By Vinod Mirani
Does talent have a ‘best before date? Does creativity wear out? What happens to imagination over a time?
Do these things matter for the success and substance in filmmaking or is it just luck?
What really makes an actor, a music composer or a scriptwriter and their ilk tick? And, what makes them not just vanish from the scene suddenly but soon fade from public memory? What happens to the fan following they enjoyed till not very long ago? Most of all, why do the filmmakers who ran after one of these talents, just move away and on?
A lot of producers cultivated a clique of their own, sticking to the same music composer, cinematographer, art director and other unit members. The makers, sort of, worked on the lines of the old time studio system whereby they had their own talent pool on the lot.
While, the success of a film mattered, obsession and passion weighed heavier for a lot of these filmmakers. To cite just one example, Raj Kapoor who, after the disastrous home productions, “Mera Naam Joker” and “Kal Aaj Aur Kal”, which led to mortgaging of his estates and, despite his regular distributors deserting him, he went on to launch Rishi Kapoor with “Bobby”. If this film had failed, that would not only have ruined Raj Kapoor, there would be no Kapoor folklore to talk about and no RK clan to carry forward.
Passion, obsession, determination are a thing of the past. No maker has the conviction like Raj Kapoor had to make a film; only having a star gives them confidence. Now, the filmmaking is purely a business and, being an unpredictable one at that, with the probability of losses being very high, loyalty with one name is a trait few can afford. One changes tracks and his unit members without scruples.
When a film actor, male or female, whose name in the billing drew film lovers to a cinema halls en masse, suddenly loses favour with the audience’ it defies logic in most cases.
Asha Parekh ruled the roost and gave about half a dozen superhits in the period between 1969 and 1971, with films like “Pyar Ka Mausam”, “Aya Sawan Jhoom Ke”, “Aan Milo Sajana”, “Kati Patang”, “Mera Gaon Mera Desh”, “Caravan” and “Samaadhi” but, was suddenly relegated to playing secondary roles in films that followed.
Rajesh Khanna was considered the ultimate heartthrob of girls and that made guys follow Khanna’s dressing and hairstyles. He was crowned the first Superstar of Hindi cinema. He gave a line-up of jubilee hits only to become an ex superstar in a matter of months. The man who had a hoard of filmmakers and yes-men joining his evening sessions had vanished. Then there came a time when, often, in the evenings one could see him nursing a drink, sitting bare chested and wearing a lungi, at a bus stop right opposite his once-thriving bungalow.
Both these examples make it difficult to surmise as to what ends an actor’s career so! Difficult, because, all those contemporaries like Dharmendra, Jeetendra, Shashi Kapoor, whom he had overtaken on his way to superstardom, were still around and holding their own.
An actor who rides on a certain image he created for himself, is bound to start fading out. Rajesh Khanna was the ultimate romantic hero while Amitabh Bachchan had made it on the angry young man image at an apt time. Anti-establishment sentiment was high when his “Zanjeer” released. But, his following was dwindling when, first, “Mard”, and later on “Kaun Banega Crorepati” (KBC) established him as a public figure more than his original fame, actor.
What makes this happen? Age factor, changing trends or the change of generation as well as the taste of the audience. The prime reason would seem to be the age factor of the stars. They want to watch their favourite as the icon they loved and not the aging, going-out-of-shape image.
This is easy to explain if one recalls the term. Matinee Idol. We had this system of matinee shows, where films of stars of the bygone era were screened in what was called matinee shows, conducted at about 10 am at concessional admission rates. The moviegoers thronged these matinee shows to relive their experience of watching their favourite actors in their prime. The most popular star for the matinee audience was Dev Anand. The youthful charm he exuded through his films continued to inspire generations.
Most actors who go out of circulation get the opportunity to return to play character roles of grownups along with new breed of stars, but only after a break they need to take till their popular image fades out of people’s memory. Amitabh Bachchan, Vinod Khanna, Rishi Kapoor, Mithun Chakraborty, Jackie Shroff, Anil Kapoor are a few examples of such returns.
There were some stars who were successful and, when their following tapered down and the filmmakers would no longer sign them, they decided to make films of their own in the hope of bouncing back — actors like Rajendra Kumar, Jeetendra, Manoj Kumar, Rajesh Khanna and some others. Not all succeeded, and only Jeetendra could continue to stay relevant through his home productions.
So, while one can find many reasons or justifications for the actors going out of circulation, what explains the same happening with those from the creative faculties like writers, cinematographers, lyricists, choreographers? Theirs is an inherent talent and not transitory, and age can’t be a factor in their case. They only gain in experience with age and their physical age does not make them redundant. So, what explains filmmakers look for options?
That would be interesting to study in another column.
(Vinod Mirani is a veteran film writer and box office analyst. The views expressed are personal)