stewardesses, but even they weren’t resounding hits.

The 1972 film, Lalkar, had a strong cast of Dharmendra, Rajendra Kumar and Mala Sinha, along with a solid storyline involving an IAF officer. But it failed at the box office and started a jinx that has persisted for more than 50 years.

Lead hindustan ki kasam 1973 lobby card
Hindustan Ki Kasam .

The following year, director Chetan Anand had hoped to replicate the success of his classic 1964 army drama, Haqeeqat, with 1973 air force film, Hindustan Ki Kasam, but it turned out to be a huge loss-maker, despite being based on the 1971 India-Pakistan war.

In subsequent years, there would be IAF officers, but their job or planes were not an integral part of Bollywood plotlines.

Zameen (2003) was based around a plane hijacking, but failed despite being headlined by Ajay Devgn, Abhishek Bachchan and Bipasha Basu. There was a similar fate for flop film Hijack in 2008, which starred Esha Deol and disgraced actor Shiney Ahuja.

In 2004, ambitious project Agnipankh tried to inject life into the genre by presenting a story about air force pilots, but it quickly went on a death spiral at the box office.

The 2005 IAF film Tango Charlie replaced planes with helicopters, but that also didn’t work, despite having a decent star cast and an interesting storyline. Shahid Kapoor played an IAF squadron leader in romantic drama Mausam (2011), but that was also a huge flop.

Historical drama Hawaizaada (2015) attempted to tell the ridiculous story of the first successful flight taking place in India, which wasn’t based on any documented facts. Not surprisingly, the Ayushmann Khurrana starrer was a colossal catastrophe in every way possible.

Airplane hijack drama Neerja (2016) broke the jinx temporarily to become a hit and give Sonam Kapoor her only success as a solo heroine. But that wasn’t a huge blockbuster producers made it out to be and was just a fleeting glimmer of hope.

Inspired by the revival of Top Gun in Hollywood, Hindi cinema has attempted to fly high again with plane related films, albeit without much success.

In 2021, Bhuj: The Pride of India tried to cash in on the patriotic fervour that had swept across India, but the big budget war drama revolving around aircraft failed, despite being based on real events and having a strong star cast.

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Bhuj :The Pride of India.

There was a similar scenario with 2021 action thriller Bell Bottom, which was released a week later. Although it was based on a real life hijacking, the Akshay Kumar starrer was roundly rejected by audiences and received negative reviews from critics.

In 2022, Ajay Devgn produced, directed, and starred in Runway 34, which was inspired by a real life incident of a pilot trying to land a plane in treacherous conditions. Although it had a lucrative Eid release, Amitabh Bachchan in the cast, and borrowed heavily from hit Hollywood film Flight, Runway 34 failed badly.

Heist thriller Chor Nikal Ke Bhaga (2023) had a strong concept, but was dumped onto a streaming site and quickly forgotten.

Action thriller Tejas (2023) attempted to present a film with a female fighter pilot, but the Kangana Ranaut starrer turned out to be one of the year’s biggest box office debacles.

There were much higher hopes for 2024 action entertainer Fighter because it was headlined by Hrithik Roshan, Deepika Padukone and Anil Kapoor. It was also the next film from top director Siddharth Anand after his blockbuster successes, Pathaan (2023) and War (2019), but the eye-watering budget of Fighter turned it into a flop. Anand gave a bizarre explanation as to why Fighter failed, and was heavily trolled for saying: “If you realise, there is a huge percentage of our country, I would say 90 per cent, who have not flown in planes. Who have not been to an airport.

“So, how do you expect them to know what’s happening in the air?”

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And Tejas

Perhaps a better explanation may have been poor writing and special effects that just don’t compare to Hollywood. Fighter was quickly followed by air hijack drama Yodha, which also crashed at the box office.

Recent release Crew, which revolves around air stewardesses like Neerja, has been a moderate success, but not enough to erase decades of doomed plane related films crashing and burning at the box office.

The 50-year jinx still going strong isn’t preventing foolish producers from making more films on the subject.

It was announced in 2023 that Akshay Kumar would headline period aerial thriller Sky Force, but if history has taught us anything, then it too will be a doomed flight.

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