New crop no challenge to Bollywood stars' hegemony

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By Priyanka Khanna

New Delhi, (IANS) Having survived onslaughts by waves of star kids and supermodels, the Hindi film industry's over 40-year-old reigning superstars are showing no signs of slowing down and have little to fear from the new crop of entrants.

Even as a new lot of models and scions is ready to debut in the month ahead, collections of films like "Bhool Bhulaiyaa" make it more than evident that stars like Akshay Kumar can make even a bad film work on account of their massive popularity. At the same time the poor box-office performance of Rani Mukerji-Abhishek Bachchan-starrer "Laaga Chunari Mein Daag" goes to show that the two are yet to achieve the elusive quality called superstardom.

Producers Bhushan Kumar and Krishan Kumar and lead man Akshay are having the last laugh with "Bhool Bhulaiyaa" sweeping the box-office though it was disparaged by film reviewers.

According to trade analyst Taran Adarsh the Priyadarshan film has benefited from the pre-release marketing strategy and the festive season. He says Akshay has emerged as a major star today and a huge box-office draw. His previous two releases this year - "Namastey London" and "Heyy Babyy" - are amongst the biggest grossers of the year.

Another plus was the untiring promotion of the film. At the last count, the producers had put out two types of promos of the film that were beaming from TV channels around the clock. More are expected.

On the other hand, Yash Raj Films' "Laaga Chunari Mein Daag" has not done well at the turnstiles. Though the film was released in the middle of Eid festivities, it has not captured the imagination of the public at large.

Though Bollywood producers and distributors are today convinced it is not the star but the story that clicks, their options continue to be limited to the three Khans and to some extent Akshay to draw in the crowds for less-than-magnificent films.

An Abhishek Bachchan, Hrithik Roshan, Sanjay Dutt, Aishwarya Rai, Sunny Deol, Saif Ali Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Ajay Devgan, Viveik Oberoi, John Abraham, Arjun Rampal, Fardeen Khan, Bobby Deol, Aftab Shivdasani, Bipasha Basu, Amisha Patel, or Jimmy Shergill and even Amitabh Bachchan cannot salvage a poorly produced, marketed or packaged film.

And the newer entrants like Tusshar Kapoor, Esha Deol, Riteish Deshmukh, Shiney Ahuja, Kangana Ranaute, Riya Sen, Konkana Sen Sharma, Kunal Kapoor, Kunal Kamthe and others not only need a good script backed by great marketing and production team but they are usually cast in multi-starrers.

The Bollywood horizon may now be dotted with sons, daughters, nephews and nieces with famous last names, but the hegemony of the superstars is unchallenged. Like wine our Bollywood actors today seem to be getting better with age. Actors like Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, Saif Ali Khan, Anil Kapoor, Amitabh Bachchan, Sanjay Dutt or Aamir Khan are the top slot actors of today and all have been around for decades.

When Sanjay Dutt or Shah Rukh entered the big bad world of Bollywood in his mid-20s it was a long way to go to gain the stature of superstars. The same goes for Aamir Khan, Amitabh Bachchan or Akshay Kumar for whom climbing the Bollywood ladder has been a struggle.

In today's world when the opportunities for entertainment are many, an actor's shelf life is extremely short and public memory even shorter; it is indeed commendable that these stars continue to rule the roost.

Unlike Hollywood, Bollywood actresses always had a shortlived career, once married they were typecast to roles of the actresses' sister or even the hero's mother. But now things are slowly changing and Bollywood actresses are making what is called a comeback.

Bollywood seems to be going the Hollywood way where the top Hollywood actors including Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Tom Cruise, Denzel Washington, Demi Moore and Julia Roberts are all above 40 and still the most sought after.

Unlike Hollywood, however, Bollywood stars are reluctant to play saucy roles as they age. It is nearly impossible to imagine Madhuri Dixit doing a Sharon Stone. And when Amitabh Bachchan got a little naughty in "Nishabd" his character had to go through hell and was subjected to dime-a-dozen lessons on morality.

Here is hoping that with the need for films to bring novelty for the ever-evolving audiences, Bollywood will test new waters.

The much hyped big screen debuts of Ranbir Kapoor and Sonam Kapoor in lead roles in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's next film "Saawariya" and of model Deepika Padukone in a pivotal role opposite Shah Rukh in "Om Shanti Om" go to show that the search for the next crop to take over from the reigning superstars continues.

The upcoming Deepavali release of "Saawariya" is the first Indian film produced by a Hollywood company - Sony Pictures. Ranbir, 25, is the son of renowned actor-couple Neetu-Rishi Kapoor, and cousin of actresses Karisma and Kareena Kapoor. Sonam, 22, is the daughter of Anil Kapoor, another prominent veteran in the film industry.

In "Saawariya", Ranbir plays artist Raj, who meets a young woman with a past, Sakina (Sonam), in a chance encounter and they fall madly in love. Based on the short story "White Nights" by 19th century Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky, "Saawariya" (Beloved) recounts the passionate love affair over four successive nights.

Let us hope that the audiences are enchanted by the love tale and Bollywood gets at least a couple of more bankable stars.