12 Bollywood Flops Which Became Cult Classics

Bollywood has often produced films which found appreciation after their releases. DESIblitz presents 12 flops which became cult classics.

12 Bollywood Flops Which Became Cult Classics- f

"This film has finally found its own place in Indian cinema."

For over 110 years, Bollywood has been churning out cult classics, narrated in magnificent ways.

The colossal film industry prides itself on countless films, with the objective of gratifying audiences.

Some of these films work wonders with the viewers.

However, others do not succeed as well at the time of their release. These films sometimes get their dues years after they first hit the screens.

When they eventually do get appreciated, it can be a joy for the industry and fans.

Delving into such pictures, we showcase 12 Bollywood flops which became cult classics by earning rewards later.

Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959)

12 Bollywood Flops Which Became Cult Classics - Kaagaz Ke PhoolWhen one discusses cult classics of Indian cinema’s Golden Era, this melancholic film is never forgotten.

Kaagaz Ke Phool is said to be inspired by Guru Dutt’s own turbulent life. Guru Sahab, who also directs the film, stars as Suresh Sinha.

The character is a dejected film director who suffers downfalls in his career, marriage and identity. In the end, he dies in his director’s chair, a lonely and forgotten man.

This plot eerily resembles Guru Sahab’s own plight. The ace filmmaker was suffering from mental health issues during this time.

When Kaagaz Ke Phool emerged as a flop, it jolted Guru Sahab. He never directed a film again.

In the book, Guru Dutt: An Unfinished Story (2021), author Yasser Usman quotes lyricist Kaifi Azmi.

Kaifi Sahab explains the miscommunication between Guru Sahab and the audience:

“When the film released, nobody could understand what he was trying to say. His mental health also made him unclear.”

Kaagaz Ke Phool has since achieved a great following. Film connoisseurs frequently place it among the best Indian films ever made.

Writing a piece about Guru Sahab, Saaya Vaidya from ‘Film Companion’ sheds light on the courage of Kaagaz Ke Phool:

“The allusions to Dutt’s own life in Kaagaz Ke Phool can perhaps be seen as an act of courage and vulnerability.”

Kaagaz Ke Phool is a cinematic masterpiece. The film has inspired many movies, including Chup: Revenge of the Artist (2022).

Prem Pujari (1970)

12 Bollywood Flops Which Became Cult Classics - Prem PujariPrem Pujari marks the directorial debut of Bollywood’s evergreen actor Dev Anand.

The Guide (1965) star writes, produces and helms this romantic drama. He stars as Lt. Ramdev Bakshi / Peter Andrews / Yoo Thok.

Waheeda Rehman also features as his love interest, Suman Mehra.

Refusing to kill a butterfly due to his non-violence beliefs, Ramdev is the quintessential Dev Anand. Romantic, breezy and charming.

The film also presents the debuts of celebrated actors Amrish Puri and Shatrughan Sinha.

Despite this, the film was a box office bomb. Critics at the time panned its sketchy writing and confusing storyline.

The aspect that has dazzled viewers in the decades since is composer SD Burman’s amazing soundtrack.

Numbers such as ‘Phoolon Ke Rang Se‘ and ‘Shokhiyon Mein Ghola Jaaye‘ are jewels among Indian music aficionados.

These songs have encouraged audiences to revisit the film. They have since enjoyed the classic nostalgia it presents.

Nikhil Sanghotra of ‘High On Films’ writes an essay about Prem Pujari. He highlights the essence of nostalgia:

“Watching Prem Pujari in 2023 can only get entertaining if you have an acquired taste for Hindi cinema of the 60s and 70s.

“Or else, the urge to ride the nostalgia train for you is getting irresistible.”

Prem Pujari is a fitting watch for lovers of melodious music and hardcore Dev Anand fans.

Mera Naam Joker (1970)

12 Bollywood Flops Which Became Cult Classics - Mera Naam JokerRaj Kapoor is one of Indian cinema’s most revered filmmakers. He made his directorial debut with Aag (1948).

He kicked off the ’70s with his magnum opus Mera Naam Joker. The film spent six years in production and Raj Sahab even invested his personal savings into its making.

In the film, Raj Sahab plays an ageing clown by the name of Raju.

It also features stalwarts including Manoj Kumar (David), Dharmendra (Mahendra Kumar) and Padmini (Meena Bansal / Meenu Master).

