BY VINOD MIRANI
A lot of people in the film industry ask if the star system is over, if the Covid-19 pandemic and the full scale invasion of the OTT streaming platforms are only speeding up the process. Whatever ready content was available in the market has been bought over by these streaming platforms. To them, looking at the stuff they are buying, the content matters and not stars. Even if the streaming platforms are not considered, the star system as it was known may have seen its last superstars.
The era of 1960s and 1970s, had a lot of stars reigning at the same time. While actors like Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand, Dilip Kumar, Dharmendra, Jeetendra, Rajendra Kumar, Manoj Kumar, Shammi Kapoor, Biswajeet, Joy Mukherjee, Vinod Khanna, and Feroz Khan dominated the silver screen over a period, the film industry flourished. They all delivered successes. The rate of hit movies per year remained healthy.
That was the time when a film’s success created a following for the actor among the moviegoers, which made him a star.
Then came the glossy gossip film magazines that started labelling the stars. There were so many stars, but the one they fancied was more of a star. Unlike others, he was the superstar. And, the first one to be labelled so was Rajesh Khanna. It takes little to feed the ego of a filmstar. Such a label was enough for a star to live on earth with his head up there in clouds.
I am sure that the kind of popularity they enjoyed in their time, even KL Saigal and Ashok Kumar were superstars! Thankfully, there was no such media that bestowed unsolicited, unofficial honorific on them. Isn’t the film industry about actors?
This labelling spoilt the equilibrium that existed with the star system and castings in the film industry. Rajesh Khanna’s success and the title of superstar created a coterie around him — a group of sycophants, all of them wanting to make a film only with him.
The glossy rags which created a title for Khanna got this misgiving that they had created the superstar Rajesh Khanna. So they took upon themselves to create myths of their own. One magazine featured a comparative newcomer, Mahendra Sandhu, on its cover, proclaiming him as the next he-man with the caption: ‘Move over Dharam, Swinger Sandhu is here’. As it happened, Dharmendra was given the titles of He-Man and Garam Dharam. Don’t know about Sandhu, but Dharmendra is still very much around.
Then came Amitabh Bachchan. His name spelt super success for a time. The media devised a new title for him, the Mega Star! The sycophants, on their part, did their bit by calling him ‘the One Man Industry’. Now, every filmmaker worth his name wanted to cast Bachchan in his film. Sadly for them, Bachchan encouraged no coterie, no sycophants to surround. For a long time, he did not even care for what the media had to say about him, nor interacted with them.
The concept of media changed as print media, which never cared to even mention films except in the customary film reviews column, realised that adding film-related content added to the circulation figures, and they all went on to add supplements to the main newspaper. The media had mushroomed from print to electronic to web portals. Film coverage means the very survival and sustenance to a lot these media. Their watchword was ‘a quote and a byte’, it had become that easy.
The media replaced the sycophants hanging around the stars. They became the sycophants and the mouthpiece of stars who knew how to use them. The best two in this media management business were Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan. The reporters, photographer, videographers that represented this breed of media hung around these stars. Some of them simply wanted to be acknowledged and recognised by their pet star, some just wanted a selfie to post on the social media and become famous, while a bit more ambitious ones wanted to make films.
Aamir Khan did not want to be used by the media houses so decided to keep away from the business of awards functions but kept the media at his beck and call. Salman Khan did not care, either way. Shah Rukh Khan went the whole hog.
The media had changed and had no imagination for creating titles for stars. So, a star would do it himself and use the media to spread it as its own work. So, we had King Khan! Like the era of the triumvirate of Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand and Raj Kapoor, the period of last two and half decades was dominated by three Khans, Salman, Aamir and Shah Rukh but, looks like, the media soon loses interest in one set of stars as the new ones rise on the horizon.
Salman Khan has been the most successful star among the three, universally accepted all over India in all circuits. None of the other two Khans could boast of variety when it comes to the genres that Salman did with “Tere Naam”, “Bandhan”, “Hum Aapke Hain Koun..!” or comedies like “Andaz Apna Apna”, “Ready”, “Judwaa” or action films like “Wanted”, “Ek Tha Tiger”, “Tiger Zinda Hai”, “Dabangg”, “Bodyguard”, and not to forget no-genre-defined films like “Jai Ho” and “Bajrangi Bhaijaan”.
No awards or titles came Salman’s way, he did not cultivate the media. The spread of the film oriented media and the start of the multiplex era with multiscreen releases bringing in collections to the tune of Rs 300 to 400 crore kept them right at the top.
Then there are Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgn, and Hrithik Roshan who have carried the baton and don’t seem to fade out anytime soon.
Presently, we have a newer breed of stars. Ranveer Singh, Ranbir Kapoor, Varun Dhawan, Vicky Kaushal, Ayushmann Khurrana, and Shahid Kapoor have managed to hold their own.
Are stars relevant anymore? Atul Mohan, editor of the trade magazine, “Complete Cinema”, thinks that the stardom won’t matter as it does now. Talent is what will count.
The actors enjoying the superstar status are a spillover of the last century. No actor from the new lot has that pull to reach the benchmark set by the Rs 200 to 400 crore stars. The superstar era is over. But, the way the film industry is transitioning, will the very star system survive? With sums assured from OTT platforms, the content coupled with talent are the factors that will do the job, not necessarily the stars.
Stars drew the first show viewer to the cinema hall, content made it last. That is how it was till filmmakers started depending more on stars rather than writers. The newer crop of filmmakers will bring the content back.
(Vinod Mirani is a veteran film writer and trade analyst. The views expressed are personal)