Often times, the best works go unnoticed, unappreciated. Even the greatest filmmakers aren’t impervious to failures. They’ve all had their fair, or rather unfair, share. But the box office is hardly ever indicative of the quality of work. Here are some of my favourite Bollywood films that didn’t quite rake in the numbers or get their due attention, but deserved all the love and more!
1. Lakshya (2004)
Director: Farhan Akhtar
Farhan brought about a seminal shift in Hindi cinema’s storytelling at the turn of the century. Melodrama and hysterics gave way to a more subtle, restrained style. And the latter was hugely welcomed when it came packaged in a light-hearted romcom. Dil Chahta Hai was a roaring hit, among the biggest of its time. Hell, it came to define modern day Bollywood. But when a serious film like Lakshya, his sophomore effort, was narrated in a similar voice, the audience failed it. When did Bollywood give us a realistic portrayal of a war film? I still wonder if Lakshya had come out in this decade, would it have met the same fate? In an interview when Farhan was asked what he’d like to change about the film, he answered, “The audience, maybe!”
Fans will agree!
Watch Lakshya, because you must!
2. Dil Se (1998)
Director: Mani Ratnam
A political thriller with a love story at its core, Dil Se is among the best in Mani Ratnam’s filmography. It was a rare coming together of stalwarts — dialogue writer Tigmanshu Dhulia, ace cinematographer Santosh Sivan, musical wizard A.R. Rahman, lyricist Gulzar, powerful performances from Shahrukh Khan, Manisha Koirala. And with Ratnam at the helm, nothing could’ve gone off the mark. But Dil Se too bombed at the box office. At a time, when love stories and family dramas ruled, a film on a subject as terrorism with a heroine-centric story to boot was possibly far too unpalatable for the audience.
A brilliant film aside, my particular fondness for it comes from the fact that it was shot in my school in Dalhousie. Our school was turned into a radio station for the film. Shahrukh walked down the iconic stairs (at 18:07 in the film, which also featured in Gaddar three years later. I call them iconic because it has featured in several other films including Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s 1942 A Love Story). The church, the graveyard, the junior bedroom, they shot in every corner.
Dil Se is a nostalgic trip down the memory lane.
3. Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year (2009)
Director: Shimit Amin
Why viewers rejected this one will always remain a mystery to me. Trashy films ring in all the money at the box office. And ironically, substandard content is a constant grouse from Bollywood.
One of the most underrated films of recent times, Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year is fresh, original, witty and entertains all along. From the script to well-etched out characters and sparkling performances, Rocket Singh is an entirely rewarding experience.
Avijit Ghosh in his book 40 Retakes: Bollywood Classics You May Have Missed sums up the audience reception perfectly. “Much has been made about the maturing of audience taste in multiplexed Bollywood in the last few years. This is one film where the audience fails the test.”
4. Swades (2004)
Director: Ashutosh Gowarikar
Ashutosh Gowariker started writing Swades at the same time as Lagaan. The latter released first and obviously left the critics and audiences wondering ‘What after Lagaan?’ Gowariker’s answer was down pat. Nothing better could have followed. Swades is inarguably, one of the best films of our times. However, it remains a disappointing fact that the film was a commercial failure.
A powerful socio-political commentary on issues from poverty to inequality and unemployment, Swades paints a realistic portrait of a country plagued and constrained by its regressive traditions and ideologies.
Shahrukh Khan as Mohan Bharghava shone in one of the career’s best performances, brilliantly bringing out the character’s internal conflicts. His held-back, understated style was a pleasant break from his larger-than-life onscreen persona.
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5. Kabhi Haa Kabhi Naa (1994)
Director: Kundan Shah
Kundan Shah’s was an unlikely romantic drama. It refused to abide to a template. Its protagonist wasn’t a ‘hero.’ This didn’t go down too well with the traditional audience, that idolised actors. Kabhi Haa Kabhi Naa wasn’t a staple for regular moviegoers. But that very reason made this little gem stand out from its contemporaries. This hero is a failure. He is someone you could identify with. And Shahrukh Khan carried the film with an unerring, charming sincerity.
6. Khamoshi: The Musical (1996)
Director: Sanjay Leela Bhansali
Another beautiful film that bit the dust, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s directorial debut is one of the best in his rather extravagant repertoire of work. Khamoshi: The Musical is a heartbreaking, heartwarming tale, understated yet intense, tenderly woven with well-written characters that build as the narrative unfolds. Finely executed, the film rests as much as on powerful performances from Nana Patekar, Seema Biswas, Manisha Koirala.
By Mansi Dutta
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