A long time ago in a galaxy far far away (from the one in which Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens is set) I did a post on this blog stating that I intended to write about Surakksha (the awesome debut of the awesome Gunmaster G-9 played by the awesome Mithun Chakraborty) but that stupid #MyChoice #VogueEmpower video distracted the hell out of me.
I ended that post with a promise that the post on Surakksha would get written once I was done watching Wardat, the sequel.
It has been almost two months now, and the two of you who took me on my word and were waiting for that post would have forgotten about it by now. But now that I have reminded you again, you might actually wonder, “Does it really take two months to watch a Mithun film easily available on Youtube?”
To that I answer not at all. I watched Wardat within a week of posting that. To which the rhetorical you that I made up for the purposes of this long winded nonsensical exchange would retort “What has he really been doing for two months?”
I wish. I could never be as cool as the Gunmaster.
I actually never got around to actually fulfilling my promise of writing about Surakksha, because I started thinking of doing a combined article on both the films but then I lost my way and started doing other things. (‘Other things’ also includes a lot of things that don’t have hyperlinks.)
So am I finally doing my promised post on the weirdly spelt Surakksha? Or is this the combined article about both the Gunmaster films?
Well, it is both…but neither.
What do I mean by that? Let’s begin…
This is the promised post on Surakksha, because I will be using GIFs from the film throughout. (Except for the one you just saw, which is from Wardat.) This is also the combined article about both the Gunmaster films, because I will be briefly talking about them. So it is both…but it is neither, because that is not what this post is going to be about.
Before I started writing, I did a quick Google for Gunmaster G-9. Because obviously Gopi Codename G-9 is the big daddy of all cult favorites among retro/B-grade Bollywood fans and a lot has been said about him already…and I didn’t want to repeat stuff.
The top page didn’t show up a lot of content…apart from the movie’s Wikipedia page there were two links to the title song on youtube, one link to download the song and one for the lyrics, one blog on Hindustantimes.com and a Podcast about the G-9 films and Guru on Beth Loves Bollywood. Going deeper revealed more blogs that had written about the films including Memsaab Story. Waitaminat! Why am I giving all these foreigner blog links when the Glorious Leader has led us all out of shame and into pride for the motherland? Where are the Indians writing about Gunmaster G-9? Well here you go.
If you clicked on those links, then you are up to date about the Gunmaster G-9 films. Everything else you need to know is in this GIF…
If you, like a patriotic non-anti-national citizen of Bharat who hates Greenpeace, clicked on the Indian blog links I gave up there and read through that guy’s review of Wardat, you would be under the assumption that there is a third G-9 movie called Sahhas. On the surface it checks out. There’s the weird spelling with a random extra letter. It’s directed by the visionary Ravi Kant Nagaich. It stars Mithun with a totally new female lead (Rati Agnihotri). The music is Bappi Da. It even has Jagdeep as the unfunny comic sidekick to Mithun.
But as soon as the movie begins you’ll notice that this can’t be a G-9 film…because the opening credits are a totally boring montage of Bombay and not the dazzling brilliance you expect from G-9. So Sahhas comes close, but is not really the third G-9 film. Which brings me to the point if this article…where are the Indian franchises?
If one takes a look at Bollywood’s major releases over the last decade or so, we have really taken to the Hollywood penchant for sequels. In fact it is probably the defining trend of present day Bollywood alongside South remakes and original films that inexplicably feel like South remakes.
Just last year we had Dedh Ishqiya, Shaadi Ke Side Effects, Ragini MMS 2, Bhoothnath Returns, Hate Story 2 and Singham Returns. Dedh Ishqiya was probably made on a comparable budget to Ishqiya; and the Hate Story films are both B-Grade in spirit if not in budget, so not much of a difference there. But all the other sequels were definitely bigger in scale than the originals. This year, Tanu Weds Manu Returns has unquestionably become way more of a success than the first movie despite its grammatically questionable title, and ABCD2 is coming out soon (with an A-list cast, while the original had actual dancers who very few people knew).
The reason Bollywood is doing this (and why Hollywood has been doing it forever) is ease of marketing…and I think in India it has a lot to do with the rise of the multiplex (like most trends in Bollywood in this century/millennium). You see, back in the Single Screen 4 shows a day era, movie watching was a much more involved activity. You looked at those tiny posters in the newspaper, chose a film you wanted to see based on random factors like stars and hit songs and how close the theatre where it was playing was and then planned your whole day around which show you chose. Now a lot of moviegoers just turn up at the strategically placed glitzy Box Office in the mall, pick up one of those flyer thingies with all the thousand shows of the seventeen ‘now playing’ films listed on it, try to remember how many stars the Times Of India gave to which film, sometimes ask the guy behind the counter if a film is any good, and choose one conveniently timed film to watch (it is much more casual now as my favorite Film lover and least favorite filmmaker says here). Now this choice is of course made much easier if the name of the film is familiar…and you have liked what you saw before.
