It's not been a good year for Bollywood. And hopes for a strong post-pandemic recovery are dissipating without the industry having produced any major box office hits yet.
It's not like the films were lacking in stars or spectacle. Big budget thrillers, such as the 1.5 billion Indian rupees ($18.7 million) Shamshera starring Ranbir Kapoor, have crashed at the register. According to the latest data from Bollywood Hungama, the period action flick has collected 630m rupees so far.
He isn't the only big star with a flop. Ranveer Singh (Jayeshbhai Jordaar), Akshay Kumar (Samrat Prithviraj), Ajay Devgn (Runway 34) and Aamir Khan (Laal Singh Chaddha) have also failed to get audiences back to the cinemas in droves.
Curiously though, this is despite some movies receiving positive reviews and featuring strong performances. Singh's Jayeshbhai Jordaar, for example, which tackles the subject of equal rights for women, was received warmly by critics, and so was Shahid Kapoor's cricket drama Jersey.
The same goes for Devgn's Runway 34, which the actor also directed. Inspired by a true near-disastrous aviation incident, the thriller, also starring veteran actor Amitabh Bachchan, has been praised for its edge-of-the-seat plot. Still, it only managed to collect 320m rupees at the box office, against a reported budget of 1bn rupees.
It’s not all doom and gloom for the film industry as a whole, with major support from South Indian films also dubbed in Hindi. Films such as Telugu-language RRR (released in March) and Kannada-language K.G.F: Chapter 2 (April) did roaring business. The controversial Hindi film The Kashmir Files, which has been slammed for spreading Islamophobia, is by far the biggest success this year, earning more than 3.4bn rupees against a 150m rupees budget.
In total, these films have helped India’s overall box office collections to 56.9bn rupees for January to June this year, according to Deadline. This already compares favourably to 2019’s pre-pandemic 111bn rupees annual haul.
As we go well past the halfway mark into 2022, we review some of the biggest Bollywood box office disasters of the year.
'Attack: Part 1' (Released on April 1)
Budget: 800m rupees
Worldwide gross: 227m rupees
Actor and producer John Abraham conceptualised the idea for this film, about a paralysed army officer given a second shot at life via a secret government AI project that turns him into a super soldier. While Abraham, who's more than proven his action hero credentials, was praised for his performance as the lead, the thriller has been criticised for its cliched plot as well as gratuitous scenes of bloodshed.
'Jersey' (Released on April 22)
Budget: 950m rupees
Worldwide gross: 279m rupees
Shahid was looking to repeat the success of his divisive 2019 drama Kabir Singh with another remake of a Telugu film, but couldn't get fans to go watch it. While Shahid was praised for his performance, playing a down-and-out former cricketer who stages a comeback, the movie had to compete with an influx of others that had plots revolving around the same sport, as well as comparisons to the original, which was only released in 2019.
'Runway 34' (Released on April 29)
Budget: 1bn rupees
Worldwide gross: 530m rupees
Based on a real-life incident, Devgn directs himself in this drama about a pilot who faces a long-drawn inquiry despite managing to avert a major disaster. Also featuring high-powered performances by Bachchan, Boman Irani and Rakul Preet Singh, the film was widely praised for its edgy and fast-paced storytelling.
Despite being released during the Eid weekend, Runway 34 was a failure at the box office. Devgn's deal with Amazon Prime Video is likely to have softened the commercial blow.
'Heropanti 2' (Released on April 29)
Budget: 700m rupees
Worldwide gross: 250m rupees
Tiger Shroff's 2014 action romance Heropanti, the remake of a Telugu film, was panned by critics but made a killing at the box office. Looking to replicate the success, producers doubled the budget from its predecessor, drafted Oscar-winning composer AR Rahman to direct the music, and took its setting to a global scale.
All the effort didn't pay off in the end, as the movie received mostly negative reviews, despite acclaimed actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui's presence, and was a near washout at the box office.
'Jayeshbhai Jordaar' (Released on May 13)
Budget: 860m rupees
Worldwide gross: 260m rupees
On the face of it, there was no reason to doubt this comedy would be a hit; with Singh's appeal, a strong supporting cast and an original premise, Jayeshbhai Jordaar had everything going for it. The story of a man who will go to any lengths to save his unborn second daughter, despite the pressure to produce a male heir, Singh's film received mostly positive reviews but could not work its charm with audiences at the cinema.
'Dhaakad' (Released on May 20)
Budget: 850m rupees
Worldwide gross: 37m rupees
One of the biggest flops of the year, Kangana Ranaut's turn as a secret agent hot on the heels of a human trafficking mastermind was largely panned by critics and failed to spur any interest among cinema audiences.
