Dhaval Roy (DNA; July 21, 2017)

Bollywood has always been big on bhai bonding. From Jai-Veeru in Sholay to Karan Arjun, from Ram Lakhan to Main Khiladi Tu Anari, from 3 Idiots to Zindagi Na Milegi Dobaara, and from Dil Chahta Hai to Gunday — Hindi cinema has always celebrated brotherhood on screen. While the industry and the media constantly talk about getting Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan in a film together, no one talks about casting Deepika Padukone and Katrina Kaif in a film. Chick flick, or otherwise.

Fun films with more heroines are considered frivilous and not commercially-viable. Even when these films are made, they are serious films like this week’s release Lipstick Under My Burkha. After Hrs explores why lighthearted, girls-only films have been few and far between in Bollywood.

Why so serious?
If you try to think of a big commercial film with female protagonists, Chak De India! might come to mind. But that would never have been made without SRK. Is Dangal a film about two female wrestlers or about Aamir Khan? You know the answer to that.

Chick flick, as a genre has largely been untapped in Bollywood. With a gang of girls as protagonists and a road trip across Thailand, looks like Sonam Kapoor and Kareena Kapoor starrer, Veere Di Wedding, is going to be the perfect chick flick. Before this film, Rajshree Ojha’s Aisha (2010) would probably be the only movie that would easily pop up in one’s mind. Rajshree says, “When I made the film, there were no light films about women as friends, so I thought it would definitely work.” But she was, perhaps, ahead of her time.

Bring on the buddy films
While there are plenty of buddy films and brawn fests like Dil Chahta Hai, Zindagi Na Miley Dobara, the Munnabhai series, Dhamaal, Masti, Houseful, Dhoom, and their sequels, there is a serious dearth of awe-inspiring films in the — Clueless, Mean Girls, or Sex And The City — space, which lies mostly unexplored even though there is a market for it. “A shortage of women directors who can make films to cater to the sensibilities of ‘chicks’ or young females is one of the reasons,” says film exhibitor and distributor, Akshaye Rathi. However, director Sajid Khan doesn’t think male directors are unskilled at making chick flicks. “Gary Marshall made two of the most iconic Chick flicks ever — Pretty Woman and Runaway Bride — and Gary Winick made Bride Wars,” says he, adding that back home, “Karan Johar, Aditya Chopra, and Punit Malhotra (I Hate Luv Storys) have the sensibilities to make great chick flicks.” However, according to him, “It’s a buyer’s and not a seller’s market. People try to make what will sell. Multi-starrers with heroes do better at the box office.”

Issue-based films
Not just in the present, earlier decades of Bollywood has also mostly seen male-centric multi-starrers, whether Amar Akbar Anthony (1977) or Naseeb (1981), while films with female bonding as their subject have had overtones of feminism and a social message. In recent years, we have seen many women-centric films — Lipstick Under My Burkha, Parched, Angry Indian Goddesses, Pink, Begum Jaan — but they all focus on social issues and messages.

And that has been the case for decades with films like Mandi (1983), Rihaee (1988), Mirch Masala (1989), Lajja (2001), Dor (2006). “There are important messages that will probably not be conveyed if not through these films,” says Rajshree. Actress Tannishtha Chatterjee, who has done multi-starrers like Gulab Gang and Parched says that the first half of her film Angry Indian Goddesses was like a chick flick or a road movie, but when the promo released, the sexist comments called it a corrupt and unrealistic film.

Get the Message!
Director of Begum, Srijit Mukherji, too believes that a powerful medium like cinema is a tool to convey socially-relevant messages across. “For a country like India that has seen so much violence against women and women’s empowerment is a raging issue, I’d call it a luxury to concentrate on lighter films and chick flicks. I genuinely feel there are far more serious issues that need to be tackled,” the director says.

It’s a culture thing
Tannishtha says that Indians cannot relate to lighthearted narratives of girls, and have a long way to go before they can wrap their heads around the fact that girls can have fun, on screen or off it. “We are still struggling with basics like, ‘what were two girls doing outside at 10 pm, wearing such clothes?’ So, a road film or a story that’s purely about girls having fun and not dealing with serious problems won’t be accepted any time soon,” she says.

Films like Aisha or Sex And The City will only appeal to a fraction of the population that comprises the urban elite, the actress adds. “Unfortunately, audiences only relate to inspiring stories like Dangal or hard-hitting films when it comes to women-centric films,” she says.

No takers...
While finding a producer for a film with heroes as protagonists wouldn’t be a tough task, an all-girls outing doesn’t inspire the same kind of confidence. Rajshree recalls the travails of trying to find a producer for Aisha, owing to the fact that ours is a male-dominated society. “Producers would wonder who was going to watch it (a chick flick). One studio even asked me to change the protagonist to a male,” Rajshree says. Srijit concurs, “It’s very difficult to find producers for a multi-starrer with female protagonists even if it’s a serious film that has an audience.” Getting a producer for the film is only half the battle won as box-office success of such films is another concern.

No benchmark for producers
Taapsee Pannu, who was recently seen in Pink, says that she has been looking for chick flicks, “I’ve been told by directors that they don’t have any such script. I think light films with females in leading roles has no market and they won’t get enough returns.” Akshaye doesn’t blame the producers, though, “With films starring one of the Khans, Akshay Kumar, or Varun Dhawan, the makers know the film will do good business. But with chick flicks, they don’t really have a benchmark to see them as good investments.”

War of the roses
Many chick flicks are also sacrificed at the hands of starry egos and a bid to get better screen space. For instance, Goldie and Shrishti Behl’s remake of Bride Wars was first delayed when one of the leading ladies, Katrina Kaif, reportedly walked out because the other star, Priyanka Chopra, had an equally meaty and strong role. Rajshree faced a similar problem while casting for Aisha. “Because the film was about three girls, no big actress was ready to do it since all of them wanted to get the main role. One popular actress turned down Amrita Puri’s role just because of that. In such cases, one ends up getting new girls instead of big actresses,” she says.

Untapped genre
Akshaye says that it’s the lack of good directors and writers making such films that the genre remains unexplored. “There’s a demography and psychography that craves such entertaining films that are focused on girls or young women. We are not doing enough to cater to them. The gap in demand and supply of such films needs to be filled and if someone makes a good and fun film on a modest budget and recovers the money, a lot of producers would look at the genre,” he says. Other than the business aspect, “We need to have a fun movie with friendly banter and girls enjoying themselves,” like Rajshree says. As Taapsee adds, “Someone has to take that first brave step soon.” We all live in the hope that Veerey Di Wedding does well at the box office so that more makers are encouraged to tap the genre.