In Hindi Cinema: Do we have stars anymore? An Analysis

Salman Khan had an unbroken stream of super-hits for seven years after his 23rd year in cinema. Photo: Publicity Photo

What or who is a film star?

A star is someone who glitters as much as the celestial variety. And how does he or she matter? Put simply, a star commands a loyal fan following among the populace. It means that in the movies he or she can pull in a decent quantum of audience into the theatres for any film simply by being a part of the cast. Ergo, even a star’s flop can depend on good business for the opening day, first few days or even a week before it sinks. A star’s face on the cover is enough to boost the sales of a magazine, just as a picture on a poster can work wonders for a film and even its songs.

A star is also someone who commands fans ranging from the simple variety to fanatics, who will go to any extent to deify their objet d’amor, so to speak. In the past, Salman Khan fans and Shah Rukh Khan lovers bayed for each other’s blood when they were persona non-grata with each other. Rajinikanth maniacs (Yes, that is no exaggeration!) pour milk as an abhishek (milk bath for deities!) over his cutouts when his film releases. Female Rajesh Khanna fans attempted suicide when he got engaged to Dimple Kapadia. Life-size cutouts of the adored human beings are also created for memorable occasions.

Fans of Dadasaheb Phalke laureate filmmaker K. Vishwanath even built a temple of him in South India. Photo: Publicity Photo

Stardom, as in Indian cinema, is not restricted to on-screen talents. Top singers, composers, lyricists, writers or filmmakers attain stardom as well. The late veteran producer, N.N. Sippy, once told me about his production, Sargam (1979)’s shoot in a South Indian small town when a sea of humanity was waiting on the railway platform for their unit to arrive by train. Their security decided to protect stars Jayapradha, then already a big name down South, and Rishi Kapoor by being around them. But when the train entered the platform, they all discovered that the clamor was for its director, (and later Dadasaheb Phalke laureate) K. Vishwanath! “The next day, I was even taken to a temple erected in his honor!” exclaimed Sippy.

Organizers of a Shankar-Jaikishan Nite (concert) in Singapore reveal how, post-interval, stars like Raj Kapoor, Shammi Kapoor and Rajendra Kumar (who had been advertised) came on stage to talk about the composers. But the crowd, after a few minutes, actually began booing the mega-stars, as they wanted S-J and the music back!

And today’s South Indian movies are described, regardless of setups, as a ‘S. Thaman Musical’ or ‘An Anirudh Ravichander Musical’! Music composers like O.P. Nayyar and Nadeem-Shravan, in their respective heydays, would have their countenances (mugs, as called in slang!) on full-fledged print and city hoardings as the bulwark of their films besides the inlays of their albums.

Many stars across the board venture into politics, carrying their magical enigma there and even winning elections against stalwart politicians, just on the basis of their starry charisma.

A poster of the multi-star blockbuster, Amar Akbar Anthony. Photo: Publicity Poster

More than one star

Obviously the magic multiplies when there is more than one star in a movie. A Salman Khan-Kareena Kapoor Khan film will entice much more than a Salman-Jacqueline Fernandez movie. A film with Dharmendra and Amitabh Bachchan would attract many more compared to their solo starrers, and a film featuring Jeetendra, Sanjeev Kumar and Shatrughan Sinha would also have a tremendous appeal superior to films featuring only one or any two of them. The heroine or heroines who are stars would add to the allure. Again, an Ajay Devgn movie will always be more in demand when the director is Rohit Shetty, and vice-versa. Star combinations in cinema or music, behind or on-screen, are a prerequisite in our cinema.

Veteran writer Kader Khan once announced a film as a producer named Jaahil (which was finally never made). He told me, “I just put a double-spread ad in Screen (a premium film weekly), stating, ‘Kader Khan presents Amitabh Bachchan as Jaahil. Music: Laxmikant Pyarelal’. By that night, all territories had been sold to distributors!” At that time, as the late Manmohan Desai had stated, “Laxmikant-Pyarelal were numbers 1 to 10!” And Amitabh was also the Numero Uno, while their joint track-record included the likes of Majboor, Amar Akbar Anthony, Parvarish, Dostana, Naseeb, Andhaa Kaanoon and Coolie.

Aamir Khan and Amitabh Bachchan in Thugs of Hindostan. Photo: YRF

What a star cannot do

Stars cannot pull in audiences if the product is substandard—not in the long run. By virtue of the (higher) prices they command because of their stature, their flops will lose more than normal films. A movie like Thugs of Hindostan (Amitabh Bachchan-Aamir Khan-Katrina Kaif under the Yash Raj Films banner) opened in Diwali 2018 with a record Rs. 5 billion net in India, but the production company had to suffer massive losses overall.

Star statuses too can plummet terribly if they have several unsuccessful runs in a row, like Super Star Rajesh Khanna’s did. But comebacks may be a shade easier for them, provided they sustain after that.

To be continued…



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