The masters of suspense films will all agree on one thing--delivering a thriller is not all plain sailing. In one of the most notorious scenes from Psycho (1960), a path breaking film in the genre by director Alfred Hitchcock, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) becomes 'mother' and kills off PI Milton Arbogast (Martin Balsam) as he approaches the top of the staircase. It is etched in the memory of fans because anticipation builds up to the level that the viewers can't help but get drawn towards uncertainty and heightened expectations before catharsis is finally delivered.
Not to draw any comparisons, but director Sujoy Ghosh is one such filmmaker who Bollywood can look up to for their edge-of-the-seat moment. Post the release of Kahaani (2012), Sujoy felt at ease with the genre and directed and produced other films, namely Te3n (producer) and Kahaani 2- Durga Rani Singh (director).
Howsoever his films might have done at the box-office, Sujoy has taken on the challenge each time and delivered something more than what he had accomplished with previous ventures. For instance, in Kahaani 2, although the plot was rooted in suspense, Sujoy took a thematic leap when he tied up the kidnapping narrative with an unnerving back story of child sexual abuse.
Now he is coming up with another directorial that lands in the same category. Badla, which stars Amitabh Bachchan and Taapsee Pannu as the lead characters, in what appears to be a whodunit set in a foreign land, will release tomorrow, March 8 and before it does, we take a look at how suspense-thriller genre films have fared in the past three years at the box-office, and what Badla can expect from the ever-evolving Indian audience.
Looking at the films that released between 2016 and 2019, there were a total of 11 major films that may qualify as genuine thrillers, i.e., where the plot builds towards a suspenseful climax that may generate a what-to-expect-next kind of a feeling. Among those, only 6 managed to fare well with the audiences for some reason or the other (star cast, story, acting, direction). These include Andhadhun (2018), Ittefaq (2017), Mom (2017), Te3n (2016), Kahaani 2 (2016) and Wazir (2016). Only Andhadhun emerged a hit, in conventional sense of the word (critical and box-office), while the other 5 managed to do moderate business, some even verging on loss.
The five that failed miserably at the ticket window include Wajah Tum Ho (2016), Machine (2017), Maatr (2017), My Birthday Song (2018) and Missing (2018).
Two things come to the fore. One, suspense films, unlike other independent films in the genre of say romance, comedy or drama, largely fail to become box-office successes if not backed by some familiar industry faces. Second, amongst hundreds of films that were produced in Bollywood in the past three years, this genre finds it rather difficult to make the cut in terms of getting production companies on board with the story idea. Surprisingly, recent Hollywood films like Searching (2018) and Halloween (2018) continue to do decent business here.
Badla seems like one of Ghosh's ambitious films. Amitabh plays the role of a seasoned investigative lawyer, while Taapsee plays the victim, or is she? Speculation is high around this whodunit thriller which opens tomorrow in cinemas. Hope he can pull off the 'kahaani' here!
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