Running on Empty
In Bollywood there are two types of actors – those who are run on potential and those who are fueled by courage. Some years ago courage was the thing that separated the good ones from everyone else but now it’s seems that potential is all that matters. In fact, one long look at Bollywood’s young guns and you know that more than anything else it’s their potential which makes them big.
Like most things Indians, Bollywood, too, seems to be stuck in a time wrap. Every society needs its share of heroes but when a nation is getting younger with each passing day it shouldn’t be difficult to look for new role models. Even after a quarter of a century Bollywood can’t seem to look beyond the golden threesome of Aamir, Salman and Shah Rukh Khan and for good reason. Compare them to Shahid Kapur, Imran Khan and Ranbir Kapoor, the so-called brightest stars of the future, and you’d see why the Khans still rule. While Shahid has completed almost a decade in the business both Imarn and Ranbir are just five years old but the kind of the films that they have done in that time isn’t a patch the Khans. In his first five years Aamir Khan’s body of work included Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988), Raakh (1989), Dil (1990), Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahin (1991), Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar (1992) and Hum Hai Rahi Pyaar Ke (1993). Similarly Shah Rukh Khan’s interesting and successful films included Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa (1993), Baazigar (1993), Darr (1993), Karan Arjun (1995), Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995), Yes Boss (1997) and Dil To Pagal Hai (1997). Now compare that to the Imran’s five-year career and what you get is one half-decent performance in Delhi Belly (2011). By contrast Ranbir Kapoor seems to be in better control of his choices like Wake Up Sid (2009), Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani (2009), Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year (2009), Raajneeti (2010) and Rockstar (2011).
One of the things that separate the present generation from the Khans is that unlike them the new kids don’t even guarantee a return on investment. Between the three Khans it’s only Salman who really doesn’t have either career defining box-office hits or critically acclaimed films in the early part of his career. In his first five years it’s only Maine Pyar Kiya (1989) and Hum Aapke Hain Kaun (1994) that would enjoy a rerun today. In his first ten years barring the two his solo standout films include Khamoshi: The Musical (1996), Judwaa (1997) and Biwi No. 1 (1999). His other big films from this period had Aamir or Shah Rukh as costars in Andaz Apna Apna (1994), Karan Arjun (1995) and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998). In his decade long career Shahid Kapur’s Vivah (2006), Jab We Met (2007) and Kaminey (2009) are the only films worth mentioning. Some might argue that three films in a decade is not a bad average but this becomes abysmal when equated with Amitabh Bachchan’s first decade as an actor. Between 1969 and 1979 Bachchan’s body of work includes the likes of Parwana, Anand, Bombay To Goa, Zanjeer, Abhimaan, Namak Haraam, Majboor, Mili Deewar, Chupke Chupke, Sholay, Kabhie Kabhie, Hera Pheri, Amar Akbar Anthoy, Khoon Pasina, Parvaarish, Don, Trishul, Mukadar Ka Sikandar, Mr. Natwarlal, Kaala Pathar, Suhaag!
The times may have changed and Bollywood might have come a long way. Today star power is decided by the actor’s marketability in the first three days while in the olden days it could mean three weeks of even three months! So in one sense it’d be unfair to compare actors across decades but didn’t they say that a star is a star, is a star! Thus, the summation these actors’ at half a decade and a decade does make interesting argument. The older generation comes across as a blend of potential and courage while barring Ranbir Kapoor the present comes across as running on goodwill. This potential has been given far too many opportunities and the question that stares them in their faces is that even with such star power if Shahid Kapur can’t make a Mausum (2011) or Teri Meri Kahaani (2012) work is he worth the price-tag? It’s not like these stars are showing enough courage and taking risks; it’s rumored that Ranbir Kapoor repeatedly refused Mira Nair’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist and Imran Khan passed over Dibakar Banerjee’s Shanghai. Somewhere in between playing it safe everyone from Amitabh Bachchan to Aamir Khan took risks as actors in films like Saudagar or 1947 Earth but save Ranbir Kapoor in Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year neither Shahid or Imran really tried to do something out of the ordinary. Neither are the three delivering regular hits like Salman Khan in the earlier part of his career to justify the spotlight.
Somewhere Bollywood’s new breed needs to realise that they don’t need to fold their hand just because fate didn’t deal them a particular set of cards. Sometimes they need to risk the cards to their full potential. Shah Rukh Khan’s immense potential and a entire career would have gone unnoticed had it not been for risks called Darr, Baazigar or even Kabhi Haan, Kabhie Naa.
Born a cinephile and a close observer of society, the author is an award-winning documentary filmmaker/writer. He is a regular contributor to leading Indian publications and is currently working on his first book. Find out more about him here.
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