It’s that time of the year when lists will be the mainstay of the entertainment articles that you read. There will be lists about the best films, the worst films, the ones that made the most money, the ones that lost the most money, so on and so forth. If you have been following Bollywood for a couple of years, you will see some names that you probably only recognized earlier, without realizing that they’d be in so many lists – and that too on such a positive note.
Those names are Rajkummar Rao, Ayushmann Khurrana, Vicky Kaushal and the others of their ilk. The ones who still have the ‘actor’ tag firmly attached to them – and have yet, somehow, overshadowed the superstars. It’s a pity that the Bollywood superstars are so busy becoming brands and planets unto themselves that they don’t have time to peer and learn – because these are some refresher courses that Rajkummar Rao, Ayushmann Khurrana and company can teach the Bollywood superstars.
It’s cool to say this during interviews, but none of the script choices of Bollywood’s superstars have proved that they follow this. Shah Rukh Khan’s films have been repeatedly criticized for being lame after the interval, Aamir Khan’s one-off miss (Thugs of Hindostan), is said to have an exasperating screenplay, memes about Bhai’s film’s scripts are all around, and reviewers can’t really tackle Akshay Kumar’s script sensibilities because ‘sacchi ghatnao pe aadharit hai’.
Anyone who has even written a short story will tell you that the twist in the middle – and the aftermath – is what makes the piece click. One look at the audience outside the theatres in the interval break will give all the Kings and the Bhais of Bollywood information about what kind of euphoria the second half and the climax should give – but then, where are those superstars who want to know the junta’s pulse?
Come to the actors’ den and you’ll see marvellous plot points, scripts, screenplays in films like “Andhadhun”, “Stree” and so many more. This happens when the actor – as is said in interviews – surrenders themselves to the script. That’s when the real magic happens.
I have watched Andhadhun and Stree in the theatres. I saw both twice – because the experience was that-damn-good. And that’s because both these films were meant to twist and mangle the audience’s mindset enough to have them come out of the theatre with a high. Let’s take the example of a joyride in an amusement park. The films signed by the superstars of today are a scenic route, something that mesmerizes the audience with its visual spectacle and then gives them a soft landing, out of the cinema halls and towards the family dining restaurants. Films like “Andhadhun”, “Stree” and even “Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety”, are full-bodied, red-blooded twisted rides that will have the audience gasping at the entire experience.
So, here’s a nugget of information. The person who plays Stree in the film is Flora Saini. She’s not unknown either. She’s been in films since 1999 and has now made a name for herself because of streaming platforms, most recently with ALT Balaji’s Gandi Baat 2. Having known her for a year or so, and seeing Stree succeed behemoth coolly ignoring her, it’s irritating. Yes, the actual, literal, titular character of Stree is Flora Saini at best and Flora and Shraddha Kapoor are the titular characters.
Apart from this one anonymity, the other films I talk about have allowed the other actors to thrive. Stree had casting director Abhishek Banerjee play a much juicy role than Rajkummar Rao, and there wasn’t even a controversy about it. “Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety”, again, Karthik Aryan strutted his stuff while Sunny Nijar took most of the ‘oohs’ and the ‘aahs’ from the female audience. All this is a far cry from films like “Raees”, “Zero”, “Thugs of Hindostan”, “Race3” and the others where the screen lights up every time the fattest paycheck – or is it profit proceedings now – comes on screen.
What the big stars need to do, pronto, is sack their PRs and their films. As soon as a big budget film is announced, there’s a controversy that follows it like the twin that took some time to get delivered. It’s happened with almost every big-ticket film this year and it’s irritating.
Here’s an eye-opener – the Indian middle class doesn’t like violence. It doesn’t like bandhs, it doesn’t like hartals. Political parties that brought down Mumbai to its knees in the nineties with the bandhs and the hartals were voted out of power. I have watched a harmless film like Bombay Boys under police protection. It is not a good memory. I understand that audiences should support freedom of expression and all that. But when you have three credit card bills and a home loan to pay, and three anniversaries to celebrate, nobody’s coming to the theatres to merely watch a film, knowing that there can be a hungama.
So, the controversy that erupts as Shah Rukh’s character dons a kirpan, the tamasha that ensues as someone says that Zero shames people with disability, the discussion that opens up when a convicted criminal beats up the baddies in theatres – are things that are weaning audiences away from the theatres, not bringing them closer.
Taking the cynical view, assuming all this is a plant by the producers to kick off the film, sack the PR. They should know its 2019 and nobody’s going to risk their life and limb to watch a movie. Taking the positive view that these are genuine controversies, the superstars should ensure that such things don’t crop up in a film.
So, this is the end of the article that disses your favourite superstar and celebrates the upcoming big names. That is the in thing nowadays, and though it’s correct, there needs to be a disclaimer. Younger bloggers are surprised when I tell them that the likes of Shah Rukh, Salman and Akshay did go through the slog overs in the 90s and came out unscathed. They did experiment with their roles and tried changing their clichés – rather than becoming clichés. Everyone knows Shah Rukh did Baazigar and Deewana, but few know that Salman did Garv and Veergati. Everyone knows Akshay is the patriotic poster boy, but few remember he did some whacky comedies like Waqt Hamara Hai. Everyone criticizes Aamir Khan for his urban films, and few remember his Lagaan. However, the nineties have been particularly hard on him, with films like Daulat Ki Jung, Afsana Pyaar Ka, Jawani Zindabad, Aatank hi Aatank and so many more. They are box office mavericks and know when and how to evolve. If they just shrug off the lethargy that comes with superstardom, they might just once again rule Bollywood.