When the film was ultimately released, it was a box office disaster. The debacle plunged Raj Sahab into financial ruin.

The lengthy run time of over four hours and its unorthodox storytelling were attributed to its failure.

It has since been termed as a ‘misunderstood masterpiece.’

Sharing his thoughts on the film, Roktim Rajpal reasons that the story was original in depicting the pain of a circus performer:

Mera Naam Joker was arguably the first movie to focus on the life of a circus performer, exploring the pain of the man behind the mask.”

The release of the film in the Soviet Union provided some respite, owing to Raj Sahab’s tremendous fan following.

This suggests that India’s introduction to world cinema may have revived the film.

For Mera Naam Joker, Raj Sahab also won the Filmfare ‘Best Director’ award in 1972.

Des Pardes (1978)

12 Bollywood Flops Which Became Cult Classics - Des PardesThe aforementioned Dev Anand explores Indian immigrants in the UK via this dramatic film.

Des Pardes is a film that has good performances and stunning picturisation ingrained into it.

Dev Anand features as Veer Sahni, who takes Gauri (Tina Munim) under his wing. She aids him in completing his tasks.

Unfortunately, the film did not run marvellously when it was released.

Over time, however, the movie has garnered appreciation for its unique premise. The film also underlines Dev Sahab’s penchant for making socially relevant pictures.

An IMDB review describes the film as “much ahead of its time.” It recommends the movie to those who enjoy sensible cinema:

“I recommend this film to all Dev Anand’s fans and even to those people who have a taste of sensible films.”

These words suggest that viewers enjoy Des Pardes for its brave storyline.

Dev Sahab should be lauded for making such a film at a time when films thrived on violence and resentment.

For the first time, Dev Sahab chose to work with a relatively new composer Rajesh Roshan. The music director creates some unforgettable tunes in Des Pardes. 

The film is also the debut of vivacious ’80s actress Tina Munim. Audiences swooned over her in subsequent classics including Karz (1980) and Souten (1983).

Silsila (1981)

12 Bollywood Flops Which Became Cult Classics - SilsilaBeautifully directed by the legendary Yash ChopraSilsila is one of the first Bollywood films to showcase extramarital love.

It tells the story of Amit Malhotra (Amitabh Bachchan), who is unfaithful to his wife Shobha Malhotra (Jaya Bachchan).

He cheats on her with his past lover Chandni (Rekha). In turn, Chandni is therefore unfaithful to her husband, Dr VK Anand (Sanjeev Kumar).

It is this plot which was the main reason for Silsila failing to impress audiences.

Pamela Chopra, the director’s wife, opens up on why the film flopped. She thinks that Yash Ji did not convince audiences when he had two characters engage in an affair:

“The marriage is a very, very sacred institution in India.

“When the director created sympathy for the two lovers who were willing to go outside their marriage and continue their love affair, he didn’t carry the audience with him.”

Furthermore, in the ’80s, rumours were rife that Amitabh was cheating on his real-life wife Jaya with Rekha.

Viewers did not appreciate seeing such a scenario play out onscreen as well.

As times have modernised, Silsila has gathered acclaim for its heart-wrenching story and excellent acting. The music is also melodious and memorable.

Yash Ji has also gone on record to state that this was his favourite out of his own films.

Silsila is a top choice for powerful, majestic viewing.

Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro (1983)

12 Bollywood Flops Which Became Cult Classics - Jaane Bhi Do YaaroKundan Shah’s Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro is a cult classic that satires Indian corruption.

The black comedy has an ensemble cast. This includes Naseeruddin Shah (Vinod Chopra), Ravi Baswani (Sudhir Mishra) and Om Puri (Ahuja).

Vinod and Sudhir must solve the mystery of a peculiar body. In their journey, marked by hilarious events, they painfully discover the death of justice and truth.

Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro went against the usual action genre audiences of the time enjoyed. The names of big superstars also remained absent from the credits.

The film had a very mature storyline and people were perhaps not ready to digest such an important plot.

However, with time, tastes also mature. The film is counted among Bollywood’s greatest offerings, filled with drama, humour and wit.

It is a highlight of Kundan’s filmography, which includes hits like Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa (1994) and Kya Kehna (2000).

A ‘Flickside’ review of the film speaks glowingly about the movie. It comments on the identifiable theme and the unethical culture portrayed in it:

“The theme is something people can identify with.