So the stupid people who liked the ‘comedy’ of Golmaal are much more likely to watch Golmaal Returns than something called EMI – Liya Hai To Chukana Padega, even though there’s hardly any qualitative difference between the two (I’m assuming…I haven’t seen either). So a sequel is definitely an easier sell than an original movie (and therefore a relatively safer investment in a notoriously fickle industry).
But wasn’t this true even in the age of the single screen? Well it seems like it should be so, but the releases don’t back it up. We did see some sequels out of Bollywood…the earliest example I can find (but not verify) is Hunterwali Ki Beti in 1943 which is probably a sequel to 1935’s Hunterwali…at least it features the original Hunterwali (we’ll come back to Fearless Nadia later). Then of course there were Surakksha and Wardat, the Gunmaster G-9 films and the Sridevi as Ichhadhaari Nagin films, Nagina and its sequel Nigahen. And then there was…Phir Lehraya Laal Dupatta Malmal Ka?
No. The trend really started to take off around 10 years ago with Munnabhai and Kkrish (or however the fuck that’s spelt). Anyway, getting back to the original point, sequels have been getting stronger and stronger for the last decade, but where are the franchises?
Only the Dhoom films and the Krrish (this is how the fuck it’s spelt) trilogy have been able to go for three films so far with some sort of continuity. Then there are the Golmaal films, Raaz 1-3, the three Murders and the My Friend Ganesha series. They will soon be joined by Hera Pheri (even though the sequel sucked more than a vacuum cleaner), Hate Story (proving that sex and violence sells) and Kya Kool Hain Hum (proving that unfunny sexist raunchy “non-veg” whatsapp forward jokes also sell).
So in the world’s most prolific film industry there are only three big-ticket mainstream franchises with three films so far…and none with more (Dhoom will reportedly cross that threshold soon). On the other hand, big-ticket mainstream Hollywood is hardly anything but franchises now… the top 10 grossers of 2015 so far include Furious 7 (the seventh instalment in the franchise, if you can’t tell from the name), Avengers: Age of Ultron (part of the whole smorgasbord of movies known as the MCU), Fifty Shades of Grey (the first of at least three), Taken 3 (taking a simple premise and stretching it to incredulous limits), The Divergent Series: Insurgent (I’ve never heard of this film but it has a ‘Series’ in its name) and Mad Max: Fury Road (a reboot of a franchise with three films already).
In addition to these we’ve had The Woman In Black: Angel of Death, Hot Tub Time Machine 2, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, Pitch Perfect 2, Poltergeist and The Human Centipede 3. Also lined up for release this year are Insidious: Chapter 3, Jurassic World, Ted 2, Terminator Genisys, Minions, Ant-Man, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, The Transporter Refueled, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, Hotel Transylvania 2, Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2, Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip. Phew.
By now the five of you still reading this are wondering, when is he gonna get to the point. Well congratulations, you’ve lasted long enough for me to get to it. But to get there we’re gonna go back to where this whole thing started…the Gunmaster G-9 films.
Surakksha has no budget, no narrative structure, crappy special effects, not very impressive dialog, bizarre sequences, elements copied from various Bond films and elsewhere…but by God it is entertaining as hell! Because it also has insane chase sequences involving cars with parachutes, snake attacks, a shark tank, a secret diamond mine, a shadowy organization that tattoos all its minions with its evil mark, an underwater secret lair, a secret atomic weapon using some sort of diamond laser focuser that can alter weather and cause tsunamis, female henchmen (henchwomen? henchpersons?) who have numbers instead of names, a remote controlled robot zombie, a one-handed one-eyed evil scientist, gigantic goldfish/guppies and the swag of a young Mithun Chakraborty.
The randomness and the jarring narrative jumps make it seem like a fever dream and the psychedelic setting and the red lighting in half the locations just adds to that feeling. The edit is bizarre, to say the least, but there are very few moments in the film when its infectious energy doesn’t keep you hooked. And if you really think about it, the title song makes it clear that this film is not set in the real world…Bappi Da clearly and repeatedly sings “Ye jeevan, ye dooniya, saapna hai deewane ka.” (This life, this world, is a madman’s dream.)
