Saturday, August 5, 2006

For a handful of stardust

How does an actor become a star? It could be due to talent, good looks, family connection or sheer luck. Randeep Wadehra puts his finger on what makes for a winning shot as he brings out the USP of different actors

RekhaSome earn love, adulation and respect of the masses as well as the classes and thus bask in stardust’s tinsel glory for life, while others, treated with amnesiac indifference, fade into oblivion. If one looks at the routes to success taken by different actors, one discovers that there really is no cut and dry formula for success. Physical attributes, screen presence, pedigree, connections, luck and sheer talent contribute in varying degrees. For example, Chunky Pandey and Smita Patil came from powerful political families; while the former remained an also-ran, the latter had acquired the status of an actress of substance.

And, now it is part of the Bollywood lore that superstar Amitabh Bachchan perhaps would still be selling paints in Calcutta or elsewhere if his mother Teji Bachchan were not a friend of Indira Gandhi, who in turn was close to Nargis Dutt – a connection that fetched him the role of a mute in Reshma Aur Shera. The rest is a still unfolding history.

So, what makes an actor tick?

Among female artistes, the ‘wow’ factor works with a telling impact. Of course, this can be both an expression and an acronym. As expression it can be used to appreciate all things beautiful, including hour-glass figures of the tinsel town’s bewitching belles like Sushmita, Aishwarya, Priyanka et al.

Zeenat AmanEarlier, Simi Garewal in Siddharth, Rehana in Dastak and Chetna, Mumtaz in Aparadh and Zeenat in Hare Rama Hare Krishna had wowed the audiences with various degrees of skin exposure, although by today’s standards they, barring Simi in Sidharth perhaps, look definitely overdressed. As an acronym, WOW stands for westernised oriental women as epitomised by Zeenat Aman, Simi Garewal and Parveen Babi. None of the three can be ever regarded as great actresses but they survived because of their exotic looks. Today’s WOW like Sushmita Sen, Priyanka Chopra or Aishwarya Rai are capable of emoting better than them.

Hema Malini got the Dream Girl tag for her flawless facial beauty but she has not been a great performer, although she impressed in such Gulzar movies as Khushboo, Kinara and Meera. Like beauty and brains, talent and good looks are a rare combination in Bollywood. Madhuri Dixit is an excellent example. Her vivacious-vulnerable persona has triggered off many a male fantasy — MF Husain’s Gajgamini for example. She is a versatile actress as indicated by her comic role in Khel, the exploited but defiant girl in Tezaab or as Chandramuki in Devdas. And, who can forget her portrayals in Dil, Beta, HAHK, and many others? Actually, she reminds one of Madhubala, who ruled over male hearts in the past. Famous for being Anarkali in Mughal-e-Azam, she was equally charming in comedies like Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi.

Sridevi fans will disagree but Rekha is perhaps the ultimate in sensuality and method acting. She carved out a niche as an all-time great actress, courtesy her role in Umrao Jaan. She has portrayed a wide range of characters in movies like Khoobsoorat, Muqaddar Ka Sikandar and Khoon Bhari Maang to name a few. This brings us to the moot point: does a woman’s physical attributes overshadow her acting talent? There are no easy answers but if one considers the success stories of Shabana Azmi in Arth, Fire, Ankur, etc and Smita Patil in Aakrosh, Arth etc, one would admit that histrionic prowess matters. In fact, Shabana has reached the rarefied peak meant only for all-time greats. Smita too was a class actress and would have matched or even surpassed Shabana’s achievements if she had not died young. Earlier, Nutan had gained popularity by the dint of her abilities despite her not-so-glamorous looks.

Amitabh BachchanAmong the present crop, there is no dearth of talent. Karishma has given award winning performance in Fiza and Raja Hindustani. One liked Aishwarya Rai’s role as Neerja in Raincoat. That she is much more than a pretty face is substantiated in flicks like Devdas and The Mistress of Spices. Preity Zinta exudes sophisticated charm onscreen be it in Veer Zara, Salaam Namaste or Kal Ho Na Ho. But the most exciting performers are Kajol and Rani Mukherjee. The former is making waves in Fanaa, while the latter has stamped her class in Black. There are other movies too in which the cousins have displayed great talent. Gupt saw Kajol play a negative role even as in DDLJ she excelled in soft romance. Rani, as lawyer in Veer Zara, held her own in scenes with Shahrukh, and excelled in movies like Calcutta Mail, Chalte Chalte and many others. Although neither of them have the features of a classic beauty, they have an indefinable charm. Juhi Chawla, in contrast, is charm personified. Her smile is her USP. QSQT brought her unprecedented acclaim. She too has displayed great versatility by playing romantic, serious as well as comic roles. Darr, Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani, Hum Hain Rahi Pyaar Ke, Eena Meena Deeka, etc are proof enough.

