I’m married to a filmmaker – Vidhu Vinod Chopra. So I understand well how deep the failure of a film cuts. My first experience was Kareeb, which released in July 1998, a little over two years after our marriage. The film was dedicated to me. It sank instantly, blowing up not just the bank balance but also Vinod’s reputation. I still remember that feeling of a bottomless pit in my stomach as the reviews and collections came in. I also remember that Abhijat Joshi, who made his debut as a writer with Kareeb, enthusiastically called the local distributor in his hometown Ahmedabad to check how the film was doing. And the distraught man replied – lag gaye l**de. This incidentally became our signature line, to be used in all situations of stress – there is something so inherently funny about it that it makes you smile at the worst of times. Even today, Vinod teases me saying that Kareeb was the most expensive love letter ever written and his biggest failure.
A flop comes with a singular ache. Failure in showbiz is quick and public. Years of work are dismissed in a day. Social media makes it even more hellish – a bad film becomes fodder for memes, barbs, and damning 240-character reviews. It’s perhaps the one time that trending isn’t a good thing. But this is the nature of the beast. It’s what everyone in showbiz has signed up for. The question is – how do you deal with it?
I was bewildered by nastiness when Bombay Velvet collapsed. I also remember how ugly it became when Saawariya went up against Om Shanti Om in 2007
I chatted with Aamir Khan about it a few years ago on my show The Front Row. He said that he grieves his flops. His exact words were: If a film doesn’t work, it hurts….it hurts like mad. I still respect that decision because that’s the audience I’ve made it for and they haven’t liked it. I usually go into depression and I cry a lot. I’m a person who doesn’t hold back emotionally. I feel that you have to live through failure or loss. You have to allow yourself to feel so you can put it aside. If you deny it, it remains with you all your life.
Failure is the industry norm. Every Friday more films fail than succeed. But sometimes when a film is too big or too hyped, the sinking itself becomes a train-wreck. Case in point – the recent drubbing of Thugs of Hindostan. Sometimes, the chatter around failure becomes vicious – I was bewildered by nastiness when Bombay Velvet collapsed. I also remember how ugly it became when Saawariya went up against Om Shanti Om in 2007. OSO, of course, was a blockbuster while Saawariya became a punchline. It was torn apart with a palpable glee – and this was before social media.
That was Ranbir Kapoor’s baptism by fire. Years later, he told me in an interview: Since Saawariya, and every film I have done since then, every choice has been mine, I am responsible for every successful film, I am responsible for every failure. I don’t think a Bombay Velvet or a Jagga Jasoos, or Barfi or Wake Up Sid or Rocket Singh were experimental films, I felt like they were commercial films…Because I have grown up in a film family, I know this world. I know what success can do to your head and failure can do to your heart. So somewhere I was well-equipped before I came into this world as a working professional.
Kareeb taught me the difficult art of detachment. So when the blockbusters came, we relished the momentary high and moved on. I understood that in a profession as unpredictable as showbiz, the only thing to hold on to is the work itself. Earlier this year, after the spectacular success of Padmaavat, I asked Ranveer Singh what he learned from the failure of Befikre (I still get flack for liking the film).
He said: I don’t view it as a failure. Others may, but I still got to collaborate with someone special in Aditya Chopra. I learnt so much doing those one shots. For me, the process is the prize. I always say this, but I mean it. I don’t know how people perceived it, box-office numbers – these aren’t my concerns. For me, there is no greater gift than to be able to go to a film set and perform in the capacity of an actor. That itself is a prize. I’m done there. For me, everything else – good, bad, ugly – is either a bonus or not. I had one dream of becoming a mainstream actor in Hindi films. I’m a Hindi film actor. There’s no greater thing. So the acceptance, the fate of films affects me very little. I have this middle path approach. I don’t get carried away by the success of a film. I don’t get bogged down by the failure of a film. I do perhaps, but very briefly and then I’m on to the next thing because that is the gift.
This of course requires a spine of steel. But it is the only way to survive.