R Balki loves Alia, Ranbir but is the era of ‘a’ favourite actor bygone?

While some Hindi film ‘stars’ are still revered, the mark of an actor is now judged by their sheer craft and talent and not just by their box office-collections or stardom.

By Ariba Neyaz

Edited by Ruchika Shah

Source: Instagra:m – @ranbir_kapoooor, Alia Bhat, Bhumi Pednekar, Ayushmann Khurrana, respectively

Filmmaker R Balki’s recent contentious statement favouring actors Alia Bhatt and Ranbir Kapoor has stirred up the issue of nepotism in Bollywood. In his recent interview with Hindustan Times, Balki said: “Find me a better actor than Alia Bhatt or Ranbir Kapoor, and we will argue”. The Paa [2009] director R Balki believes that it is ‘foolish’ to have debates over nepotism. “It’s unfair on these few people who are probably some of the finest actors,” he further added.

This never-ending debate about nepotism has revealed many facets of the Hindi film industry. Now with Balki’s take on this issue, it has left the internet and Bollywood divided, leaving quite a few resentful and disappointed. Many renowned celebs with a different school of thought have joined the chorus of tweets.

‘Bandit Queen’ director Shekhar Kapoor begs to differ from his fellow filmmaker’s view and has expressed his opinion subtly. He tweeted: “Have huge respect for you, Balki. But I just saw Kai Po Che! [2013] again last night. Three new young actors at that time and stunning believable performances by each”.

Naming an extensive list of actors in his tweet, noted editor/filmmaker Apurva Asrani wrote: “Manoj Bajpayee, Rajkummar Rao, Vicky Kaushal, Ayushmann Khurrana, Kangana Ranaut, Priyanka Chopra, Taapsee Pannu, Vidya Balan, Richa Chadda. Many others too if we look beyond A-list film families and take a few chances. I love Ranbir and Alia, but please, they aren’t the only good actors.”

Joining this virtual battle of opinions, ‘Bulbul’ [2020] actor Avinash Tiwary also expressed through his tweet, “Dear #RBalki sir, you would not know of the better actors if they are not given an opportunity and you don’t step out to watch them.”

Where on one hand Balki faced the rage from some of his industry folks, he found support in filmmaker Anubhav Sinha who tweeted: “I don’t think Balki meant Ranbir and Alia are the best actors right now. They aren’t. There is no yardstick to compare two good actors. I think what he meant was that they both are truly deserving stars despite their illustrious pedigree. And I agree with that.”

The brouhaha of claims and conceptions has opened different angles to be dwelled upon. R Balki seems to favour Alia and Ranbir but today Hindi cinema has reached a stage where the audience is smart enough to appreciate the craft of an actor rather just hero worship. So can we say that the era of ‘a’ favourite actor is bygone?

We spoke to an audience within the age group of 18-24 years to get their perspective about their favourite actor, so as to dig into what is their say on this topic. Initially, most of them did come up with the name of a particular actor they adore. However, when we threw names like Rajkummar Rao, Ayushmann Khurrana and Nawazuddin Siddiqui, they were dubious about their previous choice.

Our conversation with them also highlighted the fact that male dominance in the industry still prevails. The fallacy of associating male gender with the word ‘actor’ speaks out for itself. For instance, most of them responded with the names of male actors when asked to share the names of their favourite actors. In order to get some female names out of their list, we had to specifically mention that ‘actor’ is not a gender-specific term, and it also comprises female actors.

Source: Instagram – Rajkummar Rao, Taapsee Pannu, Manoj Bajpayee, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, @radhika_official_fc

Gone is the time when film ‘stars’ had fans gasping on their every single word. They were envied by their peers. Even in the 90s, actors thrived on their sense of mystique. Nowadays, the preferences of the film enthusiast has tilted towards strong content and effective portrayal of characters. Contemporary actors like Manoj Bajpayee, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Avinash Tiway, Ranvir Shorey, Taapsee Pannu, Bhumi Pednekar and many more are shattering the stereotypical notion that was essential for a lead actor. In fact veteran actors like Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri, and Amol Palekar have in their times contributed to initiating this drastic change.

The concept of character artistes is now perhaps dissolving, leading way for an era where content is the king and talent is what makes one survive. Cinegoers these days go gaga about the finesse of a character portrayal and not about the actor’s stardom.

Another interesting development is the audience appreciation being showered upon the supporting cast. It has been seen in several recent films/web series where the supporting cast rather second/third leads have unfailingly stolen the show. Pankaj Tripathi’s remarkable performances in Newton [2017], Stree [2018]n and Bareilly Ki Barfi [2017] has created such a strong fan base that casting him in new projects increases its credibility.

Pankaj Tripathi in a scene from Newton [2017]

Whether we talk about Vikrant Massey’s role in Lootera [2013] or Surekha Sikri’s character of ‘Dadi’ in Badhaai Ho! [2018], it’s quite apparent that these are those convincing performances that the audience raves about and takes back home.

Not only is the concept of stardom and their affluent lifestyle evolving, but also the very structure of penning scripts and direction taking a new path. In fact, many talented actors have pegged stories around them.

Talking about the OTT [over-the-top] platform, actors in many web series are now getting their due. Actor Jaideep Ahlawat, who essayed Inspector Hathiram Chaudhary in the widely acclaimed web series Paatal Lok [2020], is winning hearts. The spectrum of lead roles is not limited anymore and the standard requisites for a lead actor has changed. OTT platforms can also be attributed to elevating outstanding performances over the years. Online series like ‘Special OPS’ [2020] starring Kay Kay Menon, Pankaj Tripathi-led Mirzapur [2018] and ‘The Family Man’ [2019] featuring Manoj Bajpayee have proved what really entertains and pleases the audience.  The success meter of these shows has instilled confidence in the producers and they are no longer afraid of the commerce behind it. The result being, unconventional and high calibre artistes being cast in lead roles and credit being given where it’s due.

Reflecting on the fan culture back then, Subhash Chheda, DATAKINO – Research and Documentation on Indian Cinema, says, “The fan following started with K.L Sehgal – in north India and Mayavaram Krishnaswamy Thyagaraja Bhagavathar, better known as M.K.T in the south. I’d say till Amitabh Bachchan to Shah Rukh Khan, the fan following turned these stars into icons.”

Subhash Chheda

According to him today’s youth and cine-lovers are not into the herd following. The advancement of technology and exposure to global entertainment has fuelled the audience craving for content and not stars. 

“Till the era of Amitabh or Shah Rukh Khan, the revenue was cinema theatre and limited to television. Now theatre is no more a major revenue earner. Flooding of content is such that is now being delivered to your handset,” opined Chheda.

The demand for realist and unconventional cinema has led to a new wave in the entertainment industry. 

While talking to us, film analyst Dilip Thakur mentions how fans were emotionally invested with stars like Rajesh Khanna and Dev Anand. But today people have access to a plethora of content which makes them an active audience. As he believes, it is a form of growth for the Indian film Industry. Summing up, he says, “The difference between Amitabh Bachhan and Naseeruddin Shah has disappeared. And in the future, the era of stardom will be gone”.

For Chheda, the message is loud and clear, “Today’s audience is not loyal to any individual but to content. If the content is good, they will praise anyone but if it is not, then Amitabh or Rajinikanth, no one is spared,”

Hindi cinema has been on a roller coaster ride since the very beginning of it. With all the refashioning going on, we are still left with the question: ‘Is the era of a favourite actor actually over?’ If yes, we welcome this change.

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