Is Hindi Cinema’s Generation Y ready to challenge the dominance of its established stars?
When actor Varun Dhawan was promoting his film Main Tera Hero, he said, “The reason we young actors are working is because we are all trying to be different in our work approach. We are not trying to ape each other, but, rather, trying to highlight those traits which differentiate us from our peers.” Modest as they are, these words hint at something: the year 2014 was largely the year of Bollywood’s next generation of actors.
From Ranveer Singh to Arjun Kapoor, Sidharth Malhotra, Shraddha Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, Parineeti Chopra and Dhawan himself, new actors have challenged the status quo of the industry. Let’s look at the male actors first. Varun proved his expertise as a comic star in Main Tera Hero and then went on to deliver a loveable performance in Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania, both of which did well at the box office. Arjun had two big hits with Gunday and 2 States, the former making him a mass hero and the latter assuring him a family audience, while the offbeat Finding Fanny proved that he can take calculated risks as well. Sidharth Malhotra’s brooding act in Ek Villain was well liked by the audience, which he balanced with his boy-next-door act in Hasee Toh Phasee. Ranveer continued his good run at the box-office by playing the larger-than-life Bikram in Gunday, and though the quirkiness did not quite click in Kill/Dil, he earned himself some cool cred offscreen by engaging fans, appearing in viral videos (his Bang Bang dare) and funky advertisements (the Durex TV commercial).
Among the actresses, the year clearly belonged to Alia Bhatt, who portrayed three strong but different characters in Highway, 2 States and Humpty Sharma ki Dulhania, and also hit a high note with her well-loved viral video (Alia Bhatt: Genius of the Year). Parineeti’s role as a nerd in Hasee Toh Phasee was praiseworthy and a good break from the Punjabi act that she has mastered and repeated this year in Kill/Dil. Shraddha Kapoor played the damsel in distress in Ek Villain and then surprised film audiences with Haider. The most surprising debut success of this year, was that of Tiger Shroff, who flexed his muscles, grooved to the beats and romanced the heroine, while proving a draw at the box-office with Heropanti.
Arjun Kapoor says that winning the audience over is a gradual process. “You cannot have two hit films and be of the opinion that you have arrived in the industry. The next flop will throw you completely out of the reckoning. Stardom or superstardom is achieved with years of hard work and perseverence. A good year at the box-office may put you in the reckoning, but you have to make sure you are constantly upgrading yourself as an actor and taking steps towards increasing your fanbase.” Films like Gunday, 2 States and Ek Villain, headlined by young actors, pulled a surprise when their huge opening weekend records almost matched those of bigger releases led by big actors like Happy New Year, Kick and Bang Bang.
For over 20 years now, Bollywood and its loyal audience had gotten used to watching the Khan triumvirate of Shah Rukh, Salman and Aamir, along with action stars Akshay Kumar and Ajay Devgn. There have been only a few disruptors. In 2000, Hrithik Roshan, with his overly good looks and perfectly toned body, made an impact on the collective consciousness of the Hindi film audience with Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai turning out to be a massive hit, making him an overnight star. A decade later, Ranbir Kapoor with the Kapoor name as mantle and his relatable star aura made a similar mark despite the flop of his debut Saawariya.
But these stories of stardom have been few and far inbetween. What is heartening to see is that now it isn’t about one or two actors who are emerging as stars, but a whole bunch of young actors challenging the monopoly of Hindi cinema stardom. There is a healthy sense of rivalry as well, as the focus shifts from two actors being pitted against each other to a bunch of six or seven in competition with one another. And most of these actors come as a package deal. They are all confident, well- groomed, have fit bodies, make difficult dance moves look easy and are very style-conscious, almost setting trends every few months. They all have another thing in common: they are communicative and friendly, reaching out to a younger audience effortlessly.
“It is the freshness in approach, conduct and lifestyle combined with easy connectivity, which has led to the younger crop of actors becoming more popular in this country,” says Prabhat Choudhary, head of Spice, a leading communication agency that represents Sidharth Malhotra, Shraddha Kapoor and Tiger Shroff—who are among the scene-stealers of 2014.