“It is about the much deeper, much worse culture of quid pro quo stemming from the collusion of unethical players.”

The review also commends the effortlessness of the film:

“Despite a serious subject as its central theme, the intelligent comedy in the movie is effortless and enjoyable with each watch.”

Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro truly makes for thought-provoking, engaging viewing.

Agneepath (1990)

12 Bollywood Flops Which Became Cult Classics - AgneepathThis gritty revenge saga showcases a rugged Vijay Deenanath Chauhan (Amitabh Bachchan). He is on a quest for justice against gangster Kancha Cheena (Danny Denzongpa).

Amitabh experiments with his famous baritone voice, making it more raspy and dry.

Trade analyst Komal Natha says that this experimentation let the film down:

“The biggest undoing of the film is Amitabh Bachchan’s voice.

“Further the mixing not being clear, his dialogues are incomprehensible at places.”

The music of the film was also pretty forgettable for its time.

The producer of Agneepath is Yash Johar. His son, Karan Johar, shares a curious incident. He recounts how he became cool at college, due to his father producing Agneepath:

“[Agneepath] was a cult kind of film, where people thought it was kind of cool. I would proudly say: ‘It’s my film.’ You would gain friends, then.”

Karan’s recollections show the impact of the cult classic which failed when it initially hit cinemas.

In 2012, the movie was remade. The new Agneepath featured Hrithik Roshan as Vijay Deenanath Chauhan.

Hrithik was sceptical of taking on the role due to the classic status of the original.

Nevertheless, the 2012 adaptation created waves at the box office. That would not have been possible without its original source material.

For that, the 1990 original Agneepath ticks all the boxes for a Bollywood cult classic.

Lamhe (1991)

12 Bollywood Flops Which Became Cult Classics - LamheAfter the stupendous success of Chandni (1989), Yash Chopra reunited with Sridevi for Lamhe.

Lamhe showcases a sensuous Sridevi in a double role. She plays mother and daughter in the roles of Pallavi Thakur Bhatnagar / Pooja Bhatnagar.

The movie also features Anil Kapoor as Virendra ‘Viren’ Pratap Singh / Kunwarji. Part of the movie notably presents him without his trademark moustache.

Viren loves Pallavi and is heartbroken when she passes away in a car accident.

Viren later falls for Pallavi’s daughter Pooja. After a series of twists and turns, Viren and Pooja are free to be together.

This did not go down well with viewers in 1991. Rachel Dwyer penned a biography of Yash Ji, entitled Yash Chopra (2002).

In the book, Rachel comments that this may have been because of the apparent incestuous plot line of Lamhe:

“It had a poor box-office response (especially the repeat audience), because of its supposed incest theme.”

In spite of this, the film received widespread critical acclaim. It won the Filmfare ‘Best Film’ accolade in 1992.

At the same ceremony, Sridevi also won the gong for ‘Best Actress.’

Lamhe often features on lists of the best Bollywood films. It may not have worked in the ’90s, but it is hailed for its greatness and romance.

Andaz Apna Apna (1994)

12 Bollywood Flops Which Became Cult Classics - Andaz Apna ApnaThis iconic comedy hilariously shows Aamir Khan (Amar Manohar) and Salman Khan (Prem Bhopali). They play two hapless conmen.

The film is filled with funny sequences and rib-tickling dialogues. Aamir’s “Oh, my!” juxtapositioned with Salman’s “Oh, wow!” equals spine-tingling viewing.

Given how much the film is loved, it may be surprising that the movie was a disaster when it released.

In a 2023 media interaction, Aamir is reminded of his ‘big hit’, Andaz Apna Apna. Aamir responds:

“No, no, it was a big flop in the theatre!”

Aamir goes on to say that it picked up on home entertainment.

It is worth noting the several delays in the film’s production. It had been brewing for four years. The movie also did not receive good publicity.

Competition from 1994 blockbusters Hum Aapke Hain Koun and 1942: A Love Story did not help either.

Famous singers of the time including Kumar Sanu, Udit Narayan, and Alka Yagnik are missing from the film’s album.

Aditi Mittal, of ‘Indian Express’ divulges how everyone has their own memories of the film:

“Everyone has their own version of how it affects them, what lines they remember the most.

“A title that literally implies ‘to each their own’, this film has finally found its own place in Indian cinema.”

It is hard to believe that such a film was a box office failure. Fans enjoy it the world over, as one of Bollywood’s most loved cult classics.

