Opinion: Is 2021 the year of Actor vs Star showdown?

Written By: Monojit Lahiri
New Delhi Published: Jan 31, 2021, 08:08 AM(IST)

Netflix Photograph:( Reuters )

Story highlights

Has OTT and their fantastically gifted actors converted a substantial section of the viewers in terms of sensibilities, taste & quality control?

Out of sight, out of mind is a term we only know too well. Human memory is dangerously short & in today’s nano-second times, when the here n’ now rules and impatience, impulsiveness & promiscuity is the name of the game, this adage takes on ominous dimensions.  

The nine-month closure of theatres & releases, now slowly limping back but with pandemic still around and vaccine entering the frame with hope & relief, presents a whole new Hitchcock-ian screenplay.  In this sanitised world, fear, confusion and uncertainty reigns. Also, second and even third thoughts about entering movie theatres plague movie-junkies.  

The nine-month interval however had one dramatic fallout; It allowed OTT, the streaming platform to usurp this space, offering sensationally varied, quality content that can be comfortably and securely enjoyed in the comforts of their home!  For the traditional fans of the Bollywood-manufactured masala, this template started out by appearing to be weirdly different. 

No high-pitched razzle-dazzle, dance, romance, glamour, tension, dialogue-baazi ignited by sexy, larger-than-life stars ... but soon [due to a lack of option, curiosity & conditioning] and after a longish session of hide n’ seek, the OTT menu grew addictive.  Over time, the Bollywood product seemed to move into soft focus, with fresh and absorbing OTT content slowly romancing their mind. [When was the last time you heard anyone excitedly recount or discuss mainstream films or stars?] Sure the media is warming up to usher their comeback – SRK’s Pathan heading the list – but isn’t the old hysteria missing?

Has OTT and their fantastically gifted actors converted a substantial section of the viewers in terms of sensibilities, taste & quality control? Has this period unlocked a new side for audiences bred and buttered on cheap thrills, cardboard cut-out stars & armpit rhetoric designed for instant gratification?  Do all of this translate to the end of the blissed-out honeymoon of the superstars affair with their bhakts? Is this new and exciting version of David versus Goliath the latest show in town?

Tempting as it is to be carried away with the OTT-wave, perspective is the need of the day.  Can stars really be so easily forgotten or relegated to the background after forever inhabiting the hearts and minds of the masses? 

Remember, wherever films are made, stars are made too.  Stardom is the characteristic of film industries, the world over.  Unlike European and our regional films, which have a long tradition of expressing the viewpoints of their individual makers, Bollywood – like Hollywood – is totally star-driven.  

They are the direct/indirect reflection of the needs, drives, dreams of the masses.  In the darkened hall of a movie theatre, where wilful suspension of disbelief rules, stars seduce fans to participate in a collective experience that has more in common with tribal worship, myth and primitive magic. 

No wonder, hardened film critic Anupama Chopra was once inspired to confess that “despite my long stint as a journo & critic, I haven’t been able to be immune to their magical charms, their amazing ability to imbue inane scripts with heft, their innate talent for fuelling the fantasies of billions of people and their magical power to always provide hope.  

Life may be nasty, brutish and short, but we can forever find comfort in the soothing image of SRK’s sexy wide-spread arms, Salman’s flamboyant bhai-giri, Aamir’s charming humour & affection to find our own moral centre. Stars are a source of beauty, pleasure & joy ... and totally irresistible.  We in India enjoy a uniquely reverential, unthreatening but obsessive and overblown relationship with stars that remain totally unapologetic!”

So, as the clash between stars and actors is all set to zoom centre-stage very soon, the battle-lines will be drawn between the loyalists & the converts. Will the amazing Pankaj Tripathi and his gifted co-actors or Criminal Justice, Sir, Patal Lok, Kagaz, Panchayat, Family Man or Bandish Bandits be able to match the fire power of the mighty Khans, Ajay, Akshay, Ranveer, Ranbir or the to-die-for wet dreams like Kat Kaif, Priyanka Chopra, Deepika Padukone? 

As emotional responses go, stardom unleashes a different kind of fervour from the ones that greet actors. Actors invite respect and admiration.  Stars attract craze and madness!

Furthermore, the star opens up doors to advantages galore. Stars have tangible features which can be advertised and marketed – face, body, voice, a certain kind of presence – and can be easily typed: Hero, Heroine, Comedian, Villain, Sexy Siren, Sweetie Pie, Neurotic, etc. The system provides a formula easy to understand and the use of this formula serves to protect Production House biggies from having to pay attention to such intangibles as the quality of the story or acting. 

Here is a standardised product which the Bankers & the Trade can easily connect with and regard as insurance for profits.  

The Big Banners can then promise the junta of a SRK, Salman, Aamir, Akshay, Ajay, Hrithik, Ranveer, Ranbir, Deepika, Priyanka, Katrina starrer which traditionally spell profit. Star Power in action! Dramatically opposed to this perspective is a view presented by the legendary Marlon Brando. 

“The idea is to be real, not to try and act out an emotion that you don’t feel or experience during the performance. Mostly, one has the popular and successful Personality Actors, totally predictable with manners well-loved. Acting is supposed to be a calling redolent with magic and mystique, a leap into the unknown, a voyage of discovery. It’s not about easy-to-digest junk food that guarantees inane feel-good smiles”. 

Famous French Director Roger Vadim is up next. “Actors need gardeners more than professors.  They are flowers that need to be watered, not cut. Actors, at the end of the day, don’t fantasise about the yellow brick road in the Wizard of Oz.  Actors, like fire, are not meant to be hoarded, but spent!”
So the question is: In this more mature environment, will cinema race past movies?  Will content defeat glamour?  Will realism confront escapism? Will actors challenge stars?

The heat is on and your time starts now!

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