Thursday, August 30, 2007

Of Stars and Actors

A star is a person who continues to be interesting even when he is not doing anything. An actor is a person who has to act (but of course!) to be interesting. To this age-old wisdom, I might as well add my two-penny bit - everybody admires an actor but everybody imitates a star.

Every era or region of Indian cinema has a star and actor pair. As their appeals are emotional or rational respectively, so are the fan followings. Bengali and Tamil cinema provide the best examples. The iconic pairs – of Uttam Kumar & Soumitra Chatterjee and Rajanikanth & Kamalahaasan – remain the subject of heated debates. The fans of the former try to prove that their hero is just as great an actor, only more commercially successful. The second group ridicules this claim by pointing out the laughability of the star’s hairstyle or cigarette-catching-techniques!
Basically, the fans of stars and actors are perennially involved in debates over whose talents are rarer or whose legacy more memorable.

In the Hindi space, pairs of film personalities can be easily clubbed together in a star-actor pair. Dilip Kumar was the actor while Dev Anand was the star. The former charmed audiences with dramatic pauses and natural tears while the latter’s puffy hair, scarves and 6:05 tilt held men and women in awe!
Subsequently, when Amitabh Bachchan strode the industry like a Colossus, the actors of his generation got completely overshadowed and ended up in parallel cinema. Om Puri and Naseeruddin Shah, for example.

Then came the Khan Triumvirate. Aamir – after some innocent forays like QSQT, Tum Mere Ho and Awwal Number – was snubbed royally at the Filmfare Awards and became the first major Indian actor to work on one film at a time and boycott film award functions. Also, he started to look stern and gave deadly boring interviews, mostly talking about Guru Dutt and the futility about awards, sometimes simultaneously – “Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye to kya hain?
SRK – on the other hand – threw heroines off rooftops, fought climaxes with a mouthful of blood and went through entire films only in suits (that is, not anything under the suit). Of course, his interviews and award ceremony speeches were like his film dialogues – rip roaring stuff! In a memorable interview, when an India Today correspondent (now his biographer) accused him of repeating himself, he said – “So what? Even history repeats itself…” Lovely!

In the present crop, Hrithik Roshan seemed to be a star when he debuted but he veered towards the actor side by losing weight for some roles, building muscles for some and keeping tutors for flying off buildings. He developed a unique ‘get-up’ for each of his roles and is now starting to sound almost identical to Aamir in his interviews. Thankfully, he has not boycotted the award ceremonies yet but given the boring speeches he gives, he should!
Abhishek Bachchan, on the other hand, is fat! And he remains so, for almost all his roles. His stubble remains in place whether he plays a Bihari goon or a NRI millionaire. But he starts fashion trends at the rate of about one a week! He wore his watch over a wristband. Then he wore a hairband (much to everybody’s chagrin but the rest of the world – from the puppies of Delhi to the tourist guides of Agra – followed suit). Now, his blingy kurtas from the year’s biggest flop seems to be keeping the tailors busy from Mumbai to Moradabad. And off screen, he runs to the stage (uninvited) if his dad wins an award, cracks politically incorrect jokes on chat shows and takes a month long honeymoon!

So, what is the point? The point is what constitutes immortality? Are the stars there only for the money? If yes, what do they live for after signing a five-picture deal with Adlabs?
Fifteen years from now, when we are at the 75th anniversary of our Independence and India Today makes its list of 75 Indians Who Shaped Our Lives, who will get in? Will it be Shah Rukh or Aamir? Will it be Abhishek or Hrithik?
Or better still, will it be the other enfant terrible of Hindi cinema – Salman Khan?

This post started where Mad Momma expressed irritation and indignation at Salman’s faux Yankee accent in Partner. But hey – did you know people copy that? And more importantly, Salman does it all the time. As an urban date doctor, his American accent can still be claimed as a part of the character but how do you explain the same accent on small-town goon (Tere Naam) or a Mumbai police inspector (Garv)?
Well, the answer is in the stardom. It is not Prem or Radhey or Arjun Ranawat you are seeing in those films. You are seeing Salman Khan.
Just as, you see Shah Rukh Khan as the crazed lover in Darr or the college dude in KKHH. They are not playing the character. They are just showing off some cool stuff – mannerisms, clothes, muscles – for you to copy. There is no ‘Method’ in it – just madness!

