In 2000, when 26-year-old Hrithik Roshan blazed up the Indian screens with Kaho Naa...Pyaar Hai, critics and audiences alike felt that a new star was born. But when his releases, thereafter weren’t received as positively, he was quickly written off as a one-film wonder. The success of Koi...Mil Gaya in 2003 made his detractors say that the light-eyed actor only excels in his dad Rakesh Roshan’s films. But 2006 changed all that. Krissh, Dhoom: 2 and the multicrore deal with Adlabs pushed Hrithik to the Most Wanted league. And he is also now considered as a versatile actor who excels both in positive and negative roles. Critics have somersaulted and now say that it was only Hrithik who could have made “two scriptless films” reach the target of over Rs 100 crore in the 2006. The actor, now all of 33 years, is being christened “the most valuable person in the industry” and “the sexiest man alive”. For Hrithik Roshan, the 30s have obviously been a magic phase.
For Bachchan Junior, too, things haven’t been different. Audiences, which had rejected Abhishek in his prime 20s in film after flop film, are now accepting his movies with open arms. A movie critic, who once ridiculed him, saying, “Since the time Abhishek Bachchan has started acting, every roadside loafer now thinks he can be a hero,” must have been regretting his words after watching his mind-blowing performances in Guru.
Saif Ali Khan’s story is another who fumbled into the 30s and only then earned his spurs. Even having the status of Sharmila Tagore’s son couldn’t stop people from writing off the Chhote Nawab after a score of flops in a row. For years, the media awaited his announcement to retire hurt when most of the producers refused to sign him for any of their movies. But one Dil Chahta Hai was enough to silence everyone. With his solo act in Hum Tum and the national award for best actor thereafter, he further consolidated his position. Now he is considered an able actor along with being a bankable star with eye-catching performances in films like Salaam Namaste, Race and of course Omkara.
So what made Saif the Waif a superstar? “Times have changed. Saif has become mature; he gave his first hit when he had just crossed 30. He is now 38 and in last seven years, he has been an integral part of around 10 films which rocked the box-office,” says a producer on whose door Saif used to religiously knock for a film. “In fact, all the heroes — Hrithik Roshan, Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgan, John Abraham, Akshaye Khanna, Arjun Rampal, Abhishek Bachchan and even Shiney Ahuja — are considered 30-plus hot commodities. Actually, you learn a lot about the rules of Bollywood, from acting to presentation to marketing as you get older playing the game here,” he continues. Like, the same Saif now doesn’t even answer his phone calls!
While the BO and the producers are favouring more mature actors, the guys who are in their 20s like Shahid Kapur, Kunal Khemu and Zayed Khan are either not offered any leading roles or even if they get any, their movies are washouts. Shahid’s Vivah got its moolah only in small towns. He though tasted success in Jab We Met. Kunal’s Kalyug and Traffic Signal was greeted with mixed responses both by cine-goers and critics while his last release Superstar proved to be a disaster at the box office. Zayed Khan has not given a hit in ages. Maybe they are awaiting their 30th birthdays more eagerly than any other.
This trend was not as visible before 2000. Every other film was either based on the life of college kids or was a love story involving pimply youngsters who couldn’t get married because of their parents blocking their path. Probably these kind of films got outdated as the actors who played these characters grew older. They started preferring characters they could fit into properly, rather than standing up top and be taunted for their younger roles (we are not talking about Dev Anand, of course). Aamir Khan, who was once a teen idol, started accepting serious films like Akele Hum Akele Tum, Sarfarosh and Lagaan. His success inspired the other Khans to exit from the boy-next-door image and to experiment with new ideas and stories. Shah Rukh excelled as an actor in Devdas and Salman was appreciated in the awesome hit, Tere Naam.
The emergence of the multiplex phenomenon has also played a prominent part in creating the present scenario where mature actors are acknowledged more (after the initial period of the giggle gaggles munching on their caramel popcorn and cooing over caramel cine-stars). Today, if a viewer spends Rs 250 for a movie, then he wants value for that kind of money. The audiences now choose movies carefully, or so it seems, at least. The viewers want more than just a teenybopper love story. They don’t have any qualms about accepting ‘different’ films like My Brother...Nikhil, Omkara and Rang De Basanti.
“Basically, with the actors, the audiences have also matured. The liberty that viewers today have was not found in their counterparts who used to go to theatres before this millennium. A common Indian has the option of seeing all kinds of movies, whether masala mainstream, hoary Hollywood or classic European-style movies. Simply put, the audiences are more exposed today to better and diverse cinema. The mature actors are not shying to experiment with their looks and characters. In his late 30s, Arshad Warsi has become a bigger star by doing supporting roles than he was doing 10 languishing years ago. Now every director wants him in the movie. Writers are crafting parts exclusively for him. He, like many of his colleagues, only accepts a comic or an offbeat role now,” asserts Homi Adjaia, director of Being Cyrus, the only Indian English film that grossed more than Rs 20 crore.
Does that mean that the era of romancing around trees is over? Film critic Mayank Shekhar differs. “The concept of young romance is not going to die. Sooraj R. Barjatya tried to keep it alive by featuring Shahid Kapur and Amrita Rao together in Vivah. Earlier the competition was not that tough and actors were getting things easily. But now the whole scenario has changed. There are too many cute faces coming in and to get the right one is a tough job. In the 70s and 80s, there was a demand for fresh faces, which has now faded away. Only a few directors are willing to take chances on a newcomer and that occurs only if he or she is a star-son,” he analyses.
“At a macro level it looks perfect, but when observed at a micro level, even this trend has its holes. To get a hit film today, the entire packaging is important; the audience would accept you as a superstar only if you are ‘worth’ it. The Munna-Circuit hit pair of Sunjay Dutt and Arshad Warsi was not enough to save a mundane film like Anthony Kaun Hain? The actors are only accepted if they give good performance in outstanding films. It does not matter if you are Saif or Shahid,” adds Mayank Shekhar.
Veteran filmmaker Ramesh Sippy concludes, “Maybe the people don’t have good scripts and subjects that can present teenagers in a better way. But there are a few people like Sanjay Leela Bhansali who is made Saawariya with Anil Kapoor’s daughter Sonam and Neetu and Rishi Kapoor’s son Ranbir Kapoor. There are no rules in the game of BO Success. Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio were very new and created history after Titanic. To change and adapt is a law of nature and if the audience change, cinema has to adapt to the changes.”