Akshaye Rathi, film exhibitor and owner of Rathi Group of Cinemas, believes that these actors are products of good debut launches. This has given the careers not just the momentary spotlight but also enough momentum to sustain stardom. “Arjun and Ranveer were launched by Aditya Chopra. Varun, Sidharth and Alia were launched by Karan Johar. Tiger was launched by Sajid Nadiadwala,” says Rathi, “When you have elite banners backing you along with content that is absolutely mainstream and extremely likeable charac-ters, then it becomes a tad easier to sustain your career in a competitive industry like Bollywood.” A good banner also adds to the reputation of the actor.
Tiger Shroff, 24, whose Heropanti was a surprise hit, says that he was inspired by his peers who have done well. “There is certainly that pressure because everyone is doing such good work, and they keep getting better and better. It pushes me to work harder and push myself beyond the comfort zone.”
Besides Tiger, the year also belonged to a group of fresh faces who debuted in the Divya Khosla Kumar-directed film Yaariyan, another surprise hit. The film, with youth as its theme had unheard of actors like Himansh Kohli, Rakul Preet Singh and Nicole Faria as leads. It went on to become a box-office success. Says Divya Kumar of the film’s success: “A youth-based film with good content will find takers in today’s scenario where the young audience wants to watch a movie every weekend. Also, Bollywood has been more accepting of young faces lately because both the industry and audience have become open to change. While they are constantly looking for newer genres and themes, they are also willing to give young actors a chance to prove themselves.”
Two decades ago when Shah Rukh Khan and Akshay Kumar hit the big screen for the first time, their success stories made them the country’s most aspirational stars. These actors had emerged from nowhere, with no film background or big surnames, and captured the imagination of India’s fast expanding middle-class as well. But, what the current generation of actors get to the table, it appears, goes beyond aspiration. “When an audience looks at Ranveer Singh or Sidharth Malhotra, they know they can be like them. A bungalow like [Shah Rukh Khan’s] Mannat may be aspirational in nature, but the lifestyle of any of these younger actors is more close to reality and that is what helps the younger actors connect more with the audience,” says Choudhury.
These actors are also making their choices astutely and ensuring that they are not stereotyped in a particular genre of cinema. Trade analyst Komal Nahata, who tracks showbiz closely, says that the biggest reason for the success of this generation of stars is that they are mixing commercial and art cinema rather well. “Varun Dhawan has done romantic comedies like Main Tera Hero and Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania, and now he is mixing it up well by doing an edgy thriller like a Badlapur.”
Choudhury says that almost 80 per cent of India’s moviegoers today are youngsters and so it is they who make or break an actor. “It is important to impress them,” he says, “And the kind of films these young breed of actors are selecting are stories of the youth and for the youth.”
Manoj Desai, owner of G7 multiplex and Maratha Mandir, has been in the business for over 40 years, and can attest to the staying power of the Khans— Shah Rukh Khan’s DDLJ has played uninterrupted for 20 years at Maratha Mandir. For the first time in many years, he says, the younger crop of actors is pulling in audiences to single-screen theatres. “While a Ranveer will do a Lootera, he connected with the masses with Gunday. Varun amped his debut success by collaborating with his father David Dhawan for Main Tera Hero, thereby winning the hearts and cheers of the frontbenchers.” The advantage of these actors lies in the fact that they are not stars who rely on their past glory. “They are constantly looking at surprising the audience,” says Choudhary.
Well begun is half done, but Desai says that phrase cannot be used so easily in Bollywood. He has a word of caution for the younger lot. “While Bollywood may have been kind to them this year, there is still a lot at stake for them. Having a temporary fanbase is different from having a loyal fanbase, and that is what they should work towards constantly.” Rathi feels that it is time these actors capitalised on the warm welcome they have got from the audience and work towards becoming the kind of stars who 20 years later people would still look upto.