By Vinod Mirani
The release dates of almost all major films have been rescheduled. Not by days or weeks, but by months, and, in one case, even by a year! The reason is something never heard or imagined before! Special Effects aka VFX!
Our filmmakers cannot imagine a film without VFX; story and screenplay be damned. The building of a film with a plausible story and weaving characters around it are a thing of the past. No wonder, films are flopping left right and centre. The industry strongly believes in the 'Have star, will travel' philosophy. Alas, what comes across is that the stars the filmmakers count on are well past their best before date.
Yes, stars made film run and succeed big time. In my lifetime, I have seen two super stars, Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan, both delivering multiple hits back to back. They could do that because their films were backed by storytelling and the musical score that you carried back home from the cinema.
Then, there were also other major stars such as Dharmendra, Rajendra Kumar, Manoj Kumar, Jeetendra and Rishi Kapoor. They all delivered more hits than flops. And, when the time came, they took a break. They didn't force themselves on the audience. They came back to do roles more suited to their age.
Film stars today refuse to come to terms with their age. They want to continue to do the youthful roles, the kind they made their mark in. But, a 50-plus Shah Rukh can't be accepted playing the same lover boy, nor can Salman be as effective in action films as he was some years back. It is the same for others.
The actors insist on sticking to roles that ensured their stardom, so the producers turn to VFX for a way out. VFX works on their aged face and bodies to make them look younger. The rest of the movie may or may not need
VFX, but that is immaterial. On a computer, the experts can do it, erase the signs of aging from a star's face, and enhance his muscles, or even make him create his two versions, like in the Shah Rukh film, 'Fan'.
Mythological films had extensive special effects and they were all achieved within the studio floors with the help of the cinematographer's wizardry. How do you think the viewers could watch Bajrangbali fly or Lord Shiva float in the blue skies? The viewers welcomed it all with whistles and unending applause!
Or, how did they manage to make Lord Ram's one arrow turn into a hundred in the battle against Ravan? Didn't the films on the epics such as 'Mahabharata' and 'Ramayana' show more special effects and, more convincingly, than what is produced by table-top machines now?
Can a director make a double-role film today without special effects? I don't think he will even contemplate it! And, to think that double role films came into existence ages ago and provided extra thrill to the audience.
I remember my first such film was Bimal Roy's 'Apradhi Kaun?'. The next was, of course, Shakti Samanta's 'China Town' with Shammi Kapoor playing two roles; it inspired films such as 'Don' and a few others.
A lot many films released recently with mainly VFX as the main attraction have cost huge sums but failed with the audience. Increasingly, a number of filmmakers spend more years working on special effects than they do shooting a film. Does it work? No!
Yet, for everything, from credit titles to scenes with animals, a maker now depends on special effects. Films with animals have to get clearances, so scenes involving them need to be generated with the help of VFX. That isn't required for the rest of the film. A famous filmmaker had once said that a movie is actually made on the editing table. Present-day makers seem to believe that the computer desk can work just as effectively.
They have become too dependent on special effects. Not only is this a costly affair but also time-consuming. If one thinks about it, just the exercise of making the hero look young adds to the cost by over a crore! Yet, the hero's younger look neither convinces the viewer, nor makes the film run.
The recent release, 'Brahmastra', was all about special effects. The film took seven years for its VFX, which
was completed just a day before its release. The costs were mounting so much that the VFX company was brought in as a producer and given share in the revenue rather than bill for the film.
When I watched a South remake in Hindi, I enjoyed it. When I watched the original of the remake, I liked it even better. So far, Hindi films got away with whatever special effects they worked on. Post 'Baahubali', though, there has been a regular flow of South-dubbed films releasing in the Hindi circuits, all loaded with special effects. And, to say the least, their special effects are superlative.
There were comparisons and the Hindi films emerged as much inferior compared to recent South hits -- 'RRR', 'KGF: Chapter 2', 'Ponniyin Selvan-1' and 'Kantara'. Against these, we have had movies such as 'Shamshera', 'Runway 34', 'Samrat Prithviraj', 'Brahmastra', 'Ram Setu', and so one, which used VFX extensively, but to no avail. Whatever the reason. (There was also a talk of the VFX studios picking up rejected VFX footage from Hollywood and interpolating them in films here!)
Maybe the filmmakers have zeroed in on the reasons. Now, makers of big films, who were counting on special effects for their films, have all decided to postpone the release dates, and if they have been released, they are not satisfied with the results.
'Adi Purush' was trolled after its teaser was out because of which the film's release has been postponed. 'Laal Singh Chaddha' was postponed a couple of times. The same was the case with 'Saaho'. Rajnikanth's '2.0' was delayed by two years and the director, Shankar, was even sued by the VFX company!
The release of 'Tiger 3' has been pushed back to the next Diwali now. The Hrithik Roshan-starrer 'Fighter', which was slated for Republic Day 2023 has been postponed by exactly a year and will now be released on the Republic Day week in 2024.
VFX is not a magic wand that can make a film run. Without a story, in fact, nothing works, be it the stars, the music, or the performances (which critics today have made a habit of praising). VFX is no substitute for creativity. The director was once called the captain of the ship. VFX steers the ship now.