Shahrukh Khan & Kajol
Some say it with talent, some with looks : (From top to bottom) Rekha, Zeenat Aman, Amitabh Bachchan, Shahrukh Khan & Kajol.

Tabu had no particular USP. She has come up the hard way. After Prem flopped, she soldiered on until she gained recognition for her role in Maachis. Urmila Matondkar established her credentials as an actress of substance in Banaras and Pinjar, while Amisha Patel performed well in Gadar.

Suffice to say that talent among women actresses, whether beautiful, sexy or plain Janes, is proliferating. And successors to the likes of Meena Kumari, Waheeda Rehman, Nutan and Rakhi won’t be hard to find.

Among men, handsome hunks like Akshay Kumar, John Abraham and Hritik Roshan have been in the limelight along with the pint-sized heartthrobs like Aamir and Salman. But sheer talent too has made its presence felt. Today when one watches Om Puri, Naseeruddin Shah, Ashish Vidyarthi, Irrfan, Rahul Bose, Kay Kay Menon and others with unconventional looks play main protagonists on the big screen, it becomes difficult to imagine that there was a time when mostly tall and well-built men with Greek God looks like Dharmendra and Vinod Khanna, and before them Sohrab Modi, Prithviraj Kapoor etc, were preferred for lead roles. Talent wasn’t a priority, although the not so glamorous but highly talented Ashok Kumar and Dilip Kumar became cult figures during their lifetime. In those days, exceptional talent had to struggle for recognition.

Hindi cinema has always been home to the extraordinarily gifted as well as the absolutely mediocre. At different times fresh blood from small towns came to Bombay and set new benchmarks in histrionics. Dilip Kumar as tragic hero remains unequalled. Rajesh Khanna rewrote cinematic performance’s syntax, yet will be remembered as a peerless romantic hero. And since Big B’s arrival, Hindi cinema has never been the same.

Time and again Bollywood has proved that, as in any other profession, talent isn’t the only criterion for success. Luck and pedigree play their part too. For example, Abhishek Bachchan, Tushaar and Shahid Kapoor would have sunk without trace had their respective parents not been big names in the film industry. The likes of Karisma, Raveena, Kareena, Aamir and Salman too would have found it tough to get decent offers at least initially. Outsiders like Amitabh, Shahrukh, Om Puri, Kay Kay Menon, Aishwarya etc have invariably been more successful at the box office. True, Sunny Deol, Sanjay Dutt, Rani Mukherjee and Ajay Devgan are successful progeny of film families, but would they have got even a look-in had they been outsiders?

Madhuri DixitSince stardom and glamour go hand in hand, many good-looking actors with wooden expressions have thrived in the tinsel town. One can recall Anil Dhawan, Rakesh Roshan and Navin Nishchal who fall in this category. For example, Anil Dhawan had nothing much to do in BR Isharaa’s movies except play second fiddle to Rehana Sultan, while Rakesh Roshan has played in good comedies like Khatta Meetha but he is remembered more as Hema Malini’s fiance in Paraya Dhan. Navin Nishchal’s Sawan Bhadon did him little good. Jeetendra’s face has been his fortune. Variously named as Jumping Jack and Indian James Bond, he was lucky to make his debut when chocolate-kid looks were the norm. Wowing the audience as action hero in Farz, he soon became famous for his energetic dance style. Only Gulzar could extract some histrionic juice out of him. Before him, Rajinder Kumar was also one such lucky star. Barring Sangam, one can’t recall any other movie wherein he displayed much acting skills. Yet he became famous as Jubilee Kumar! Dharmendra, in contrast, acted within his limitations but saw to it that he never got typecast as action hero by portraying sensitive characters too. He was a revelation in comedy roles in movies like Chupke, Chupke.

Yet, there were many who were talented but depended heavily on style and looks, rather than substance, to succeed.

