Bringing together the biggest names in the film industry, to collaborate and cooperate in one film is a mammoth task. However, as the latest Avengers film has shown us, it is not impossible.

The bigger the names, the bigger the egos may be. However, if the personalities gel, then the entire cast create wonders! Avengers: Infinity War successfully unites almost every major Marvel Cinematic Universe’s character from more than a dozen movies. It is not the first time Hollywood has pulled of such a stunning ensemble cast. But we can clearly say the latest Avengers’ film is the biggest of them all. If the numbers of ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ are anything to go by, then the risk of an ensemble cast is far outweighed by the rewards. The film is on a record-breaking spree and is already on a brink of earning $1 Billion in Record Time.

What may be surprising to many readers and movie aficionados is that before Chris Evans’ Captain America and his team decided to go toe-to-toe with Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man and his supporters, before merging Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk with Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill / Star-Lord, or Benedict Cumberbatch’s Dr. Strange into one dream team, Indian cinema had already attempted to have its biggest names share on-screen time. Whether it is India’s first multi-starrer- Yash Chopra’s ‘Waqt’, released in 1965, or Ramesh Sippy’s monumental hit and cult classic, ‘Sholay’, which hit theatres in 1975, the association of Indian Cinema and the Bollywood industry’s biggest talents have received everything from lukewarm responses to critical acclaim.

However, there are marked differences in both of these cases. Let us take a look at ‘Avengers: Infinity War’. The entire cast and crew had already been familiarized with each other from the very beginning. The movies preceding the latest Avengers film had all been chronologically filmed and released. This created a proper continuity in the entire cinematic universe, allowing the cast and crew to mingle with each for years on end, in order to understand their roles and project their characters to nigh perfection. This continuity also allowed the audiences to digest and even anticipate the events of future films. There are, in fact, distinct “phases” allotted to such movie franchises. The origin stories of the major heroes such as Captain America and Iron Man were first established, leading them to juxtapose with each other in later movies. This resulted in the formation of the Avengers.

Even if we consider another rival ensemble cast, such as that of the DC cinematic universe, the origin story of Superman was established, followed by Justice League, and then the formation of origin stories of various other members of the DCU. One may argue that this was actually one of the main reasons as to why the DCU has not been able to cope with the MCU in regards to popularity as well as box office success. Audiences crave continuity and something they may latch onto in hopes of forming chain links. If this is not possible, then the ensemble cast and story themselves have to gel well together in order to form the best possible chemistry on screen. This can, in certain cases, compensate for a lack of a discernible universe or continuity.

Bearing these conditions in mind, it is notable that one of the most ambitious projects to inculcate the idea of using an ensemble cast was pursued by a Tamil movie by the name of ‘Suyamvaram’. The movie was released in 1999, and featured at least twenty-five of the most prominent names in the Tamil film industry! Unlike Looney Tunes, that’s not all, folks. The entire film’s post-production process was completed within twenty-four hours! The movie actually holds a Guinness World Record, being the film whose completion process was not only the fastest ever but also one which had the largest number of lead actors. One would think that such a huge project would obviously require months and even years of planning to perfect and execute. Yet, Nagpal, the producer, surprised everyone when he stated in interviews that the entire cast and crew actually decided to improvise the entire movie’s filming instead. Talk about risk takers, right?

Unfortunately, though, the improvisation and its downsides were quite evident when the film started rolling out to the theatres. The movie has a runtime of slightly over 150 minutes, and for the most part, its idea of comedic timing falls flat. Regardless, the movie does show us glimpses of what could have been, if a proper amount of planning did precede the filming. Herein lies the problem with Indian filmmaking when it comes to ensemble casts. The producers and directors often think that the chances of a film being a hit at the box office is possible if there are popular names on the roster. While that may be the case for very few actors, the audiences do not lack the grey matter to understand the problems underlying the production of the movie. Instances from ‘Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham’ and the very recently released ‘Welcome to New York’ tell us that even though that not all movies with ensemble casts can manage to avoid tanking both critically and commercially. Take, for instance, the particular case of ‘Welcome to New York’. The movie has a dismal rating of 2.6/10 on IMDB. Even the biggest names in Bollywood could not save the deplorable writing and production.

Now, you could question the producer’s intentions in taking on such a huge risk. Commercial box office bombs have ruined the careers of producers and actors alike. The backing up of projects which were unable to pander to the audience’s tastes, or having a storyline misfire is surely not a risk worth taking; let alone without proper preparation and execution. Nonetheless, we must keep in mind that producing a movie is actually a business. In order for the business to grow, risks must be taken. Needless to say, such humungous projects do deserve a healthy dose of respect, even if they fail to meet all of our expectations. However, that respect must also be dished out with a pinch of salt, in order to keep both the audiences and film members on their toes.

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Resul Pookutty

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