It is now common knowledge that the highly anticipated film Adipurush, released on 16 June, has become a resounding critical and commercial disaster.
In just ten days, the film’s occupancy has come down to a dismal 7.78 per cent.
Made at a budget estimated to be a whopping Rs 600 crore, it is struggling to touch half its intended mark despite a good release — thanks to strong marketing and a theme that naturally resonates with the masses.
The film has been produced by Bhushan Kumar of T-series, is directed by Om Raut and features Prabhas and Kriti Sanon in the lead as ‘Raghav’ and ‘Janaki’ based on Lord Ram and Ma Sita.
It has faced severe public criticism, protests from Hindu organisations, disapproval of own cast, condemnation from the team behind the superhit Ramayan serial, threats of theatre boycotts and petitions to halt its screening.
To compound matters, the Allahabad high court has made scathing observations, condemning the portrayals of characters of Ramayana as “shameful“. The film might just be the biggest filmy debacle of all time.
So where did the makers go so wrong? Here are some reasons we could think of.
1. Selling agenda:
Bollywood is currently facing public backlash due to the realisation, fuelled by social media movements, that the industry has been promoting a specific religious and cultural agenda, and belittling conventional sensitivities of masses by forcibly presenting it as per its own ignorant lens.
Adipurush's failure has partly resulted from the industry's persistent endorsement of ideas that clash with the beliefs and sentiments of the masses.
For instance, glorification of Islamic places of worship and beliefs while mocking Hindu ones has been a recurring theme from Deewaar and Ganga Ki Saugandh in the 70s to Rockstar, pk, Mission Mangal and Laxmii in recent years.
Adipurush, too, has modelled a few characters to look Arabic, and declared that it did not have any agenda to Sanskritise. This is despite the fact that a Sanskritised Ramayan made in 1988 was the most watched TV series of world even in 2020.
Lesson — Sell the product, don't sell an agenda along with it.
2. Disregarding sentiments:
Director Om Raut initially defended Adipurush's controversial teaser saying he had fashioned the film after Marvel movies, aiming to resonate with the younger generation.
Raut, however, could hardly stand his ground as the backlash from the public forced the film's release to be postponed by six months. When the film eventually premiered, it was outright rejected by the audience, indicating a failure to adapt to their preferences.
The team continues to put forth the weak defence attempted by Raut. Actor Siddhant Karnick who plays Adipurush’s Vibhishan told the media this week that the film intends to show India’s gods as “cooler” than superheroes.
He said, “We need to use pop culture smartly so that we can pass on the stories of our Gods to the generation of our children, show them that our gods are cooler…”
Adipurush's makers seemed intent on presenting their own vision of how millions of Hindus should perceive their revered deity, rather than delivering what the audience truly desired.
This misguided approach has proven to be a significant mistake, given the enduring popularity of Lord Ram in the country.
Lesson — When you design a product for masses in a diverse country like India, do not base your market research on a micro-sample of privileged ones just because they echo your viewpoint, and they are the only ones you interact with in your life.
3. Dismissing audience feedback:
The massive public outcry against Adipurush's teaser should have alerted the makers to their missteps. Instead of acknowledging and respecting the audience feedback, they dismissed it, claiming the film's true impact could only be experienced on the big screen.
However, the audience discovered that the film was as bad as the teaser. This disregard for the audience's opinions has backfired.
Lesson — Customer is king; value his feedback.
4. Arrogance when humility was needed:
Adipurush's disastrous fate was apparent from the start. Those who had pre-booked the tickets watched it but gave terrible reviews, some cancelled their tickets while others changed their plans of watching it.
Despite terrible reviews and widespread perception of it as an insult to the sacred Ramayana and Hindu sentiments, the film's producer, director, and lead actors have made no effort to reach out to the audience or issue a humble apology.
This arrogance of Bollywood is pushing it to a path of destruction. For years, due to crafted hegemony, they have interacted with a selected group from the public and, that too, only from their balconies where they wave their hands or throw a flying kiss. Weak minds who throng the streets below their bungalow go crazy in admiration.
The sad reality remains that Bollywood makes films of some of the lowest quality in the world, despite no dearth of talent or intellect in the huge country. Unlike most industries that reach out to public at large and hence need to remain humble, Bollywood has made arrogance and disdain for people's view as its way of life.
This may have worked in the past due to inherent legacy entry-barriers, but is becoming Bollywood’s nemesis as the world is opening up. Masses have found better alternatives to keep themselves engaged.
Lesson — Humility is important in business.
5. Sending a minor figure for fire-fighting:
Surprisingly, the only individual seen addressing the public after Adipurush's release is its Hindi dialogue writer, Manoj Muntashir Shukla. This seems to have further aggravated the audience's disappointment, as they expected the project's leaders to take responsibility. Leaders — the producer and director — should have addressed the crisis directly.
They should have acknowledged that dialogues are only a small part of a much bigger set of problems. The teaser which drew backlash did not have any dialogues, after all.
Lesson — Own up to the fiasco.
6. Entering an area of non-competence:
For decades, Bollywood has primarily focused on producing ‘masala’ films, a genre mixing romance, comedy, action, and songs for entertainment purposes.
Engaging Hindu religious sentiments and evoking devotion has not been a core strength or even interest of the industry. Jai Santoshi Maa, a low-budget, no-star Hindi film became one of the biggest commercial hits ever made when it released in 1975. Despite its stupendous success, Bollywood filmmakers did not lap up devotional films as a genre.
Adipurush's attempt to appeal to religious sensibilities appears to have been a misguided endeavour.
Lesson — Stick to core competency unless you get real experts on board.
7. Assuming political endorsements would influence public perception:
The film’s credits feature a slide thanking several political leaders from the ruling party at the Centre for their “blessings”, including Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Eknath Shinde, Devendra Fadnavis, Himanta Biswa Sarma, Yogi Adityanath, Narottam Mishra, Pushkar Singh Dhami and Manohar Lal Khattar.
Yet, this has not made any significant impact on the film’s public perception, reception or business.
Lesson — Don't take your audience for fools.
Disclaimer: It is essential to include a disclaimer considering the industry's track record: if the film merely serves as a facade for other commercial interests, whether lawful or illicit, this piece should be disregarded entirely.
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