Return to Bollywood in 2023: Riding on action films, unbridled masculinity and misogyny

NEW DELHI (AP) — Bollywood has made a financial comeback worthy of one of its traditional singing-on-top-of-the-hills moments this year.

After this, India's Hindi language film industry made impressive improvements. a pandemic-induced recessionAudience fatigue with big studio productions and Bollywood megastars, and streaming platforms are snatching away a large share of the audience.

According to the consultancy firm ormax mediaThe cumulative box office gross in 2023 was $1.3 billion, making it one of the highest-grossing years of all time.

Indian film audiences – both the general public and elite film lovers – are back in theaters and the massive commercial success of big-ticket Bollywood films has calmed fears that Mumbai's glittering dream factory is losing its luster.

As one of the world's largest film producers, India produces more than 1,500 films annually, its diverse storytelling traditions reflected in its abundant cinematic entertainment.

The films included this year were a mixed bag of visual delights. Some featured larger-than-life spectacles of classic Bollywood, others featured action-packed spy thrillers with top-billing movie stars. Many included stylized special effects, cleverly choreographed romantic songs filmed in stunning locations, and pulsating music that left fans cheering and dancing in theaters.

More than anything, this was the year of India's beloved superstar, Shah Rukh Khan, whose son was jailed in 2021 amid controversy in a narcotics case and the subsequent free of charges, Khan's global fans welcomed him back like never before, with his films doing well at the box office.

According to The Numbers website, the year started with his film "Pathan" grossing over $100 million worldwide. It was followed by "Jawaan", which grossed approximately $136 million worldwide. And the year is ending with another one, titled "Donkey."

"So grateful to all the people around the world who have loved me so much as an entertainer," Khan recently posted on social media platform

"This year Shahrukh Khan has almost single-handedly revived cinema, just like Tom Cruise did in Hollywood with his 'Film'." top Gun Last year, Nikhil Taneja, co-founder of youth-focused media organization Yuva and host of the popular YouTube show, "Be a Man, Yaar", said.

Other blockbusters of the year include actor Ranbir Kapoor's heavily criticized "Animal", actor Sunny Deol's "Gadar 2" and Salman Khan's "Tiger 3".

It was also a year when hyper-masculinity came to dominate Bollywood, often wrapped up in misogyny and aggressive nationalism.

Angry young men have always been a staple of Indian films, but this year extreme, fantasy violence on screen took it to another level. Almost all 2023 Bollywood hits were full of angst and violence, and were led by alpha male heroes who went on a bone-chilling rampage to defeat their enemies with rippling muscles and blazing guns on screen.

Even Shah Rukh Khan, known as the king of romance, indulged in guns and gore while playing a detective fighting a terrorist organization in "Pathan" and a vigilante battling institutional injustice in "Jawaan". Adopted.

While Khan's soft masculinity remained nurturing and woman-friendly even in his action films, many critics criticized the superhit film "Animal", directed by Sandeep Reddy Vanga, for glorifying the toxic masculinity and misogyny of its deformed hero. Its production company Bhadrakali Pictures said that the film is on track to cross $100 million at the worldwide box office.

"Violent men exist in the real world and a violent man can certainly be the central character in a film – the issue here, as always, is the manner of portrayal, the grace of the script towards him, the humor and coolness with which it is written. .. the fictional character, and the various means used to seduce him despite his violent ways,” film critic and author Anna MM Vetticad wrote in a blog post.

India has the world's largest youth population, which also has the highest number of moviegoers. Observers said that in a country where film stars have a cult-like following, and films reflect as well as shape collective behavior, making dehumanizing violence and casual sexism aspirational could be harmful.

The country's National Crime Records Bureau recorded more than 445,000 cases crimes against women Increase of 4% in 2022. The report said "cruelty by husband or relatives" was responsible for more than 31% of such crimes.

Social commentator Santosh Desai wrote in The Times of India newspaper, "What we see today is the separation of violence from emotional purpose in films." "Given that politically, there is much comfort in maintaining more traditional gender roles, this vigorous assertion of masculinity may take us back in time."

Taneja, co-founder of the youth organization, has been holding road shows to reach out to young Indians about what he calls "positive masculinity." He said that some films promote every prejudice of the audience, be it misogyny or having a villain from a different religion.

“When they watch such films, they can relate to what they see in their homes, where their fathers are misogynists. They are patriarchal towards their mothers. They see a certain gender imbalance and they start believing it,” he said.

Taneja said, however, that other successful films this year featured a less angry, more affable masculinity.

Karan Johar's "Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani" or "Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani" won praise from most critics for its gender politics and challenging male stereotypes and prejudices. According to the Bollywood Hungama website, the film grossed approximately $45 million at the worldwide box office.

The answer, Taneja said, lies in shifting the public discussion away from films that "aim merely to provoke" to ones that support other versions of modern Indian masculinity. “We need to have more conversations about alternatives – positive, empathetic and gentle masculinities – and promote them more.”

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