Lakshya (2004)

12 Bollywood Flops Which Became Cult Classics - LakshyaLakshya is an epic coming-of-age war drama. Hrithik Roshan stars as Captain Karan Shergill.

His journey begins as an aimless, lazy young man who transforms into an inspiring soldier. The film also features Preity Zinta as determined journalist Romila ‘Romi’ Dutta.

Lakshya is memorable for its story, direction and Hrithik’s amazing performance.

Discussing the initial failure of the film, ‘Desimartini’ opines that the contrast of scenes contributed to its poor box office returns:

“The film’s first half was so contrasting to its second half that it failed to impress the viewers as a standalone movie.”

They further state that the disjointed promotions barely mentioned the Kargil war or the army.

Furthermore, Hrithik and Preity are not in glamorous roles. This went against their popular images at the time.

These factors could have been alienating for fans at that time.

Moreover, Lakshya seemed a misfit among other 2004 hits including Hum Tum, Veer-Zaara and Dhoom. 

Home entertainment and a renewed sense of content consumption have become a saving grace.

In 2019, director Farhan Akhtar visited the IMA (Indian Military Academy).

There, 70% of the cadets told him they joined the forces after watching Lakshya. 

There can be no better compliment than that.

Swades (2004)

12 Bollywood Flops Which Became Cult Classics- SwadesIn Swades, audiences see Shah Rukh Khan deliver a terrific performance as space scientist Mohan Bhargav.

A valuable NASA employee, a homesick Mohan returns to India and helps power a poor village by lighting a bulb.

The film deals with several themes. For example, it tackles patriotism, women empowerment and selflessness.

Swades received rave reviews from critics. Jitesh Pillai praises the guts of the film:

“This is a gutsy and outstanding film.

Swades is undoubtedly the No 1 movie of the year.”

The viewers sadly did not share the same sentiments. In a scene, Mohan, while referencing India, declares:

“I don’t agree that our country is the best in the world.”

This lack of respect towards one’s motherland turned the audience against the film.

Importantly, the film presented SRK in a non-romantic avatar, which people didn’t appreciate.

In 2004, SRK also delivered romantic hits such as Main Hoon Na and Veer-Zaara. The choice of what to watch was clear, as audiences automatically gravitated to the romantic star.

Swades has gone on to acquire recognition for SRK’s great acting and the film’s fearless storytelling.

In another scene, Mohan accepts water from a child on a railway platform, despite his immunity concerns. The scene conveys so much through so little.

SRK reprises his role as Mohan in Brahmastra: Part One – Shiva (2022). Thereby, proving the legacy of Swades. 

Tamasha (2015)

12 Bollywood Flops Which Became Cult Classics - TamashaBlue-chip filmmaker Imtiaz Ali directs Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukone in this flop-turned-classic.

Ranbir plays Ved Vardhan ‘Don / Hero’ Sahni, who falls in love with Deepika’s Tara ‘Mona Darling’ Maheshwari.

Their love story sees Ved and Tara find their true identities. Tara encourages Ved to do what makes him happy and not worry about the opinions of others.

Upon release, Tamasha was unfavourable with fans and critics alike. Anupama Chopra slams the lazy writing:

“The writing also gets lazy — Imtiaz settles for stereotypes and simplistic resolutions.”

Over the years, the vivid imagination of Tamasha has been recognised.

Shikhar Verma writes a nostalgic piece about the film. He is appreciative of its ‘tribute’ aspect:

“Imtiaz Ali has weaved his magic wand again. He has made a film that is a nice little tribute to life itself.”

Tamasha is unapologetic, brash and emotional. It is a shame that it did not succeed at its time.

However, it is comforting for all involved that Tamasha has eventually had its dues.

Moviemaking is a subjective business. Some films work better than others.

Several films are ahead of their times, conveying themes and stories that are initially disagreeable with audiences.

With changing times, mature viewing and more acceptance, these films can get a renewed sense of life.

People see them for the gems they really are. As a result, they receive the status of cult classics.

They deserve to be celebrated and remembered.

Manav is a creative writing graduate and a die-hard optimist. His passions include reading, writing and helping others. His motto is: “Never hang on to your sorrows. Always be positive."

Images Courtesy of Pinterest, YouTube, IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes, OTT Play, Google Play, Movie Meter and Bollywood Hungama.

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