Sunday, May 01, 2005

Would Shahrukh be the last Indian superstar?

If you believe that popular cinema represents the collective aspirations and ambitions of a large cross-section of the viewing public then read on.

Circa 1970. Rajesh Khanna represented a surging wave of optimism in the country . Nehruvian reforms and the agricultural revolution of the 1960s was bearing fruit. People finally had a taste of rice and wheat compared to the rationed stuff they had to eat in the 60s ( those were real bad times ). Enter Kaka with his zest for life and romance. The quintessential harbinger of goodness, he serenaded women with equal elan. But however this joy was shortlived, as India become a synonym for Indira and her policies caused wide-spread unemployment and institutionalized corruption. So the romantic Rajesh had only tears for Pushpa and the youth of that generation.

Enter Amitabh, the angry young man. He represented the collective angst against the establishment and the man who could constructively channel this anger against the criminals, politicians and scheming businessmen. He championed an escapist form of cinema which although signified nothing but the triump of good over evil. It covered the entire diaspora ranging from the cop in Zanjeer, businessman in Trishul, coal miner in Kala Pathar to the Coolie. He was sometimes the harmless bootlegger on the other side of the law in Amar Akbar Anthony and whenever he justified crime like in Deewar he met an end. Of course, the film ecosystem aided this through great scripts by Salim Javed, mediocre but catchy music by Laxmi-Pyare and Kalyanji, crisp editing by Waman Bhosle. But the message was clear anti-establishment and people loved the anger and the escapism. And the love story was second fiddle.

The 80s was probably the worst phase of Bollywood. Creativity dropped, beginning from the happy aping of South Indian movies where Jeetendra and Sridevi used to dance to ribald lyrics of Indeevar in the early 80s . The late 80s belonges to the Bachchan wannabes Anil and Sunny but both lacked impact and universality. They also had too much body hair. The stories were just rehashes of the crime vendetta routines with more villains then ever(Thanks to Rajiv Rai). And even Bachhan's movies flopped due to lack of good scripts and themes (Jadugar, Ajooba etc).

Enter the 90s. Liberalization had finally begun. Ambition and Positivism on the future was emerging again. The big theme was that India the underdog was finally going to take on the world. And there was a large section of youth that was cramming in the universities and schools to surge ahead. Everyone wanted to struggle and get ahead. This was a generation of strugglers who had tasted both the Mandal reservation regime and the gory riots which cleaved the country. Slowly but surely this generation found its hero... and the hero like themselves typified the struggler. He was Shahrukh Khan, the man who stole a march over the main protagonist in the serial Fauji. In his struggle to change his father's dying circus business in Circus, he had endeared himself to a vast majority of fans. He was the underdog par excellence in Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman , Chamatkar and Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa. And as the underdog gained ambition he set the rules of the game which allowed bending of the law, a theme espoused in Baazigar " haar kar jeetne walon ko baazigar kahte hai". But when the dil maanged more, Shahrukh Khan scripted a new form of escapism, the NRI. As hordes of engineers were leaving the shores of the country to court the sheer mathematical magic of converting everything by the exchange rate , the NRI typified uber cool. DDLJ in 1995 was the movie which elevated SRK to superstar status. As it celebrates the 10th yr in Maratha Mandir, it typified the aspirations of the Indian wannabe yuppie. The NRI stories championed balancing modernity with tradition, the true joy of unbridled romance and the now well established metrosexual traits of the hero who would weep to express his emotion. The sartorial taste of SRK, the sets of Sharmishta Roy, light hearted melodies of Jatin Lalit and Farah Khan's choreography removed the guilt from consumption to millions of viewers who started getting aspirational just as the fruits of economic liberalization were reaching far and wide. Romance was finally back on the superstar agenda unlike the AB times. More movies which celebrated this theme were released which kept emphasising the true hold of SRK. It also opened a vast new overseas market for Hindi movies where SRK rules. SRK also set new commercial norms for awards, where shaking two legs equalled two awards. This rollicking wheel has now completed full circle with the release of Swades which promotes the common feel of the now born again NRI ' aa ab laut chalen'. Thus SRK the star of the 25-40 'struggler' generation needs new relevant ideas and themes to continue be the superstar.

None of the newcomers in the 2000s like Hrithik, Abhishek or Vivek have managed to capture mass market appeal. Hrithik in fact looks more like a hero for kids after Koi Mil Gaya. I think at this stage there is no unifying force for the youth currently. They are very individualistic and having been born mostly post liberalization are not strugglers by any length of imagination. Easily available BPO jobs have helped. I am not saying that any of the newcomers lack in talent. I doubt if there is one common theme which they can convert to superstardom. In fact, like in Hollywood where due to evolved audience tastes there is no superstar status bestowed on anyone. Maybe Bollywood hunt for a superstar is just not valid. Till then one would love to see SRK break new vistas which represent problems of the struggler generation. Stories where an over achieving executive has to choose between job and family etc. A more mature and older SRK ... rather than subjecting us to a horrendous Veer Zaara and a creatively vapid Main Hoon Naa...


At 3:33 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

I do not agree that the solutions shown in Amitabh's film during un-employment and unrest situation of the country is very appropriate; rather they were most unnatural. Whereas the high moral shown in the films of Rajesh Khanna in respect of human relation, love, romance, graceful lifestyle, identity of real gentleman or human being, etc. were more more inspirable and still after forty years, we remember our school days classic of Rajesh Khanna and completely forget Zanjeer, Deewar or todays Jhoom barabar type cheap and unnatural ones.


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