The toughest thing for a film star or any successful film celebrity, be it a star or a producer, director or anybody, is to come to terms with his/her best before date. While some have tried desperately and through desperate means to rebuild their career, some have taken to the bottle and died a slow death out of frustration.
The filmmaking is a very volatile industry. Your enterprise is not a running business where you checked the day’s business in the evening. A filmmaker comes up with a new film every couple of years. As against that, film star may deliver one or more films a year.
There was a famous phrase in the film industry that fates changed every Friday. And, that holds true even today. A star or maker’s stock either rises or falls every Friday with his/her new release. Besides that, what a star abhors most is when a Friday makes a star out of a nobody! A film star is a very insecure person and a new entrant accepted by the moviegoer is perceived as a threat. The examples are aplenty.
A film star - filmmaker equation works only till one of them fails to deliver. And, some of the greatest makers have been left high and dry on this count as were stars. As for a producer, he was always scared about ‘What if’. This what if was about what if his film flopped! No other actor or star would do his next film. Hence, it was customary of a producer to proclaim that he would never do a film without him (as in the star who has acted in his current film). Like, I would never do a film without Mithun Chakraborty or I will stop making films if Suniel Shetty does not agree to work in my film. This was pure sycophancy but that is how it was. Everybody was insecure.
Manmohan Desai and Prakash Mehra, without making any such proclamations, depended on Bachchan.
But, this is about mainly two actors, one dubbed as Hindi film Industry’s first Super Star and, the other, as Megastar; Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan.
Manmohan Desai made his real debut at an early age of 18, directing no less an actor than Raj Kapoor paired with Nutan in Chhalia (1960). His actual debut is said to be with Janam Janam Ke Phere aka Sati Annapurna three years earlier but under a different name. Desai gave a line-up of hits starting Sachaa Jhutha (1970) starring Rajesh Khanna.
Starting with his maiden home production, MKD Films, Amar Akbar Anthony, Desai teamed up with Amitabh Bachchan, and went on to make five films with him. He did not need any other actor for his formula and the combo of Bachchan- Desai was infallible. But, the honeymoon was over since everybody in the film trade realized that Desai’s last two films, Coolie and Mard, had just scrapped through on the strength of the banner and Bachchan, the third, Desh Premee, had flopped. Bachchan refused to do MKD’s next, Allah-Rakha. The success of Coolie was also attributed to the tragic near death accident Bachchan had on the sets of the film.
Another such case was that of Prakash Mehra. The very man whose Zanjeer established Bachchan as the Angry Young Man. Zanjeer was refused by all the big name actors despite Mehra’s decent record as a filmmaker with Haseena Maan Jayegi (Shashi Kapoor-Babita) and Samadhi (Dharmendra-Asha Parekh). Eventually he had to look for a new face. And, the veteran actor, Pran, suggested the name of Amitabh Bachchan. The rest, as they say, is history. However, the history was limited to only Bachchan since Mehra, though Bachchan did more films with him, ended up with just being a chapter in the history. Bachchan would not do Mehra’s films anymore.
Both Manmohan Desai and Prakash Mehra died deaths of disillusionment.
While, earlier, his accident had helped revive his career and turn him into an icon forever, and extended his acting career for a few more films, Bachchan had his lean time thereafter when he had no work. He had to sit idle. Yet, in his own words, he finally approached Yash Chopra for work and made a comeback with Mohabbattein (2000). With this film, Bachchan had returned but only as a character artiste. The films that followed, most of them, did not credit to his success ratio. But, every new generation director wanted to work with the great Bachchan who complied (earlier, every director had such a wish to work with Dilip Kumar).
However, since that, it is not his film career but a TV anchor and a brand ambassador for various products that has kept him in the limelight. Post his on shoot accident during the filming of an action scene for Coolie in 1981, his popularity as a film star had converted into that of an icon. And, that is how he is looked upon now.
As for Rajesh Khanna, he started off with six or seven flops. But, starting with Aradhaana (1969), had arrived and had the greatest run any actor could have in a matter of three to four year with as many as 15 hits in following few years. To him was conferred the title of India’s first superstar. It is all true that girls wrote him love letters in blood. It is also true that most of his heroines were besotted by his charm and a few were quite disappointed when he married Dimple Kapadia. His wedding was an instant affair and the invites were sent by telegrams. Yet, the entire film industry and Khanna lovers thronged the venue. The area around the venue, Hotel Horizon at Juhu in Mumbai, looked like the New Year Eve crowd at the Gateway Of India!
Actually, the dethroning of Rajesh Khanna, in parts, was due to a film they did together. No, not, Anand, where Rajesh Khanna had a meaty role. The film was Namak Haraam (1973). Khanna wanted to play the millionaire’s son which Bachchan did. That may or may not be Khanna’s undoing but that did help Bachchan emerge bigger of the two.
Bachchan also had a line-up of flops before he played second fiddle to the reigning superstar, Khanna, in first Anand and later, Namak Haraam, where stole the show. Even Khanna is said to have realized that Bachchan was a big star in the making.
Another factor that helped Bachchan was the fact that while Rajesh Khanna was purely a romantic hero, the national mood was that of dissent. The political atmosphere was oppressive and, then came Zanjeer. The film, being anti-establishment as it was, gave an escape for people’s anger. Anti-establishment was the new theme and nobody represented it better than Bachchan did. He went on to do more such films.
Khanna was surrounded by sycophants and the real picture of his films’ box office status did not quite reach him the way it should. The only way to know that was through trade papers and stars in those days were not very keen on reading materials. Bachchan, on the other hand, did not encourage hangers on. He was not on the subscription list of trade magazines but arranged for them to be picked up by his men!
Ultimately, Bachchan, who started off playing ‘side hero’, the term used in those days to Khanna, had almost all other actors like Vinod Khanna, Shashi Kapoor, Rishi Kapoor, Randhir Kapoor playing side heroes in his many films thereafter.
@ The Box Office
*The week saw the release of two films, Bhaagte Raho and Pk Lele A Salesman, fail badly.
*Kedarnath, which collected 40 crore for its first week, is trudging along with a steady second week. Having added 10 crore for its second weekend, the film is expected to show a tally of about 57 crore.