In VFX We Trust: Rest is incidental

The release dates of almost all major movies have been moved. Not in days or weeks, but in months, and in one case even a year! The reason is something that has never been heard or thought of before! Special effects aka VFX!

Our filmmakers can’t imagine a movie without VFX; story and screenplay be damned. Building a movie with a plausible story and weaving characters around it is a thing of the past. No wonder, movies flop left, right and center. The industry strongly believes in the ‘Have star, will travel’ philosophy. Unfortunately, the bottom line is that the stars the filmmakers are counting on are way past their sell-by dates.

Yes, stars ran film and hit huge. In my life I have seen two superstars, Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan, who both delivered several hits in a row. They were able to do that because their movies were supported by stories and the music score you took home from the cinema.

Then there were other big stars like Dharmendra, Rajendra Kumar, Manoj Kumar, Jeetendra and Rishi Kapoor. They all had more hits than flops. And when the time came, they took a break. They did not impose themselves on the public. They came back to play roles more appropriate to their ages.

Movie stars today refuse to accept their age. They want to continue playing the youth roles, the kind they left their mark on. But a Shah Rukh over 50 cannot be accepted to play the same loverboy, nor can Salman be as effective in action movies as he was. years back. It’s the same for others.

The actors insist on sticking to roles that secured their stardom, so the producers are turning to VFX for a way out. VFX works on their old face and body to make them look younger. The rest of the movie may or may not need VFX, but it doesn’t matter. On a computer, the experts can do it, erase the signs of aging from a star’s face and strengthen his muscles, or even let him make his two versions, as in the Shah Rukh movie ‘Fan’.

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Mythological films had elaborate special effects and they were all realized on the studio floors using the cameraman’s wizardry. How do you think viewers could see Bajrangbali flying or Lord Shiva soaring in the blue sky? The viewers welcomed it all with whistles and endless applause!

Or, how did they manage to turn Lord Ram’s one arrow into a hundred in the battle against Ravan? Didn’t the films about the epics like ‘Mahabharata’ and ‘Ramayana’ show more special effects and, more convincingly, than what is now produced by table machines?

Can a director today make a double-role film without special effects? I don’t think he’ll even think about it! And to think that double-role movies originated centuries ago and gave audiences extra thrills.

I remember my first such movie ‘Apradhi Kaun?’ of Bimal Roy. Next up, of course, was Shakti Samanta’s “China Town” in which Shammi Kapoor played two roles; it inspired movies like “Don” and a few others.

Many movies recently released with mostly VFX as the main attraction have cost huge sums of money but failed with audiences. More and more filmmakers spend more years on special effects than filming. Does it work? No!

But for everything from credit titles to animal scenes, a creator now relies on special effects. Movies with animals must be allowed, so scenes with animals must be generated using VFX. That is not necessary for the rest of the film. A famous filmmaker once said that a movie is actually made on the editing table. Contemporary creators seem to believe that the computer desk can work just as effectively.

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They have become too dependent on special effects. This is not only a costly affair, but also time consuming. If you think about it, just the practice of making the hero look young increases the cost by over a crore! Still, the younger appearance of the hero does not convince the viewer and does not make 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 so high that the VFX company was brought in as a producer and given a share of the revenue instead of the bill for the film.

When I saw a South remake in Hindi, I enjoyed it. When I saw the original of the remake, I liked it even better. So far, Hindi movies got away with the special effects they worked on. However, after ‘Baahubali’, there has been a regular stream of Southern dubbed movies released in the Hindi circuit, all packed with special effects. And, to say the least, their special effects are superlative.

There were comparisons and the Hindi films came out much less compared to recent Southern hits – ‘RRR’, ‘KGF: Chapter 2’, ‘Ponniyin Selvan-1’ and ‘Kantara’. Conversely, we’ve had movies like ‘Shamshera’, ‘Runway 34’, ‘Samrat Prithviraj’, ‘Brahmastra’, ‘Ram Setu’ and so on that used a lot of VFX but to no avail. Whatever the reason. (There was also talk of the VFX studios picking up rejected VFX footage from Hollywood and interpolating them into movies here!)

Perhaps the filmmakers have delved into the reasons. Now, big movie makers, counting on special effects for their movies, have all decided to postpone release dates, and when they’re released, they’re not happy with the results.

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‘Adi Purush’ was trolled after the teaser came out, delaying the release of the film. ‘Laal Singh Chaddha’ was postponed several times. The same was true for ‘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 now been shifted to the next Diwali. The Hrithik Roshan starrer ‘Fighter’, which was scheduled for Republic Day 2023, has been delayed by exactly one year and will now be released during the Republic Day week in 2024.

VFX is not a magic wand that can make a movie run. Without a story, nothing really works, whether it’s the stars, the music, or the performances (which critics have gotten into the habit of praising these days). VFX is not a substitute for creativity. The director was once called the captain of the ship. VFX is steering the ship now.

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