During a recent visit to India for the Mumbai Film Festival, filmmaker Asghar Farhadi was asked for his thoughts on Indian films. He praised the country's cinema, deeming it "beautiful and unique," but lamented its growing similarity to Hollywood. "This looming loss of identity is a sad prospect," he said.
The latest Bollywood blockbuster,"Krrish 3," proves Farhadi may have been on to something. The third installment in a series that began in 2003, "Krrish 3" is one of the most expensive Indian films ever made, with a budget in excess of $15 million. The film has broken box-office records upon its release on the lucrative Diwali weekend in more than 4000 screens worldwide (including several in the U.S.).
Such news cements the status of the "Krrish" series as India’s biggest movie franchise. Not only has each entry been wildly successful at the box office, but the series has also been a trailblazer in India when it comes to ancillary sales. Toys and other merchandise invade the Indian marketplace along with each film's release. My screening of "Krrish 3" was preceded by a trailer for "Krrish 3: The Game."
By all indications, "Krrish 3" has the same identity as a Hollywood blockbuster. And therein lies the rub. It seems like a backhanded compliment that the tallest achievement of Bollywood's biggest franchise is the hope that it might, from afar, be mistaken as not being from Bollywood at all.
This sense of anonymity is certainly not helped by the franchise itself. "Koi…Mil Gaya," the first installment, is a shameless "E.T." rip-off. Like Steven Spielberg's classic, it too is about an alien spacecraft that visits the Earth but mistakenly leaves one member behind. This stranded extraterrestrial befriends a boy and they work together to help the alien go back home.
An unexpected benefit to the series’ penchant for plagiarism is its fluid identity; each film pilfers from a different source, leading to starkly varying installments. For example, "Krrish 3" does not overtly resemble "Koi…Mil Gaya" in look and feel, seeing as the former is a sprawling superhero saga and the latter is a more intimate tale of friendship. "Krrish 3" borrows characters, plot elements and even imagery wholesale from various Hollywood superhero films. The villain -- a wheelchair-ridden telekinetic named Kaal -- is a cross between Professor X and Magneto from "X-Men." This is until he undergoes a transformation in a scene wherein the staging brings to mind "Iron Man," if Iron Man were made of scrap. The X-Men similarities continue: Kaal's henchmen are mutants and include Kaya, a female shapeshifter, and Frog Man, who possesses an inordinately long tongue.
There is one area in which this film does leave Hollywood behind, and that is in the blatancy of its product placement. Rakesh Roshan, director and producer of every installment in the franchise, has long been a firm advocate of product placement in movies. But with "Krrish 3," the positioning of brands in the frame has become such an important factor that they, not the actors, end up being the star of the scene. As Lisa Tsering points out in The Hollywood Reporter, in one scene "the hero and heroine hold an entire conversation leaning on a Tata sedan parked in front of a Tata dealership festooned with a huge Tata logo." The film is such a slave to its sponsors that its mise en scène becomes fascinatingly repulsive. For example, the climactic fight takes place largely in front of a banner promoting the film's media partner, standing tall amidst a city reduced to rubble.
"Krrish 3" could soon become the highest-grossing Bollywood film of all time, having recouped its budget within 4 days. Further films in the series are all but guaranteed. Its last shot, which implies that Krrish’s superpowers have passed on to his child, leaves no doubt about the same. One can only hope that the next installment isn't so obsessed with playing catch-up with Hollywood.