But Wardat is a whole different deal. Not really different…in fact it’s actually pretty much the same thing as Surakksha. And that is the problem with the film. It follows the ‘plot’ of Surakksha almost beat for beat (using the word beat for the haphazard awesomeness of Surakksha feels wrong, but that’s the best word we have to describe the thing I’m talking of) and in that sense doesn’t really raise the bar.
It begins better than Surakksha with mysterious locust swarms but soon goes into the same groove we’ve already seen. We have a new secretive disfigured evil scientist mastermind at the head of a shadowy organization working through a better known actor for most of the film with a bizarre sort of science-y sounding masterplan to take over the world which is ultimately foiled by G9 and his friends after some sort of song & dance based contest. No escalation, no real carrying forward of the story…and therefore, despite being pretty much the same film in tone and treatment, Wardat is a huge disappointment after Surakksha.
And that’s why there was no third G9 film. If instead of From Russia With Love, Eon films had followed Dr. No with Dr. No Fucking Way…there wouldn’t have been a 23 film franchise and you would have known Daniel Craig as that guy from The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.
What began with Wardat continues to this day. There is not a single sequel made by Bollywood that is an improvement over the original film. The best sequels only just manage to achieve the same level as their progenitors. Most of them are objectively much much worse…best exemplified by Jewel Thief and Return Of Jewel Thief.
We either take the story and turn it into a caricature of itself (see Dabangg 2) or we go into next generation bullshit (Vaastav’s sequel, Nagina’s sequel, Krrish). In any case, it seems no one in India knows how to write a proper sequel. That is probably why most sequels take the Munnabhai route (using the same characters/actors, but acting like the first movie never happened) or the Bhatt Franchising Method™ (making completely unrelated movies of the same archetypal genre and giving them the same name with numerals…also known as the Saw Method).
Only Dhoom sort of bucks this trend, but it is already sort of tending towards the Bhatt Franchising Method. Because Abhishek Bachchan and Uday Chopra’s characters are the only thing keeping these films in the same continuity, and their roles in the films have gotten progressively smaller and less important with each iteration…as the villains take up more and more screen time, promotional visibility and mindspace. Were ABJr. and Uday Baba even involved in promoting Dhoom 3? Because I only remember seeing Aamir Khan and Katrina Kaif. On that note here’s a totally unrelated GIF because I just realized that there hasn’t been one for a long time…
So, when we don’t even know how to write a passable sequel, it seems quite impossible to start thinking in terms of franchises. Well any sort of cohesive continuity franchise anyway. Because the other sort of franchise, where the name is an indication of what to expect from the film rather than a further exploration of the story you’ve seen and liked before, has always been successful…and is much easier to do. Remember when I said I’ll be bringing up Fearless Nadia again…she sort of pioneered this sort of franchise. She starred in Diamond Queen, Toofan Queen, Stunt Queen, Carnival Queen, Fighting Queen, Jungle Queen and Circus Queen; and also Hunterwali, Bambaiwali and Himmatwali. In the same vein were Akshay Kumar’s string of Khiladi films and Govinda’s No.1s.
So Murder, Raaz, Hate Story, Kya Kool Hain Hum, Golmaal, Aashiqui and Dhoom pretty much have the thriller, horror, revenge porn, dirty lame comedy, regular lame comedy, romance and heist-action genres covered. Any script that is roughly in these genres can be made a part of these franchises with zero to minimal changes. These franchises may or may not continue depending on the producers’ will and the audience’s reactions.
Then there is Krrish, which is uniquely placed right now…but when the MCU and the DC films and the other Marvel properties like X-Men and Fantastic Four are churning out films by the dozen and all of them will probably be dubbed into Hindi, Tamil and Telugu (at least) apart from releasing in English across India, it is hard to see a potential audience still existing for Krrish. There is no way Krrish’s pathetic plots can compete with even the worst of Hollywood’s superhero films (If you add all the good parts of the Krrish films and remove all the bad ones, they’re still worse than Spiderman 3 or the Amazing Spiderman movies).
The point is, we need a new franchise. Some sort of world building first film…and if that is successful, a proper plan to make it large (that preferably does not involve cheap Indian whisky). I think I am the man for this job. But nobody agrees with me yet. But one day, when I have made some headway in my filmy dreams and when they’ve forgotten what a huge disaster Agent Vinod was, the fat cats of Bollywood will listen to my idea and they will give me the money to turn it into reality.
That day…I will reboot Gunmaster G-9.
“Ye Jeevan Ye Duniya, Sapna Hai Deewane Ka.”