Bollywood's year of violence: Why audience favoured action flicks in 2023?

2023 was a successful year for Bollywood with theatres becoming houseful again. But a lot of credit goes to violence as action was the genre that ruled the industry this year. Why? Let's analyse.

Karishma Jangid
New Update
Action movies 2023

2023 was a successful year for Bollywood, with theatres becoming houseful again. But a lot of credit goes to violence, as the action was the genre that ruled the industry this year. Why? Let's analyze.

In 2023, "Bollywood" made a roaring comeback after the 2020 COVID-19 slump. It wasn't until 2023 that we finally saw jam-packed theaters across India. So, what brought the crowd back? Well, there's no one-size-fits-all answer, but it looks like action played a massive role. 2023 became the year of kick-ass movies. Contrast that with 2022, where Bollywood was all about tackling social issues in films like Gangubai Kathiwadi, Darlings, Jug Jug Jeeyo, Badhai Do, and more. But 2023 was the year of selling movies on the promise that the hero would kill the villain but sexily.

Also Read: Bollywood's 2023 catalogue: Unveiling trendsetting themes that hooked audiences

In 2023, the year kicked off with a bang, literally, with action taking center stage. Shah Rukh Khan returned to the mainstream with Pathaan, marking his "ghar wapsi" after experimenting with different roles. In Pathaan, SRK played a one-man army, eliminating the nation's enemies. Despite the intensity of the violence, it was justified as it was in service to the nation. The subsequent release, Jawan, took the brutality up a notch. Directed by Atlee, known for his penchant for intense films, Jawan showcased SRK engaging in fierce battles with crude weapons. It earned even more than Pathaan. Clearly, the audience loved it! The YRF Spy Universe also brought back Tiger and Zoya in Tiger 3, where they once again unleashed mayhem with machine guns in hand. In these movies, alongside the heroes, women fought and killed too. Characters like Rubai, Zoya, and Narmada redefined women's empowerment through their substantial roles. Of course, their characters didn’t get the same significance as the heroes, and they eventually relied on the heroes to save them, but they participated more than earlier.

Along with these movies, Gadar 2 fought for nationalist pride. Tara Singh beat up people with light poles- streets full of dead bodies, blood spewed all around, and Singh shouting at the top of his lungs. Meanwhile, in Kisi Ka Bhai Kisi Ki Jaan, Bhaijaan killed a man with a dagger in his mouth and killed the villain by bashing his skull (and called it brainstorming). Movies like Shehzada, Ganapath, and Bholaa, all relied on action. In Shehzada, Bantu tries to reunite with his family, yet he requires violence. Ganapath fights in a ring for a just and peaceful world (the irony!). And Bholaa gave violence a religious color and thus painted it righteous. Last but not least, let's talk about Animal. True to its name, the protagonist embodied the term "Animal" in its stereotypical sense- an individual driven by violence and instinct rather than logic. In Animal, violence becomes Ranvijay's defining characteristic. And the violence is not limited to aggression against the enemy; rather, it extends to violence against women and Ranvijay himself.

Animal has nearly amassed 550 crores, while Jawan has soared past the 1000-crore mark. Pathaan, Tiger 3, and Gadar 2, most action thrillers earned commendably at the box office. These statistics are mind-boggling proof of the effectiveness of these movies. And while these movies benefitted from their "craft", they also benefitted from the action. Taking cues from Telugu cinema, directors made 'action' the key selling point of their creations. After all, the two top-grossing movies in this genre were made by Atlee,  a Tamil director, and Sandeep Reddy Vanga, a Telugu director. And action is also glorified based on 'who' is acting. In 2023, Bollywood heavily relied on traditional masculinity, hero-worshipping, and violence.

For the nation, for love, for family- 2023 reinforced that men have the onus of protecting everyone and they need to do so with violence. In Animal, Ranvijay is a toxic man who shows up at school with a gun, points a gun at his wife during an argument, and boasts "duniya jala dunga". But the violence was justified because he did it for his family. Not once does the movie ask the Ranvijay to introspect. Tara Singh, Ganapath, Tiger, Bholaa, and Bhaijaan all men are motivated to kill people with bare hands- for their nation, family, and/or partner. While these movies have violence in abundance, what they lack is introspection. These movies don’t ask why violence is the only route. Why men? Why violence? SRK is the king of romance. And in 2023, he has been praised by critics (including me) and the audience alike. His masculinity is not toxic; his characters respect the female protagonists. However, SRK’s soft masculinity also requires the crutches of violence. They reinforce that violence is the only solution. Even in Dunki, SRK's character, a soldier, resorts to violence to protect Manu, reinforcing the idea that even non-toxic masculinity is tethered to the responsibility of using force to save others.

Beneath the surface of all the violence lies a theme of love—love for the nation, family, partners, and more. However, in Bollywood's exploration, violence takes the spotlight while love plays a secondary role. Why is that? It's not as if love-centric movies don't find success; they do, but perhaps not to the extent of action films. The most significant romantic hit of the year, Rocky aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani, earned a respectable 355 Crores at the box office. It suggests that, commercially, love may not have the same selling power as violence in the film industry. Ultimately, filmmaking is not just an art; it's also a business.

And yes, cinema is mainly for entertainment, but it can also affect daily life. As Bollywood continues to release a pattern of action movies, it's crucial for us, the audience, to reflect on what this trend reveals about our preferences. A simple Google search reveals that Bollywood movies, ranging from robbery to murder, have influenced real-life criminal activities in India. In the face of such concern, introspective questions are required. In light of such concerns, it becomes essential to ask introspective questions. Do we lean towards violence? What is our affinity for this genre, and why? Whose violence do we find appealing or condemn? Is an obsession with violence healthy? Where do we draw the line, and what are our boundaries? A bit of introspection can go a long way.


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action movies Bollywood 2023