The ‘Comeback’ Trial: Six Best Star Return Journeys

Sridevi made a stunning comeback in English Vinglish. Photo: Trailer Video Grab

In the last two weeks, Shilpa Shetty Kundra (Nikamma) and Neetu Kapoor a.k.a. top ‘70s and ‘80s heroine Neetu Singh (Jugjugg Jeeyo), have made comebacks to cinema. While Shilpa Shetty passed muster, Neetu Kapoor has shown immense potential for a renewed career and has already signed a web series.

On the OTT front, we also had Sonali Bendre-Behl doing a solid turn in The Broken News, while Karisma Kapoor, after a debacle of a return in Dangerous Ishhq and another wasted effort in OTT space in Mentalhood, now stars in Brown, a film by Abhinay Deo, of Delhi Belly and 24 fame.

Marriage, other personal issues, controversies, discontentment and even failure—many are the reasons why lead stars go off the grid, though some are at the top of their careers. Multiple reasons again—like a specific stage in their lives, a tempting offer or simple ‘studiosickness’ (to coin a term!) besides financial needs—bring them back.

On the simple fact of how they choose their comeback vehicles (role, film and its fate, charisma, trends and changed times) depends their future course. Today, we also have the web series as a powerful alternative.

Here are the six best returns we have seen in Hindi cinema: 

Amitabh Bachchan

Amitabh Bachchan went through personal (a near-fatal accident on the sets of Coolie and all its repercussions on his health, as well as a simultaneous alleged involvement in the national Bofors scam) and professional (a surfeit of big flops) trauma between the mid-1980s and late 1990s. True, he had a big hit in Aaj Ka Arjun and successes like Shahenshah, Hum and Khuda Gawah, but he was generally bereft of good work. The last straw was the failure of India’s first corporate cinema house—ABCL, or Amitabh Bachchan Corporation Limited, which he had founded and in those days, had put him in the red by a few crore.

In desperation, the past mega-star approached Yash Chopra for work, and by good luck, got Mohabbatein as the protagonist suitable for his age. Alongside came Star Plus’ flagship show Kaun Banega Crorepati. After both released almost concurrently in 2000, Amitabh, till today, has not looked back. The debts are now history, and his subsequent milestones include protagonist roles in films like Baghban, Black, Sarkar, Cheeni Kum, Paa and Badla.

Dilip Kumar

Dilip Kumar was absent from the scene since he played a father and two sons in his first triple role in Bairaag. The 1976 film clearly showed that, as a romantic leading man, his time was up. It took admirer Manoj Kumar, who offered him the star lead in his multi-star Kranti (1981), to turn the tide. While the film was being made, Subhash Ghai too offered him Vidhaata and Ramesh Sholay Sippy and Kranti co-writers Salim-Javed gave him Shakti. From here, the veteran went on to write a success saga in films as impactful as Mashaal, Karma and Saudagar, to mention just the cream. 

Dimple Kapadia

Just before the release of her smash debut Bobby, thanks to her sudden whirlwind romance and marriage to Rajesh Khanna, Dimple Kapadia went off films despite exhibiting humongous talent at the age of 16! But after an unhappy marriage and motherhood, she decided to come back to movies, signing Ramesh Sippy’s Saagar in 1980. The film was delayed, and her first release was Zakhmi Sher in 1984. Arjun too released before Saagar (both of which did only average business), and Aitbaar with a magnificent performance flopped, but Dimple struck it rich with Insaaf (1987) in a dual role. After this, Dimple was on a roll, doing around 70 films, including Kaash, Zakhmi Aurat, Rudaali and Dil Chahta Hai with a bravura mix of stunning essays and blockbusters (Ram Lakhan, Krantiveer). Today, she takes up intense character roles.


She quit films after her marriage to Boney Kapoor despite the hit Judaai (1997) and some misjudged forays into film production (Shakti—The Power, Run, Bewafaa). But after a long stint at domesticity, including raising her two daughters Janhvi and Khushi, Sridevi could not resist an author-backed offer in R. Balki’s English Vinglish (2012). Demonstrating great evolution as an actress, she was never tempted by routine offers. In 2017, after a Tamil misadventure in Puli (2015), she chose another author-backed role in Mom—and scored high again. Sadly, she did not live to have further triumphs.

Sushmita Sen

Having shown her mettle as an accomplished actress even in her many flops, Sushmita Sen once openly declared that her career was based on “three and a half hits” (Biwi No. 1, Main Hoon Na, Maine Pyar Kyun Kiya and a song-cameo in Fiza). But could a mix of star charisma and talent like hers be allowed to go waste? No! The web came to her rescue and she gave a stunning account of herself in Ram Madhvani’s Aarya, which also went into a Season 2, and will now continue.

Vinod Khanna

He almost sabotaged his own career when he left Mumbai (and some signed films) to go to the US and be with his guru, Acharya Rajneesh. Disillusioned soon, he returned to cinema, and Vinod Khanna was welcomed with open arms by filmmakers like Nitin Manmohan (Insaaf) and Raj N. Sippy (Satyameva Jayate) in the mid-1980s, and many others. Though his choice of over 15 films as leading man gave him just one hit later (Chandni) and he even turned character artiste (Wanted, Dabangg), he was considered a top-echelon star at least till the mid-1990s.



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