NEW DELHI : In a first, director Rohit Shetty’s action drama Sooryavanshi—scheduled for release this March—that has Akshay Kumar in the lead will bring together cop characters from two of his other hits, Ajay Devgn from Singham and Ranveer Singh from Simmba. Shetty’s film will create Bollywood’s first cop universe and mega-budget film franchise that will see different characters cross over to narratives. Kumar and Devgn had both made brief appearances in Shetty’s Simmba released in 2018, signalling that a lot more was to follow.

Bollywood has also lined up a host of other franchises whose characters are supposed to spill over to multiple films. Varun Dhawan and Shraddha Kapoor star in the third instalment of director Remo D’Souza’s dance franchise, titled Street Dancer 3D, which released last week.

Karan Johar has announced two trilogies—a superhero franchise titled Brahmastra starring Ranbir Kapoor and Alia Bhatt and a horror series called Bhoot featuring Vicky Kaushal. Inspired by Hollywood’s Marvel cinematic universe that brings characters such as Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, Thor, Black Widow, and others in films revolving around any one of them, Bollywood is slowly upping the ante on grand big-screen experiences and star vehicles. All of this despite the success of new-age cinema such as Bala, Chhichhore and Uri: The Surgical Strike, which claims to ride on solid storytelling rather than big faces.

“It will be interesting to see how this (universes and franchises) plays out given the uniqueness that comes with the audience getting to see good, commercially entertaining cinema when two to three big heroes on the screen together," said Shariq Patel, chief executive officer of Zee Studios, which will distribute Bhoot. Sooryavanshi, for instance, will bring together the collective fan base of Kumar, Devgn, and Singh besides loyalists of Shetty’s franchise itself. Given that Bollywood hasn’t really seen multi-star cast films with big faces since the days of Amar Akbar Anthony (1977), which brought Amitabh Bachchan, Vinod Khanna, and Rishi Kapoor together or Naseeb (1981) that saw Bachchan star alongside Hema Malini, Rishi Kapoor, and Shatrughan Sinha, the upcoming franchises will stand out by being big on star value and giving the audience an opportunity to piece the dots of different narratives and characters together.

“Of course, the concept is inspired by the Marvel and DC universe but the idea is to make it our own and adapt it to Indian ethos and mindsets," said film distributor and exhibitor Akshaye Rathi. “For instance, we have always been very familiar with cop films so a cop universe makes sense."

Shetty’s team did not respond to queries seeking comment. Rathi said the other big advantage in creating these big universes and franchises was the ability to monetize them on platforms other than theatrical, such as merchandise or animation.

Hit Bollywood franchises such as Fukrey, Singham, and Golmaal have already been converted into animated series for TV channels, titled Fukrey Boyzzz, Little Singham, and Golmaal Jr., respectively. Netflix has announced a two-season original web series on war epic movie franchise Baahubali, which centres around Queen Sivagami, one of the main characters in both films, played by actor Ramya Krishnan.

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