July Issue 2012

By | Arts & Culture | Books | Published 8 years ago

Bollywood, the home ground of Urdu/Hindi cinema, has produced everything from good (sometimes exceptionally good), bad to indifferent movies. Over the decades, the industry has produced countless actors and actresses, many of whom are lost in oblivion and only a select few are able to cement their status as stars.

These gods and goddesses of Bollywood — the top ranking actors and actresses — may not have always been guarantees of box-office success, but they have certainly attracted financiers and audiences in large numbers, which is why they command high salaries. Thousands of reams of newsprint have given coverage to them, more to their personal lives (mostly cooked-up stories), and less to the contributions that they have made to the world of cinema.

Making a list of the top 10, 20 or even 50 in any category, be it authors, singers or actors, is bound to evoke criticism by people who cannot accept that such selections are inherently subjective. Therefore, film addict Bhaichand Patel, who saw his first movie sitting on his mother’s lap, way back in the early forties, certainly must have had a tough time choosing the top stars for his absorbing book Bollywood’s Top 20 Superstars of Indian Cinema. Performers like Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, Madhubala, Nargis, Meena Kumari and Amitabh Bachchan would walk into any such list, just as Hemingway, Faulkner and Steinbeck would be included in any list of top American novelists. But the list becomes contentious it comes down to the lesser acknowledged, or shall we say lesser accomplished, stars.

For instance, of the people included in the list, Raj Kapoor was both a shining star and an above-average actor whereas his younger brother, Shammi Kapoor, had luck and stardom on his side but was no great shakes as an actor. He was the opposite of Naseeruddin Shah — an actor of outstanding calibre but not one with star power — which is why he was rightly not included in the book. That also is true of his co-star in many movies, Shabana Azmi. Except Shammi Kapoor, all others in the list excelled in both histrionic talent and star appeal.

Of the 20 superstars chosen by Bhaichand Patel, 10 belong to the fifties and the sixties, decades which are part of the Golden Age of Bollywood, and only two, K.L Saigal and Devika Rani, are from the preceding period. There are also a few in the list like Suraiya and Dilip Kumar who had made it big in the second half of the forties.

Among the contemporary stars are Amitabh Bachchan, Kajol, Shahrukh Khan Aamir Khan and Kareena Kapoor. Big B’s inclusion is no surprise since he made it big in the seventies and continues to reign today. However, one of the top three Khans had to be dropped from the list and Patel explains why the axe fell on Salman. While Patel considers Aamir to be the present-day Dilip Kumar and Shahrukh the current Amitabh, he feels Salman’s recent sensational box-office record is like Rajendra Kumar’s string of super hits back in the days that are hardly remembered today.

Patel got the best writers in the trade to write on the 20 superstars and it’s worth reading about different actors in the different styles of the writers. Patel comes in at the end of each piece by mentioning his favourite five movies of each star, giving solid reasons behind his selection. In his thumbnail review of the Dilip-Amitabh-Rakhee starrer Shakti, he writes, “This is an understated film but bears repeated viewing to see how top-class actors handle dramatic moments without screaming their lungs out.”

The informative book, which deserves a place on your bedside table, is accompanied by a DVD, comprising 50 songs that were filmed on the stars who have found place in the volume. Apart from a few exceptions, all of them are memorable numbers. You also get to notice that the more recent songs cannot match those of the Golden Period in both melody and sheer lyricism. The inlay folder gives relevant details such as the names of the singers, lyricists, composers, movies and, of course, the actors enacting them on the screen.

This article was originally published in the July issue under the headline “Bollywood’s Best.”