Columnist – Pritish Nandy;What’s star power?
This is a question many film makers and brand managers are asking today as huge star cast films and big brand launches keep failing every other day. Can stars really give a film a great opening or a brand, a spectacular launch?
But before one answers that, the simpler questions are: Who is a star, what makes for stardom? Everyone talks of star power but ask them what exactly it means and all you get is tired clichés. We all know who the stars are. We know Amitabh Bachchan is a star and will remain one, whatever his age may be. We know Aamir is one though it took him years to reach there. So are Shah Rukh, Akshay, Rajnikant, Salman, Hrithik, Aishwarya. We know Dhoni’s one. So is Sachin. Yuvraj may become one. Shammi Kapoor was one. MGR and NTR used their stardom to get ahead in politics. Chiranjeevi tried. Govinda failed. Rajesh Khanna blew it.
Earlier, we had no stars, only talent. Ashok Kumar, Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, Guru Dutt, Madhubala, Kishore Kumar, Meena Kumari, Balraj Sahni. No, they were not stars but they were actually bigger. We had Sanjeev Kumar, Dharmendra, Shashi Kapoor. You loved them for their performance, their success. Stars today are judged by neither. You may be an awful actor but a big star. You can have a string of flops behind you, each worse than the other, but you can still strut around and demand outrageous fees because you’re a star. Your producers have to fudge box office figures and claim that your miserable flops are huge superhits in the hope that your next film may give them a better opening. No one believes the claims made in movie ads apart from a few dimwit, gullible fans but your PR machinery can spin these lies around and ensure that in your next movie too you can still ask for fees twice the entire production budget.
Stars can say anything, do anything, ask for anything. Give a star a great acting role and its likely to be turned down. A dumbass role is what stars die for and they call their dumbass films, masala movies. Nowhere in the world does such a definition exist. There are good movies, bad movies. Fun movies, sad movies. Popular movies, pretentious arty movies. All of them, if well made, in a honest budget, have a good chance of success. A recent horror movie, Paranormal Activity, made for Rs 7 lakh, has already fetched Rs 300 crore in theatres and well may cross Rs 500 crore. The Blair Witch Project was made for Rs 15 lakh and grossed Rs 1000 crore. Both movies had no stars, no fancy locations, no great producers to back them. They were made out of the sheer joy of film making.
So was Hangover, a recent Hollywood hit which held our box office in thrall. It had nothing going for it (no stars, no great locations apart from a Vegas parking lot, no production budget worth talking about) and yet the script was so clever that the film refused to go off the screens even in snooty multiplexes. On the other hand, some of Bollywood’s monster flops in recent months have had huge star casts and unheard of budgets. Everyone worked overtime to cover up these debacles and pretend they never happened.
But let’s get back to my moot question. What does a star bring to the box office or the brand? Is it a spectacular launch? If so, why is Bollywood littered with the debris of huge star cast movies that never even took off at the box office on the first weekend or crashed on monday morning? As for brands, how many do you recall by their star power? Yes, viewers associate stars with specific products but they mostly get the brands wrong. They are so busy latching on to the way stars talk, dress, behave onscreen that they miss the entire brand connect. You are more likely to recall the zoozoos or the pug because they actually stand apart.
Fans are more obsessed these days with a star’s haircut, lifestyle, goss, sex appeal to notice his films or the brands he endorses. So the disconnect keeps growing, between a star and what he’s actually paid to do. Stars imagine that a week of last minute promotions can sell anything. But even God can’t do that. Also, overexposure kills stars these days. They’re on chat shows, corny music videos, reality shows, ads, fashion ramps, magazines, internet portals, blogs, Facebook, twitter, fanzines; in newspaper supplements wholly dedicated to the propagation of their stardom; at New Year eve hotel bashes, cricket matches; dancing at weddings; inaugurating anything from a salon to a shoe store; stomping the election trail for history sheeters ready to fork out the right amount of cash. How do you expect anyone’s mystique to survive such extreme greed?
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