Hema MaliniDev Anand has been a style icon to generations of cine buffs. His puff, wardrobe and thousand-words-a-breath dialogues added to his good looks. But as an actor? Whether he’s romancing his onscreen beloved or breaking sad news to his mother, his face sports identical half-serious-half-mocking expressions. When he’s delivering or receiving a punch, he does it in style, taking care not to fall with a thud. His crying seldom evokes pathos. Yet, he gave memorable performances in films like Guide and Tere Mere Sapne.

Raj Kumar too depended substantially upon style to build an iconic image. His rugged looks, swagger and dialogue delivery, peppered with one liners, earned him a huge fan following. On the other hand, Rajesh Khanna – the original phenomenon – was a unique mix of style and substance. Successful both as a romantic hero and a serious actor, he ruled Bollywood like no one else before him. Anand, Aradhna, Amar Prem, etc got him a place of honour in the Indian cinema’s hall of fame.

At the other end of the spectrum was Dilip Kumar who epitomised the ‘Method’. His voice, eyes and facial expressions were backed with a well-rehearsed body language. If he made you weep as Devdas, he touched your heart as Salim in Mughal-e-Azam and entertained you in Ram Aur Sham. Even as an aged thespian, he held his own against the formidable Amitabh Bachchan in Shakti, and his performance in Mashaal was awesome. In fact, Shakti was touted as the clash of titans that would decide who was the greatest actor of all times. Dilip, as upright police officer shares laurels with Amitabh who plays his angry, rebellious son. It was the death scene on the runway that saw the duo display their best wares.

Sanjeev Kumar
Hard work counts: Madhuri, Sanjeev and Hema gained stardom without any filmi background

Sanjeev Kumar was another actor who got under the skin of the characters he portrayed. If he displayed great comic sense and timing in movies like Angoor, his portrayal of a deranged lover in Khilona has remained a benchmark for his successors. His deaf-mute role in Koshish is simply unforgettable. Like Dilip he too depended upon his voice, eyes and body language to make his mark. In contrast, Balraj Sahni was a mix of classic good looks and natural talent; who can forget Garam Hawa, Do Bigha Zamin and Seema among others?

Sunil Dutt gave memorable performances in Gumrah, Padosan, Mujhe Jeene Do and many others. Though obviously gifted, he could not be called a great actor as most of the time he featured in home-made dacoit movies that did him little credit. And, Guru Dutt, despite his limitations as an actor, came up with great roles in Pyasa, Kaghaz Ke Phool and Chaudhavin Ka Chand. Rank outsiders, both of them have left an enduring impact on Hindi cinema.

Dharmendra and Amjad KhanAmitabh Bachchan is still going strong. Dismissed as a no-hoper when he had arrived in Bollywood, he is now looked upon as the only complete actor Hindi cinema has ever had. Recently, he was voted as the sexiest male, and to think that there was a time when film critics used to call him horse-faced and compare his long legs with those of a camel’s: A case of the revenge of the ugly duckling!

If one takes a close look at some of the major success stories, one realises that there was an assiduous attempt at creating a brand. So, Raj Kapoor was the loveable naïve vagabond of Shri 420 or the down-at-heel lover-boy of Sangam who dared to dream, and succeed too.

Dev Anand, Waheeda
Actors with an unforge- ttable USP: Dev Anand, Waheeda, Dharmendra and Amjad Khan

His naivet was his USP as epitomised in Teesri Kasam, Jagte Raho and Mera Naam Joker, to cite some. And in case of Manoj Kumar, he purveyed patriotism to nurture his image as the supremely idealist Bharat Kumar in movies like Upkaar, Purab Aur Pashchim and Roti Kapda Aur Makaan etc. He even harangued his heroine on matters patriotic. Yet, he came up with a masterpiece in Shor. Anil Kapoor did start as an angry young tapori a la Bachchan, but shall be remembered for his role in Ishwar.

Today’s actors are better trained, fitter, excellent dancers and camera savvy. But can they measure up to the masters of yore? Hritik is one such, and has established his credentials as an actor in Koi Mil Gaya. But is that all one can expect from him?

Do the Akshay Kumars, Sunil Shettys and John Abrahams have it in them to impact the cinema for any length of time? Is the era of all-time great actors over? It’d be hasty to say so, what with Ajay Devgan, Aamir, Shahrukh and Anil Kapoor still around and Nana Patekar, Kay Kay Menon and Om Puri regularly breaking new ground in histrionics. Moreover, who knows, some lad from a vague place may storm Bollywood and redefine acting paradigms altogether.