From artistes to brands

From artistes to brands

From artistes to brands

Today, stardom is all about opportunity, and it comes with an expiry date. It is more about six packs and styling, and less about passion, opines Bhawana Somaaya

There was a time they were all sparkling stars. They created a flutter when they arrived on the sets for shooting, and there was a stampede when they arrived in public for premiere or parties. The old guards described their presence as aura, elaborated on that something special that made them stand apart in a crowd, and the media searched special epithets to define their charisma.

So K L Saigal, in the good old days, was described as endearing; Ashok Kumar was the intense young hero; Prithvi Raj Kapoor, heralding from theatre, was royalty by nature; Dilip Kumar, with his hair lock on the forehead, extremely romantic; Raj Kapoor, the engaging tramp; and Dev Anand, the evergreen star!

The images emerged from the characters they essayed on screen, and over a period of time, became a part of their profile. Actors of those times were conscious of their public persona and consciously built a supporting team in working atmosphere that would help them retain their intrigue and, when required, caution them of signs of fading magic, both off and on the screen.

This team comprised technicians and supporting star cast, and they travelled with the superstar from film to film and banner to banner. There is an old saying that nothing succeeds like success, and as the actors grew in stature, so did their aura. Now experienced, the star comprehended the game of stardom and how it was to be played. Sometimes, the changes in the superstar’s career filtered into the personal lives and created temporary heartaches, but most of the time, the actors were able to conquer these storms without any reflection in their careers.

Every film and public reaction was a learning experience. Ashok Kumar learnt that variety is the spice of his image. Prithviraj Kapoor relied on his theatre training to shine in a scene. Dilip Kumar was prolific, both as a tragedian and a comedian, and made his choices gauging the climate of the country. Raj Kapoor was the imp and the victim at the same time. He played the rich/ poor/ city/ village boy with equal ease and Dev Anand, it appeared, was born to sing and walk into the clouds with his heroine.

The coming generation was watching their idols in cinema halls and absorbing, reading stories about them in magazines, and weaving dreams. Unknown to everyone, including themselves, they were preparing for their own journey to stardom. Shammi Kapoor, younger brother of Raj Kapoor, was on the fringes, unsure if destiny would ever smile at him. On the advice and support of his first wife Geeta Bali, Shammi Kapoor said to hell with tradition and struck like a lightning! Media termed him the ‘Rebel Star’ as he singlehandedly busted the image of Dilip-Raj-Dev trio and paved a new stardom on his own terms.

Shammi Kapoor lived life king size, both on and off the screen. He travelled with an entourage for all his outdoor shoots, and was popular for starting story sessions in Bombay and completing them in London. He ushered a new status for singers and music composers. For his fans, Mohammed Rafi and Shammi Kapoor were synonymous, a classic case where the ego submerges with the alter ego. The filmmaker was the captain of the creative ship. He was the visionary, and the actors, projectors of his dream.

The superstars down the decades still functioned in camps. Sunil Dutt and Raaj Kumar to Rajendra Kumar and Joy Mukherjee stayed loyal to mentors who launched their careers, and those who the superstars recommended had the honour of becoming regulars in their camps. For the mentors, the protégé was always the first choice, and if he wasn’t, there was always a serious reason. Filmmaker Shakti Samanta, who did many super hit films with Shammi Kapoor, had to shift loyalties to budding star Rajesh Khanna when an ageing and an overweight Shammi would not fit into the frame.

Shammi Kapoor gracefully stepped down from his throne as an anxious Rajesh Khanna waited in the wings. He said he could smell the scent of success, but first wanted to soak in the exiting aroma of a legendary star on his way home. Stardom came to Rajesh Khanna riding on a sledge, and unknowingly, he emulated the only superstar he had observed from close quarters — Shammi Kapoor. But, there was a difference. Kapoor was reared in spotlight while Khanna tasted stardom for the first time. The higher Rajesh Khanna rose, the more insecure he turned, and when failure beckoned, his idiosyncrasies reached their peak.

Next in line

The summer of discontent was over and it was time, yet again, for a crown king. This time around, Rajesh Khanna was dissolving on centrestage and Amitabh Bachchan waiting his turn in the Green room. They worked in two films made by their mentor Hrishikesh Mukherjee. The first, Anand, launched Bachchan, and the second, Namak Haraam, dislodged Khanna as the superstar. Defeat, like victory, comes unannounced, and a chain of subsequent events alters destiny. In the beginning, Khanna thought it was a phase and it would be a matter of time when he would regain his crown. That didn’t happen. Misfortune tiptoed Khanna like an enemy while box-office rained hit after hit in Bachchan’s freshly mowed backyard.

Success had come to Bachchan after a bitter and prolonged failure, and he wasn’t going to abuse it. He did not fall into any of the star trappings and set his own parameters in discipline and commitment. Even his worst detractors could not fault his talent or his professionalism. Not surprising that after five decades before the arc lights, Amitabh Bachchan remains the biggest icon of Hindi cinema.

Everybody knows that cinema is about creating illusions and the common man lives his dreams through the illusions created by his favourite superstars on screen. It is another matter that their dreams change with time and time changes with superstars. Some are more charismatic than the others, some more popular, but each one of them is extraordinary or he wouldn’t be where he is. Many years ago, Naseeruddin Shah had said that unless there is something burning out in a person, he cannot become a superstar.

That something called charisma, intrigue or killer instinct perhaps. In the vintage days, stars shied away from analysing their mystery. They were superstitious that by getting conscious about it, they would lose the magic. Their well-wishers did so, but it was never so articulate that it could be described in words. Passion was a common ingredient though, and obsession a recurrent emotion in the following generation of stars. Akshay Kumar and Ajay Devgn went through their highs and lows and travelled all the way up to the top banners.

Changing fortunes

Salman-Aamir-Shah Rukh Khan too have risen and fallen and risen again to inspire a generation of viewers that victory comes to those who strive. They were better-exposed and better-equipped by technology than the previous stars, but unlike their seniors, the current actors are always in the eye of a storm. They face another disadvantage: The present superstars exist in times where the old (Amitabh Bachchan, Anil Kapoor) hasn’t faded still and the new (Shahid Kapoor, Imran Khan) is knocking on the door.

Hrithik Roshan, and now Ranbir Kapoor, are stars of the 21st century. They earn big fees and face bigger challenges. For their present generation, charisma is no more a ticket to stardom. It is opportunity, and it comes with an expiry date. It is more about six packs and styling, and less about passion. The new gen hop camps, banners and beloveds come back to where they started without regrets or heart aches. Every time their film is releasing, they promote their films like slaves. Dilip and Dev Anand never needed to promote their films. It just happened, even though there was no satellite, mobiles or multiplexes at that time.

Then, the audience relied on their instinct, and judging from the print billboards, they thronged the cinema halls. If their idols lived up to their expectations, they clapped and threw coins and returned again the following day. If they didn’t, they stayed away without bickering, and waited for the next one.

Then, superstars valued their feedback and suffered when their films disappointed their fans.
Then, failure at the box-office was a tragedy but disappointing critics and audience was a loss of credibility.

Then, actors thought of themselves as artistes and filmmakers, aspired to excel.
Today, success at the box-office is paramount while reviews can be manipulated, and substance is out of vogue.

Today, actors think of themselves as brands, and filmmakers as corporate, and everybody aspires to be a part of the 100-crore club.

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