After a decade and a half as a columnist followed by a much-needed respite for a few years, I am now back in the saddle.
We all recognise the need for remaining relevant with changing times, but only a few are able to work this miracle. Currently, as I watch the impressive box-office figures of the John Abraham-starrer ‘Satyameva Jayate’ roll in, I am fascinated by the ‘Comeback In 2018’ narrative fashioned by five male middle-aged stars — John Abraham (45), Saif Ali Khan (48), Abhishek Bachchan (42), Bobby Deol (49) and Emraan Hashmi (39).
And to think they were all but side-lined just last year; caught between two power vortexes. The film industry’s male order is age specific. At the top are the six megastars who have reigned for decades — the three Khans, Aamir, Salman and Shah Rukh, alongside Ajay Devgn, Hrithik Roshan and Akshay Kumar. And on the other hand, the charge of the youthful brigade is led by Ranbir Kapoor and Ranveer Singh and has Varun Dhawan, Tiger Shroff, Sidharth Malhotra, Arjun Kapoor and Sushant Singh Rajput forming two formidable flanks.
Unfortunately, there is an entire batch of actors caught between the youthful onslaught and the unwillingness of the seniors to yield ground. These actors were once standing very close to the edge of the precipice but are now busily strategising to keep their careers from tipping over. The good news is that they are staying alive! Here’s how.
Saif has not been a safe proposition for the last few years. The track record: ‘Kaalakandi’ didn’t set the box office on fire, ‘Chef’ was a father-son recipe that fell flat, Rangoon, despite Vishal Bhardwaj at the helm of affairs and Kangana as a co-star, didn’t work in any country. But instead of losing his nerve, Saif showed foresight and decided to work in a related medium — the Netflix series, Sacred Games. The show has brought the spotlight spinning back on Saif. He adeptly plays a beleaguered cop pitted against a formidable gangster (Nawazuddin Siddiqui); and though Nawazuddin has the more complex character, Saif too stands to gain from the acclaim the show has garnered.
John Abraham had no film releasing in 2017; and his films of late were neither sizeable hits nor did they cover him in glory as an actor (Force 2, Rocky Handsome, Dishoom). But his two 2018 releases with large doses of patriotic fervour have turned the tide. The success of Parmanu – The Story Of Pokhran (John played a suspended officer) and Satyameva Jayate (John played an unapologetic vigilante) have given John a much-needed reprieve.
They prove that he is still in the reckoning. I have never understood the debate over Abhishek Bachchan’s talent. He showed off his comic chops in ‘Dostana’ and ‘Bol Bachchan’, was fabulous as the disenchanted goon in Yuva and reached his pinnacle in Mani Rathnam’s ‘Guru’. All has not been well for him, however, since All Is Well (2015). And playing supporting characters in hits like ‘Happy New Year’ and ‘Housefull 3’ have done nothing for his brand. So, he preferred to take a hiatus from films and invest his energies in his Kabbadi team. He is back to playing hu tu tu with the box office in Manmarziyan (2018). This messy love triangle is helmed by maverick director Anurag Kashyap; and it could well herald his payback time.
Bobby Deol was caught in a morass of badly chosen films. Thank You and Help sound more like cries of ‘save me’ rather than movie names. For three years, he had no release! Bobby realised that if he had to survive, he had to be a part of an ensemble cast. And what better than Race 3 headed by Midas man, Salman Khan? His next film, Housefull 4, is another multi-starrer. At the very least, Bobby and his new improved physique are now back in the conversation.
Emraan Hashmi was the youngest of the stars trapped between two bookends of leading men categories. The serial kisser had a string of successes at the start of this decade, but since 2013 his career has had more misses than kisses at the box office. Ek Thi Daayan, Azhar and even his films with his mentors, the Bhatts, like Raaz Reboot and Mr X left him vexed. However, Emraan is working overtime now to claim lost ground. He has signed two films – Body and Cheat India and will also lead the cast of the Netflix serial ‘Bard Of Blood’.
Will Bard Of Blood pull off a Sacred Games? Who knows. But what is definite is that we will see more of Emraan, and his four contemporaneous leading men, than we have of late. Today, stardom needn’t come with an expiration date.