Is 2020, an unfavourable year for female heroes? Two major films in January with leading ladies in author-backed roles has tanked at the box-office, one after another.

Chhapaak and Panga, coincidentally both directed by reputed female directors Meghna Gulzar and Ashwini Iyer Tiwari, both underperformed at the box-office, although they starred prominent actresses in central roles.

Deepika Padukone who is undisputably the No.1 leading lady in Bollywood was seen in Chhapaak after a gap of two years. Her last release was the spectacular Padmaavat which earned revenues worth nearly 300 crore rupees at the box-office worldwide. The political controversies surrounding the project certainly helped generate surplus revenues.

No amount of controversy helped Chhapaak sink at the box-office, in spite of its intrinsic merits. Director Meghna Gulzar had two previous critical and commercial successes Talvar and Raazi (the latter, another female-centric film in 2018 featuring Alia Bhatt in the central role).

Just a few weeks after Chhapaak comes Panga directed by Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari whose earlier film Bareilly Ki Barfi with Kriti Sanon playing the central role made decent profits. Panga featured Kangana Ranaut who has a track record of successes in central roles (Tanu Weds Manu, Queen, Manikarnika). This time the audience was just not interested.

In spite of being excellent films, why did Chhapaak and Panga not work at the box-office? Is this bad news for films starring female heroes in 2020?

Film critic Sreehari Nair opines, “I don’t see films in such terms. And so, a film that is constructed to fit into such narrow categories deserves to fail, I think.”

Critic Raja Sen feels the modest production-budget for Chhapaak and Panga justifies their final box office outcome. “It’s important to note that both these films are modestly-budgeted small releases. We can start making statements about the female hero only after a massively mounted film doesn’t work: for instance Alia Bhatt’s film Gangubai Kathiawadi by Sanjay Bhansali.”

No wonder at the moment the most worried filmmaker in Bollywood is Sanjay Leela Bhansali.