2023 Wrap: Newsmakers of the Year

Oscars, box-office records, strikes in Hollywood, big-ticket sequels, mergers, the Broadcast Bill — there was a lot of news to process this year
2023 Wrap: Newsmakers of the Year
2023 Wrap: Newsmakers of the Year

No one would have guessed at the start of 2023 that this would be the year that Hindi cinema would assert itself. Rising out of the anxieties of having lost its audience to Tamil and Telugu cinema, masala Hindi films drew strength from its old guard. From Khan-daan’s dominance — Shah Rukh Khan’s stellar run at the box office, Suhana Khan’s launch in The Archies and Aryan Khan making his directorial debut with an ad — to the grand revival of the Deols (Dharmendra returned to the silver screen, Sunny Deol triumphed with Gadar 2, and there was Bobby Deol, with this provocative turn as the villain in Animal), it was a good year for Bollywood royalty. However, the Hindi entertainment scene remains poised at crossroads, faced as it is with developments like the Broadcast Bill and technological challenges like deepfakes. For now, though, let’s look back at some of the memorable news moments from 2023.

All Hail Shah Rukh Khan

First came Pathaan (with a delightful extended cameo from Salman Khan), then came Jawan, and then came the ultimate ‘paisa vasool’ when Shah Rukh Khan showed up for his cameo in Tiger 3. Shah Rukh Khan seemed unstoppable this year, collectively raking in around Rs. 2,200 crores at the box office with Pathaan and Jawan while Dunki recorded Rs. 238.53 crores worldwide gross box office collection. The megastar, who has refrained from making red carpet appearances, attended the premiere of his daughter Suhana Khan’s debut film, The Archies, and was also seen alongside son Aryan Khan in his ad commercial, directed by him. 

Censorship or Broadcast Bill?

The draft Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill is still at the proposal stage, but if it’s passed in its present iteration, there are serious concerns about how the law may be misused to impose censorship. Among the key clauses in the proposed law is the establishment of Content Evaluation Committees (CEC), which every broadcaster or broadcasting network must establish. The CEC will have members from “various social groups” and only content that is duly certified by the CEC can be broadcast. Platforms like Netflix, Amazon and Disney are reportedly lobbying to modify the bill, which is currently open for public consultation. The proposed Broadcast Bill has raised anxieties about censorship and is also unlikely to be a practical solution since foreign counterparts are not likely to agree to cuts demanded by Indian authorities. Also, as any reviewer will tell you, there’s so much content out there, it’s impossible to make sure one sees everything. Cross your fingers and hope for the best. 

Oscar Moment for Indian Cinema

2023 remains one of India’s most successful years at the Oscars, with S. S. Rajamouli’s RRR creating history when it won the Oscar for best song. “Naatu Naatu” by M. M. Keeravani had already gone viral and it was also performed live at the 95th Academy Awards (Deepika Padukone introduced the song at the ceremony). The other Oscar winner was the short documentary film, The Elephant Whisperers directed by Kartiki Gonsalves. While on the subject of Oscars, Tovino Thomas’s 2018: Everyone is a Hero has been selected as the Indian submission for the Best Foreign Film category. 

A Win for Ved   

Riteish Deshmukh’s directorial debut film Ved became the second highest grossing Marathi film after Nagraj Manjule’s Sairat (2016). The film, which reportedly cost Rs.15 crore to produce, recorded a total of Rs. 75 crores gross box office collection. Ved received accolades for both Deshmukh’s direction and the lead performances by Deshmukh and his wife Genelia Deshmukh, who made her Marathi debut with this film.

A New Don 

Ever since filmmaker Farhan Akhtar revamped the iconic Don by casting Shah Rukh Khan in the role that Amitabh Bachchan had made famous, fans have wondered who will be the next to take on the mantle. In 2023, Akhtar announced Ranveer Singh was going to be the star of Don 3: The Chase Ends, which is expected to release in 2025. The public response to the announcement of Singh as Don was less than enthusiastic — so much so that Singh addressed it in his appearance on Koffee with Karan, saying “Ek chance dedo (give me a chance).”

Hollywood on Strike 

Tensions ran high in Hollywood after the Writers Guild of America (WGA), representing 11,000 screenwriters, announced they were going on strike over a labour dispute with the Alliance of Motion Pictures and Television Producers (AMPTP). However, it was only when the actors joined the strike that Hollywood really came to a standstill. Between July and November, Hollywood was dark with no shoots, no writing rooms and no actors available to promote any project. Ultimately, a resolution was reached first with the WGA, but the Screen Actors Guild - American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) held out for longer, demanding more revisions. Closer home, the Screenwriters’ Association (SWA) said it will be holding talks with producers of films and streaming shows to discuss grievances. In December, SWA put forward a proposed Minimum Basic Contract for film writers which the SWA says seeks to redress the balance as all writers’ contracts currently favour producers.  

