I still remember attending the premier of Saawariya. It was the evening of October 7, 2007. Since I was representing my newspaper, I had a VIP entry along with the stars beyond the red carpet. Once inside Imax, Wadala, I could sense the palpable excitement. Salman Khan was there, Kareena and Saif was there, Hrithik, Shahid, Vidya, Mukesh and Nita Ambani… it seemed everybody from Bollywood and beyond had descended into the theatre to support the film.
Next day, when I stepped into the newsroom, I saw everybody talking about the big clash. By that time, all of us in the media had hyped it as a clash between Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Shah Rukh Khan. While Om Shanti Om was scrambling for attention, it seemed Sanjay Leela Bhansali had already won round one among his peers. Before anybody saw the film, the general consensus leaned towards Saawariya probably because two most powerful filmi families had come together to launch their successors. It seemed that Farah Khan hadn’t been able to generate as much hype.
Things started changing once the films were screened, people started gossiping about how Sawaariya was over-the-top and Om Shanti Om was an out-and-out entertainer. I watched both the films thrice since I was preparing myself to be a movie reviewer secretly.
The box office gave its verdict on the third day. By Sunday (October 9, 2007) — it was clear that Saawariya was a disaster and Om Shanti Om was going to rule the roost. The reason for the win was simple — Saawariya made the audience think and ponder while Om Shanti Om entertained. Sanjay Leela Bhansali lost the battle and not only that, he had messed up the debut of the two most promising newcomers of Bollywood. Over the next one year, barring one or two interviews over the phone, Sanjay Leela Bhansali went into hibernation and refused to speak to the press. He seemed angry. In the days to come, Saawariya became the butt of jokes at film award functions, both on the stage and off it.
Meanwhile Farah Khan and Shah Rukh Khan battled another controversy when Manoj Kumar alleged that he had been mocked in the film. Kumar threatened to stop the screening of the film. There were a battery of interviews and press conferences held which ultimately went in favour of Om Shanti Om again. It was a major winner of 2007.
Given what happened with Sanjay Leela Bhansali, anybody in his place wouldn’t dare to challenge Shah Rukh Khan again. Fellow journalists went to town about how Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s arrogance proved to be his Achilles Heel.
We decided that was the end of the story.
It was not to be.
Cut to 2015.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali decided to challenge Shah Rukh Khan again. Pretty much in the same way he did in 2007. Though his content was modified and chiselled, the duel was more or less the same. This time around, Deepika Padukone had switched over to the rival side.
He had created a magnum opus while Shah Rukh Khan was preparing to storm the market with a complete entertainer and that too with a director who has the most 100 crore films under his belt.
It was an outrageous attempt for Sanjay because nobody in his right mind would dare to challenge Rohit Shetty and that too when he is bringing back the most loved pair of Bollywood. Dilwale promised to be an entertainer while Bajirao Mastani was just history recreated on screen.
The equations didn’t quite match up for Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Or, so it seemed.
A day before, the two films released — the word was out that Sanjay Leela Bhansali has again made an attempt to murder his own Bollywood career.
But Bollywood is a strange place to be . Even though the first few days proved to be Dilwale’s, the wheel soon started turning towards Bajirao Mastani… slowly but steadily. We watched in awe as the underdog started catching up with the favourite. As I publish this blog, Bajirao Mastani is preparing to overtake Dilwale’s collections in India. What a run it has been for Sanjay Leela Bhansali! What a victory!
The same man who was cast aside by Bollywood for giving a bad start to Sonam and Ranbir is again back in the news. A little mellowed down probably because of his age, but with the same confidence and aggression.
That’s an alibi, to be honest.
It was, by all means, a fair game with no external factors playing any significant role.
In the end, an underdog team of Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone beat Shah Rukh-Kajol-Rohit Shetty hands down.
It was a win of better content over good content. It was a good film getting better of the not-so-good film. It was a win of a good story over raw star power. The win was classic, Dilwale opened to a bigger share of audience and in more number of screens while Bajirao Mastani held steady. Then the same audience started picking up Bajirao Mastani as the second movie. Word-of-mouth ensured that audiences kept pouring into Bajirao Mastani’s shows.
Unlike in 2007, nobody lost this battle. Both the films are 100 crore hits in India. Both have made almost the same amount money till now.
But this is a win that has changed a bit of Bollywood. What Sanjay Leela Bhansali tried last time and failed, has worked this time. The impact is deeper.
In Bollywood, there are only four to five weekend holiday releases in a calendar year. Those days are reserved by the three Khans or the biggest productions. Nobody dares to release their movie during that time. Most films choose dates in a way as to not clash with the big releases.
With Bajirao Mastani stealing 100 crores out of Dilwale’s coffers, this chink in the armour is now clearly visible.
With an underdog winning the race, more Davids will dream of beating the Goliath at the box office.
Who knows? This might be the death knell of the much unpopular monopoly over weekend holiday releases in Bollywood?
The cover image has been taken from HERE
Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Sonam Kapoor picture is a shooting still distributed to the press by the PR of the film and taken from HERE