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?
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