Superstars, Megastars & Media-Made Stars

As things happened, a film stars’ status vis-à-vis their popularity and draw was a direct reflection of their mass following. Each generation has had its own reigning stars and some of them even enjoyed a superstar status. Probably, more than the ones branded as such in recent times. Much before my time, I was told that K L Saigal in his time and, later, Ashok Kumar were both superstars.

And, even those, who did not command any such honour, had their own loyal audience. Is it any wonder that a lot many artistes have delivered hits, super hits and blockbusters over the decades! If one has followed the not so distant history of films and their acceptance, many films worked in a single year and they did not really bank on one particular artiste.

In 1950s and early 60s for example, dozens of films celebrated certain landmarks like silver, golden and platinum jubilees. Some even went on to run for 100 weeks.

In the late 60s, the scene was set to change. The media (we had only print media in those days) outsourced to itself the authorities to decide the status of stars. The media gave birth to the first superstar of Hindi films, Rajesh Khanna. Almost everybody in the media seemed to think of Khanna as their bum-chum and fondly referred to him Kaka! Kaka is atypical Punjabi pet name and Kaka is what Khanna was called by his family at home. This was also a case study in how the media could put someone on a pedestal one day and unceremoniously dethrone him the next.

Rajesh Khanna was no overnight superstar. His acceptance in an arena full of reigning stars like Sunil Dutta, Dharmedra, Shammi Kapoor, Shashi Kapoor, Manoj Kumar, Joy Mukerjee, Rajendra Kumar, Raajkumar along with evergreens like Raj Kapoor, DevAnand and Dilip Kumar while Jeetendra was just knocking at the stardom with his latest release, Farz.

Khanna, a winner in a Producer-conducted talent contest, had an uneasy start with a few flops. His performances were appreciated but, what mattered was the box office. That is when, the last of his commitments to his promoter group, the United Producers, Aradhana, hit the screens. The film became a huge hit, and was followed by a lineup of over a dozen hits back-to-back.

Khanna was crowned the First Superstar of Hindi films.

A trend was set. The media took to coining titles for every successful

new star.

However, the media could not bestow any title on the next reigning star, Amitabh Bachchan. In fact, Bachchan did not want any. Bachchan did not even want any kind of coverage in the media. He did not acknowledge the media, kept them at bay and, yet, went on to establish a glorious career. Bachchan could have really done with some help from the media especially during his early years in films when he gave a lineup of flops. About a dozen at least till Zanjeer happened. But, during these years, he did not matter to the media and later, it was the other way around!

Poor when it came to original ideas, the media dubbed Amitabh Bachchan as the Mega Star or whatever it meant!

Actually, even before the advent of glossy magazines, there was one Mumbai-based weekly tabloid that covered the kind of news about stars which they did not want to be covered. This weekly had a columnist who was perpetually on the hit list of some stars and there was a report of Dharmedndra getting aggressive with him.

Another such columnist was Devyani Chaubal, the pioneer of gossip writer, who was also called the Hedda Hopper of India; Hedda was a notorious Hollywood gossip columnist. Chaubal enjoyed a love-hate relationship with most artistes. And her place in the media as well as the film industry was so deep-rooted, she survived the onslaught of new glossy magazines. Her ‘sources’ were ever so loyal to her.

Glossy film magazines which thrived on gossip and so-called inside stories of the stars’ lives had, by this time, given a new meaning to film journalism which was earlier limited to film reviews. While some artistes thrived on these magazines, the one who did not want to have anything to do with them was Bachchan. Keeping away from such media helped Bachchan, in that this created a shroud of secrecy around him. An aura was created whereby the people wanted to see more of him and, for that, they had to go to the cinema. Unlike the legendary Ms Chaubal, these glossy mags were not as adventurous and most of their provocative stuff for stars but titillating for the readers  was written under assumed names.

Earlier, when film critics were the only source of reaching out to readers, actors wanted to hog the limelight every time his/her film released. To this end, a convenient ‘love’ triangle was formed between the star, his PR person and the critic. There was, what was called, an ‘Envelope system’. Being the era of one hero-one heroine films, the PR person’s request was simple: The review headline should highlight his client besides a nice exclusive paragraph in praise of the star. The PR persons of both, the actor of the film as well as the actress, made these rounds of media offices. The heavier envelope got the


The electronic media invasion was yet to begin but some in the print media thought they could make or break a star, especially the ones not in

cahoots with them.

So one fine day, a glossy magazine, decided to displace Dharmendra and replace him with a newcomer from Punjab, Mahendra Sandhu. After all, such rags could not play around with Dharmendra and, hence, was no use to them! The new issue of this monthly mag had Sandhu on the cover with, probably, Dharmendra in an inset with the legend: “Move Over Dharam, Swinger Sandhu is here.”

Dharmendra did not go anywhere, stayed around to see his next generation make its mark in the films and is still around to see his grandson make his debut! However, Mr Sandhu had to soon relinquished his quest for stardom. As if the millions the producers paid to stars did not serve a purpose, the critics’ stars that define film reviews and the film’s merits, became equally sought-after. Probably, all this passed under the heading of ‘publicity and promotions’.

The electronic era brought an  end to the careers of these much-followed critics as well as these glossy periodicals but not before the filth had spread to vernacular and regional publications who mostly depended on the translations from these Mumbai magazines.

The Khanna-Bachchan era was also over. A new breed of stars arrived on the scene.

A new kind of rivalry had replaced the old one of the audience deciding on who was their superstar, who received fan mail by the tonne and whose films filled the cinema halls first day first show. The media now needs these stars and not the other way around.

The race is now between the Khans Vs the Others as well as Khan Vs Khan. 

These ones want to be crowned kings and emperors, no less. Ironically, it is the stars who are now seen to manipulating the media to their advantage.

More about this next week.


@ The Box Office

*Irrfan Khan delivers an intermittent entertainer when his acting talent is backed by a good script. This time, with Black Mail, he has not been able to do so. An insipid and a long drawn story about multiple blackmails involving many characters only manages to confuse the viewer rather than entertain  in any way. What is worse, the film and the makers seem to depend only on Irrfan to see the film through at the box office. That amounts to taking your prospective audience for granted.

The film had a poor opening despite being as good as a solo release and a reasonable face value, it failed to gain much ground over the weekend. Faced with this kind of reception, the fall in collections Monday onwards was inevitable. As such, the film that collected close to Rs 10 crore during its opening weekend, will end its first week with a low Rs 14 crore plus.

*The other release of the week, Missing, released at limited screens sans promotion and failed to make its presence felt. With the first weekend takings of around Rs 50 lakh the film is facing discontinuation midweek from the cinema halls.

*Hichki closed its second week with a total of Rs  38.4 crore. Having added another Rs 2.75 crore in its third weekend, the film should end its third week with a total of around Rs  43 crore. *Raid has managed to add 8.75 crore in its third week. After a three week tally of Rs  95.45, the film should add another 3.5 crore for its fourth week taking its four week total to Rs 98.95 as the film nears its run.

*Baaghi 2 gallops ahead setting Tiger Shroff on the road to stardom. The film which collected Rs 112.5 crore in its first week should add another Rs 31 crore plus to take its two week total to over Rs  144.25 rore.

*Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety crosses the Rs 100 crore mark as it adds 1.4 crore in its sixth week. The film should settle at Rs 1.05 crore after its seventh week.