Despite an international team of action directors choreographing stunt sequences, this high-octane film was removed from many screenings within a week of its release, making it one of the once-acclaimed actress's lowest grossers yet.
'Anek' (Released on May 27)
Budget: 300m rupees
Worldwide gross: 100m rupees
Ayushmann Khurrana's thriller had everything going for it: an award-winning director known for his gritty works and a plot set in India's North-East, a region barely explored in Bollywood films.
But Anubhav Sinha, who co-wrote and directed the movie, loses the plot with Anek, and tries to provide simplistic solutions to complicated political issues he clearly doesn't understand. Audiences and critics saw right through this deception, with many giving it a miss.
'Samrat Prithviraj' (Released on June 3)
Budget: 1.5bn rupees
Worldwide gross: 900m rupees
When he's not making movies on social causes, Akshay Kumar plays beloved historical characters that are all but geared for box office success. But alas, this big-budget historical film, based on the life of Rajput king Prithviraj Chauhan, failed to bring audiences to the theatres or please critics.
Many reviewers slammed it for its stale retelling of a great warrior's story, with one even saying it "unfolds like a straightforward sequence of Wikipedia entries".
Within a week of its release, The Times of India was reporting that shows in some cinemas had to be cancelled owing to zero occupancy, all but sealing the fate of this highly-anticipated release, which also featured the Bollywood debut of Miss World 2017 Manushi Chhillar.
'Rashtra Kavach Om' (Released on July 1)
Budget: 400m rupees
Worldwide gross: 90m rupees
Speaking to The National ahead of its release, actor Aditya Roy Kapoor said he was hoping fans would come to see the Bollywood film for its all-guns-blazing action but stay for its emotional storyline.
Not many seem to have heeded that invitation, as this flick, about a soldier who goes on an all-out battle to clear his father's name, didn't really register any interest. Popular sentiment is that it's senseless and unreal.
'Shamshera' (Released on July 22)
Budget: 1.5bn rupees
Worldwide gross so far: 470m rupees
With an eye-popping budget, all eyes were on this long-awaited action spectacle as many were pinning their hopes on some much-needed spark at the box office. But Ranbir's foray into action hero territory seems to have bitten the dust, with very few takers.
Set in 1871, during the British rule of India, Ranbir plays a Robin Hood-style warrior who leads his tribe to freedom.
"Shamshera is a mess that needs more than just star power to come to its rescue," India Today said in its review, while Bollywood Hungama faulted it for its "outdated script and predictable plot".
'Laal Singh Chaddha' (Released on August 11)
Budget: 1.8bn rupees
Worldwide gross so far: 1.1bn rupees
Not too long ago, Bollywood star Aamir Khan had the reputation of being the man with the Midas touch. As an actor and producer, he starred in and championed many blockbusters. Khan's directorial debut, Taare Zameen Par, was critically lauded and was India's entry to the Oscars in 2009. In the midst of all this, he hosted a hugely successful Oprah Winfrey-style TV show, Satyamev Jayate, about India's social issues, which ran for three seasons from 2012 to 2014.
A lot was riding on Laal Singh Chaddha, not only because Bollywood was hankering for a box office hit after a depressing first half, but also because Khan hadn't been seen in a film since the 2018 big-budget disaster Thugs of Hindostan, a rare blip in his career.
But, despite Khan's earnest attempt, the movie received mixed reviews from critics and failed to gather masses at the cinemas. Calls for a boycott of the film, instigated by right-wing Hindu nationalists, did not help its case. Khan, who is Muslim, became a target of trolls after a 2015 clip in which he spoke about his concern about violence against minorities in India was widely shared.
'Raksha Bandhan' (Released on August 11)
Budget: 700m rupees
Worldwide gross so far: 540m rupees
Speaking to The National ahead of the film's release, actor Akshay Kumar called this family entertainer his "best film ever". Named after the Indian festival that honours the relationship between brothers and sisters and released on the day of the festival, a public holiday in India, the film opened to mixed reviews, with some criticising it for its overly-sentimental and preachy storyline.
Kumar plays Lala, the son of a snack shop owner who makes a vow to his dying mother that he will only settle down after he has married off his four younger sisters. With his sisters having their own plans for the future, it throws Lala's singular life mission into a tailspin, including his budding romantic relationship.
Featuring a number of fresh faces, the film reunited Kumar with director Aanand L Rai, who he worked with in Atrangi Re (2021), as well as actress Bhumi Pednekar, whom he starred with in the 2017 comedy Toilet: Ek Prem Katha.
But despite strong performances by Kumar, Raksha Bandhan failed to charm cinemagoers, who were content with celebrating the festival at home with their families.
— Box office data via bollywoodhungama.com. A version of this story was first published on August 1, 2022