In the last act of Baaghi 2, lead actor Tiger Shroff arrives at the villain's hideout to rescue a 3-year-old girl who has been kidnapped. But before he gets to the girl, he must demolish the hundreds of bulky men guarding the fortress. We're told he's somewhere in Goa, but all the men are curiously South Asian. In the next 16 minutes, Tiger, who is called a 'One Man Army', takes down all the baddies by spraying bullets or crushing their bones with his bare hands. They try to puncture his body with bullets but he dodges all of them. At one point there are armed gunmen shooting at him from an airborne helicopter but conveniently none of them can aim straight. But Tiger effortlessly defies gravity by leaping into the hovering helicopter and kills them all in seconds.
But ours is not to question why. Or how. The film has amassed a staggering Rs 111 crore (net) in India, becoming the second most successful film of the year, after Padmaavat. "It is a universal super hit – it's worked for everyone across the board. It's also made Tiger Shroff the biggest young star," says Harminder Sandhu of trade website Box Office India.
So what is it about these 'masala films' that makes movie goers overlook football-sized loopholes and a general lack of logic in the script? Is there an art to making the perfect masala movie? Director Rohit Shetty, who has built a hugely successful career by mastering this genre, says there's no formula, but there are a few basics one has to stick to. "You must know what is the audience for your film. The audience wants entertainment and a mixture of emotions – all of which needs to be a little melodramatic. It can't be subtle. Everything has to be a little over the top, two decibels higher than normal." Shetty's two most popular film franchises, Golmaal and Singham, were faithful to these basic tenets. "In these movies, it doesn't matter where you start watching. At any point you will be entertained. Which is why they work so well on satellite," he adds.
A 'masala film' is normally written to satisfy all the needs of the audience at once. It needs to make you laugh, cry, whistle at an 'item song' that appears for no reason, and applaud when the hero takes down the bad guys. They're also largely rip offs of Telugu films. Baaghi 2, like all its cousins Wanted, Ready, Singham, etc, checks all those boxes. The film is a remake of the Telugu hit Kshanam and it has two remixes of older, iconic songs that are forcefully fitted into the narrative – it gives the makers an excuse to show off Tiger's dancing chops, when he's not pounding the bad guys.
Making masala movies is hard and costly. People think it's a money making exercise but it's not, says producer Sajid Nadiadwala
Yet Sajid Nadiadwala, the producer of Baaghi 2, who also has been credited with the writing, says that's a reductive way of looking at it. "There is nothing called a 'masala movie'. If there was, then it would be as easy to make super hits as it is to make Maggi noodles. It's important to understand the audience and perhaps the cultural space that we come from. Song and dance have been a part of our understanding and expectation from entertainment. Item songs have been a part of our films since long. From Raj Kapoor's Awaara in the black-and-white era to Sholay in color, masterpieces in India cinema have had those songs which can be called an 'item'. But having an item song and making a certain kind of climax doesn't give you a hit film," he says.
He adds that the key is to making universally appealing films that doesn't talk down to its audience. "We believe in entertainment and giving the audiences their tickets' worth. I have lived all my life on the film sets. A franchise becomes big when it fulfills the promise that it makes to the audiences. Baaghi has emerged as the biggest action franchise that we have. We hope that we deliver an even bigger and better Baaghi in its third outing."
The box office and masala movies have a long-standing friendship. If only its makers were accorded more respect for crafting them, says Shetty. "Making masala movies is hard and costly. People think it's a money making exercise but it's not. The sad part is that all our hard work is not appreciated. We are treated like buffoons," he laments. If it helps, masala films are undoubtedly a beloved genre for the Indian audience, one that they're unlikely to grow out of soon.
With inputs from Anupama Chopra and Mohini Chaudhuri.