Can Bollywood thrive in 2024 without its established superstars?

With none of the trailblazers of 2023 having a release slated for this year, what do audiences have in store?

By Yasser Usman

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Published: Thu 11 Jan 2024, 5:35 PM

Last updated: Thu 11 Jan 2024, 10:44 PM

In 2023, the stars seemed to realign for Bollywood. Shah Rukh Khan blazed back onto the scene with a triple header of box-office bonanzas setting new milestones. Ranbir Kapoor cemented his superstardom with Animal, Sunny Deol surprised everyone with the epic Gadar 2, Salman Khan's Tiger 3 roared, albeit briefly and even Ranveer Singh savoured success with Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani.

But as the confetti settles and 2024 unfurls, a curious hush envelops the industry: none of these megastars — SRK, Salman, Ranbir, Sunny and Ranveer — have a single film slated for release this year. Aamir Khan? Don’t even get us started. After Laal Singh Chaddha's box-office hiccup, he's retreated to his zen garden, mumbling about Campeones remake titled Sitaare Zameen Par. Except, even that's a twinkle in his eye, not a confirmed release date. Industry experts are pondering the implications of the absence of these stars from the upcoming roster. The question is — can Bollywood sustain its momentum without the tried-and-tested star power?

Four out of the five all-time blockbusters in Hindi cinema emerged just last year each crossing the Rs5 billion mark in domestic business. It’s a remarkable record that won't easily be surpassed. In a year with no ‘Khan releases’, the responsibility of carrying the Bollywood torch will fall upon big stars like Hrithik Roshan, Ajay Devgn, and Akshay Kumar. Leading the charge is the highly anticipated Fighter (releasing on January 25), an aerial action extravaganza directed by Pathaan mastermind Siddharth Anand. This drool-worthy ensemble boasts Hrithik Roshan, Deepika Padukone, and Anil Kapoor as the filmy squadron leaders soaring for their country. I wouldn't be surprised if this turns out to be one of the major hits of the new year. Stories centred around the air force seem to be the flavour of the season. Despite Kangana Ranaut's Tejas facing a significant setback last year, there are at least three films exploring the subject this year, following Fighter. This lineup includes Operation Valentine and Akshay Kumar's thriller, Sky Force.

Following eight flops after his blockbuster Sooryavanshi in 2021, this year could witness Akshay Kumar making a significant return, akin to an SRK-style comeback. He's set to take the spotlight with three major movies: first, stepping up with the iconic reboot of Bade Miyan Chote Miyan in April, followed by Welcome To The Jungle and Sky Force. Meanwhile, Ajay Devgn bets on the action thriller Singham Again directed by Rohit Shetty. But it appears that these are the only big-ticket action films from Bollywood this year, the kind which are typically drawing audiences to theatres. Can Ajay and Akshay churn out blockbusters to keep the popcorn flowing? Bollywood may not be able to repeat the success it witnessed last year. Similarly, Hollywood is experiencing a disruption in its schedule of big-budget releases due to the SAG-AFTRA strike, resulting in an anticipated 30 per cent reduction in Hollywood releases. So who’s going to take the centrestage with significant successes?

I'm betting on the films from Tollywood — the Telugu film industry. In 2021 and 2022, during Bollywood's challenging phase, Tollywood emerged as the country's leading industry, propelled by massive hits like Pushpa, RRR, Karthikeya 2, and Sita Ramam, which performed exceptionally well nationwide. Although Bollywood staged a strong comeback, 2023 turned out to be a lacklustre year for the Telugu film industry, lacking major hits on the pan-India level. This year Telugu film industry is looking good to capture the pan India market once again. Telugu superstars Allu Arjun, Jr NTR, Ram Charan, Prabhas and Mahesh Babu have big action films releasing this year. When it comes to potential pan-India blockbusters, I have two personal favourites that I believe could be massive box office successes. First up is Kalki 2898 AD. With a staggering budget of Rs6 billion, Kalki 2898 AD stands as one of the most expensive Indian films ever made. Starring the electrifying ensemble of Prabhas, Deepika Padukone, Kamal Haasan and Amitabh Bachchan, this sci-fi epic is being shot simultaneously in Telugu and Hindi, promising a pan-Indian spectacle like no other. It's a bold attempt to blend ancient mythology with futuristic sci-fi. Set in the year 2898 AD, this ambitious action film delves into a futuristic dystopia marred by sin, immorality, and catastrophic events. The storyline revolves around Kalki, a modern-day avatar of Lord Vishnu, protecting the world from the evil forces of Kaali, his nemesis, using advanced technology, armour, and weaponry.

The second film I'm anticipating is Pushpa 2 ­— The Rule, marking the epic conclusion to the two-part action drama. The first installment, Pushpa: The Rise (2021) had redefined Tollywood's power and its raw energy, earthy grit, and the iconic ‘jhukega nahi’ signature move had cemented Allu Arjun as a national phenomenon. Now, the fiery saga resumes on August 15, 2024, more intense and relentless than before in Pushpa 2. The stakes have never been higher and the anticipation surrounding it has reached unprecedented levels. Film trade experts predict this sequel to be the biggest success in Tollywood's history.

I believe that South Vs North movies have sparked a healthy competition — not merely for dominance at the box office, but for supremacy in storytelling. So, 2024 might lack the star power of the Khans or the Kapoor clan, but it certainly does not lack in ambition or potential. It also throws open the gates for a surge of fresh narratives, bold experimentation, and talented actors eager to redefine stardom. One thing remains evident: the audience emerges as the ultimate victor. They're promised a spectrum of cinematic experiences that are bound to stir emotions and captivate hearts.

wknd@khaleejtimes.com

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