On the other hand, Bhuvan is a mid-Western (Indian) villager of the nineteenth century. Rohit is a retarded child, stumbling upon an alien. There is no trace of Aamir Khan and Hrithik Roshan in them. So, we remember these two brilliantly etched characters of Hindi cinema and have no recollection of the fine actors who played them.

When the winner of Great Indian Laughter Challenge XVII performs to a packed audience in Kanpur, he will only mimic the stars. He will copy the no-pause-for-breath-bobbing-head style of Dev Anand, the passionate-baritone-interspersed-with-hnaaii of Amitabh Bachchan and the quivering-voice-lilting-exclamation of Shah Rukh Khan. His repertoire will also include Nana Patekar, Raaj Kumar and A K Hangal. He will not copy Aamir or Hrithik because he can’t.

Very occasionally, a star will encroach into the actor’s territory. An Amitabh Bachchan will do a Black and cause National Awards to stall because venerable critics will not be able to digest a frivolous star upstaging more conventional thespians. A Shah Rukh Khan will do a Swades and it will flop because the audience cannot find Raj Malhotra in it.

The actors will live on in the textbooks of cinema, in the corridors of National School of Drama.
The stars will live on in the Saturday evenings of Zee Cinema. Today, it is Shanivaar Ke Raat, Amitabh Ke Saath. Tomorrow, it will probably be Shah Rukh.
Whose fan are you? An actor or a star?


dipali said...

Definitely of the actor. Haven't seen Chak De India yet, but the only SRK performance that I cared for was him actually being Mohan Bhargava in Swades.

Life of Mi said...

Great post!!
And yes....definitely actors.

the mad momma said...

i inspired a post? * gasp * faints...

but you have to admit he sounds like an asshole

priya said...

the kamal haasan-rajnikanth "rivalry" is overrated, imho. kamal gets more arthouse-ish and "thinking" flicks than rajni, but that's mainly due to great directors in the past, and presently his scriptwriter Crazy Mohan without who his films are miserable and without any sense of direction, in both the senses. if you look at their track records, rajnikanth has done more "method" acting than kamal haasan who spent atleast three decades being a loverboy... he's played a wide variety of roles... but funnily, he's known only for his most recent formula flicks, while kamal haasan is famous for his "radically different" scripts, which demand more suspension of disbelief than rajnikanth's movies.
Hey Ram had me going aiyo raama.

and.... i felt lagaan was a formula flick, that rang de basanti was even more so, and aamir khan reached a new abyss of acting with fanaa.
i dont get it... are people actors and not stars just because of their lack of characteristic mannerisms, and playing hatke roles?

Dipanjan said...

Whose fan are you? An actor or a star?

A director.

Good post. Remember Satyajit feeling forced to pick Uttam Kumar for 'Nayak', because only a real 'star'/matinee idol can play one in a film.

Dipta Chaudhuri said...

@ Dipanjan: Ray speaks at length (in Andrew Robinson's book as well as in an affectionate obituary) on Uttam Kumar's suitability for Nayak.

There is a scene in which Sharmila asks him for an autograph and when he tries to sign, the pen does not work because the ink had dried up. When this happened, Ray was about to shout 'cut' when Uttam just casually touched the nib in the glass of water in front of him and completed the autograph with aplomb.
Ray noted that no amount of 'acting' can make this come to you naturally!

Diligent Candy said...

Excellent post. For me, it shall have to be actors. Aamir over King Khan anyday...

I love the AB's baby fat bit...I was dishing out my Ravan laugh while reading it.

Still waiting for your PJs...

And, you have been tagged!

spiderman! said...

I am not really sure that AB deserved a National for Black. Would have to look at the other nominees.

For me, always an actor and a director.

And I daresay, both Naseer and Om are actors who in any other country might have got their due. Its because of our obsession with stars that we miss out on recognizing the real stars !

chitra said...

Brilliantly put!

OrangeJammies said...

actors, actors all the way... they're so preciously few. Stars seem to be thrown up every second friday.

Sue said...

I was quite upset at the raw deal Swadesh got.

Oh, and while I am, and have been for yonks, a huge fan of Amir Khan, I don't think it's at all possible for him to be forgotten because his character was more fascinating. Not for the generation that grew up on QSQT and Dil. :)

Anonymous said...

talking about actors, how cud Boman Irani be missed out ? an actor so glamorous !..

also..SRK was really gud in Swades..but i also liked him in an almost forgotten movie,Kabhi Haan Kabhi Na (in which Ashutosh Gowariker had also acted)