Welcome to the Deepfake Era

In recent months, videos using images of Rashmika Mandanna, Alia Bhatt, Kajol, Katrina Kaif and Priyanka Chopra and others popped up online, all of them showing them in situations that seemed unlikely. Mandanna’s video showed a woman dressed in black gym-wear, whose face was edited as Mandanna, entering an elevator and smiling to the camera. Bhatt’s video surfaced online where a woman wearing a blue co-ord set was seen making obscene gestures at the camera. A video of Kajol showed her changing clothes. These were all deepfakes, created using software powered by artificial intelligence and clearly intended to harass the actors. While law enforcement seems at a loss to tackle this problem, the Delhi High Court has issued a landmark judgement recognising the urgent threat posed by the misuse of AI tools to create deepfakes and pornographic videos. The court was responding to actor Anil Kapoor, who had filed a suit for the protection of his personality rights including his name, image, likeness, voice and other attributes of his personality against any misuse, including on digital media. Kapoor took this step after learning that there were many videos circulating online that used his morphed image as well his voice saying iconic dialogues. 

Royalties for Copyrighted Music

Also on the legal front, the Bombay High Court ruled that private FM radio broadcasters must pay royalties for broadcasting music, following a lawsuit filed by the Indian Performing Right Society Limited (IPRS). The grant will allow the IPRS to collect royalties for music composers and lyricists.

The Gadar 2 Phenomenon

When advance bookings for Gadar 2, directed by Anil Sharma, started coming in, trade analysts perked up. It seemed the single-screen audiences were back, powered by the nostalgia of seeing Sunny Deol reprise his role of Tara Singh. Gadar 2 went on to become the third highest grossing Hindi film of all time, surpassing Aamir Khan’s Dangal (2016) and Yash-starrer K.G.F.: Chapter 2 (2022), which recorded a total of Rs. 691.08 crores gross worldwide. 

The Year of Postponements

While this year saw some big releases, it was also the year that big projects got pushed. Sidharth Malhotra’s Yodha, produced by Karan Johar, was scheduled to release in July 2022, but was then announced as a December 2023 release. Now it’s scheduled to come out on March 15, 2024. Similarly, Ajay Devgn’s Maidaan has seen multiple delays and Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Heeramandi is still languishing in Netflix’s “worth the wait” category, without any confirmed release date. Director Sriram Raghavan’s Merry Christmas, starring Katrina Kaif and Vijay Sethupathi, was slated to release on December 8, but is now one of the first Hindi releases of 2024.

The crown of most-delayed project goes to Gautham Vasudev Menon’s Dhruva Natchathiram (DN), starring Vikram, which was first announced ten years ago in 2013. 

A teaser was released six years ago and the trailer finally dropped recently (it clocked 10 million views in less than a week), and the film even got a release date (November 24, 2023). Unfortunately, DN’s release was postponed yet again, this time due to financial reasons.

The Global Success of Leo

Leo Das seems to be on a roll, not just while beating up the thugs in the film or crushing the local box-office numbers, but also on the international stage. Reportedly, the worldwide cumulative collection of Lokesh Kanagaraj's directorial starring Thalapathy Vijay was $48.5 million (after four days), while Martin Scorsese's Killers of the Flower Moon scored $44 million. “Vijay’s ‘Leo’ Beats Leonardo DiCaprio’s ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ at Weekend Global Box Office” is a headline that definitely screams “bloody sweet”. 

Kamal Haasan and Mani Ratnam Reunite

Thirty-six years after Nayakan (1987), Kamal Haasan and Mani Ratnam have reunited for another adventure. Joining them are A. R. Rahman, Trisha, Jayam Ravi and Dulquer Salmaan. It is a reunion we always knew we needed. But what do we want from them now? That’s a puzzle that the duo seems to be cracking. Titled fashionably in the social media way, Thug Life, the film’s teaser introduces Haasan as a mighty thug or a ‘yakuza’ from Kayalpattinam (in Thoothukudi), with references to Japanese culture. Named Nayakan, his character leaps, swings and punches with grace in his form, as Ratnam and Rahman add to the magic, promising something bigger.  

A Kantara Prequel 

Actor-director Rishab Shetty and his team officially announced they would follow up the surprise blockbuster Kantara (2022) with a prequel. Titled Kantara: Chapter 1, the film appears to be set in the period of the  Kadamba dynasty, who ruled in coastal Karnataka, from 345 to 540 CE. The film is produced by Hombale Films. 

The Big Projects 👀

Should we begin with the news of Lokesh Kanagaraj teaming up with Rajinikanth for Thalaivar 171 or the latest announcement of the KGF hero Yash’s upcoming film? Or would you rather focus your fandom on Allu Arjun collaborating with Sandeep Reddy Vanga? Allu Arjun is also joining (or rejoining) hands with Trivikram Srinivas [the duo worked together on hit films like Julayi (2012), S/O Sathyamurthy (2015) and Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo (2020)]. Prithviraj Sukumaran is back in the director’s chair to helm the sequel of the hit political thriller Lucifer (2019) starring Mohanlal. Titled Empuraan, the film went on floors in October. Kannada cinema’s superstar Yash is all set to collaborate with National Award-winning director Geetu Mohandas for a  film titled Toxic. 

The Big Merger?

Reliance Digital and Walt Disney may be finalising details of a non-binding term sheet to merge their India operations. Although details are yet to be announced, this may result in Reliance acquiring a majority stake. According to The Economic Times, the deal would result in Reliance owning 51% stake in the Viacom 18 unit while Disney will hold 49%. However, sources told Reuters that there is no broad agreement as of now. If it comes through, the merger would create one of the biggest entertainment companies in India. 

With inputs from Harshini S V.

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