I have just emerged teary-eyed after viewing ‘A Star Is Born’. Yes, it has been made again for the fourth time(!); and this latest version is already a blockbuster that is attracting major Oscar buzz. This time, Bradley Cooper directs and also adroitly essays the role of Jackson, a famous singer laden with emotional baggage and a fractured psyche. He takes bar crooner Ally (played with depth by real-life pop star Lady Gaga) under his wings and helps her becomes an overnight sensation. Ironically, once ‘the caterpillar becomes a butterfly’ she unwittingly becomes the cause of his torment. His fall, unfortunately, coincides with his talented protégée’s rise, as his drinking addiction takes over his life. It is difficult to tell whether he drinks more because he is failing or has failed because he is drinking.
The theme of the film, which was also cleverly explored by the recent Hindi hit, ‘Aashiqui 2’, is Hollywood’s perennial favourite. And, on closer introspection, Bollywood’s too. Over the last 60 years, Hindi films have explored in several interesting ways how ego tussles caused by fluctuating showbiz fortunes erode relationships.
In Hrishikesh Mukherji’s 1973 classic, ‘Abhimaan’, Amitabh Bachchan plays a pop singer Subir who exhorts his classically trained wife Uma (Jaya Bhaduri) to sings a duet with him, and she finds herself flooded with solo song offers thereafter. Mukherjee is fortunate to have the benefit of the insight that only an entertainment industry insider can have, and he uses that to depict the growing chasm between the showbiz couple in pithy detail: photographers ask Subir to stand aside while they click Uma’s solo pictures; fans snatch their autograph books from Subir and make a beeline for Uma; a producer offers Uma a remuneration that is higher than what Subir demands. His ego wounded, Subir bottles his emotions and uncorks the whiskey bottle. In a fit of pique, he tells Uma that he doesn’t need her. The film makes its pertinent point when Subir’s well-meaning fan Chitra (Bindu) succinctly points out that loneliness is a self-inflicted pain caused by “chhote chhote abhimaan aur aham (petty ego).”
I am fascinated by Vijay Anand’s ‘Guide’ (1965) because this film is about a ruptured relationship between two all-too-human characters. With Raju’s (Dev Anand’s) unstinting support, Rosie (Waheeda Rehman) walks out on a repressive husband and aided by his glib managerial skills, she becomes a dancing star. But her success makes Raju insecure, and his fear of losing his love makes him forge a cheque in Rosie’s name. She finds it hard to forgive him, and he is sentenced to prison. The film showcases a novel, esoteric resolution. After jail, Raju rejects his earlier life and failings. Mistaken as a man of God by a drought-stricken village, he undertakes a gruelling fast to pray for rain, and this leads him to ponder over the ultimate spiritual quest. Finally, the tourist guide finds the path to his own emotional salvation.
In A Star Is Born, Jackson’s manager and elder brother squarely assigns the blame to Jackson himself for messing up his own life, but director Vijay Anand adopts a largely non-judgmental stand in Guide. After the lead couple have an acrimonious fall out, the film unspools two songs back to back: Rosie sings Mohse chhal kiye jaaye while Raju counters with Kya se kya ho gaya bewafa. The director presents both points of view and lets you make up your mind.
Dev Anand’s onetime best friend, Guru Dutt, had also famously explored the corrosive effects of fame and egoism on a relationship in Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959). The black and white film was a resounding flop when first released but is considered a cult classic today. Guru Dutt plays Suresh Sinha, a married, middle-aged film director who introduces novice Shanti (Waheeda Rehman) to films and makes her a star. Forced to not act upon their mutual attraction, they separate and Sinha’s career takes a vertiginous fall. He descends into dysfunctionality and alcoholism. When Shanti returns to his life as a superstar anxious to rehabilitate him professionally and personally, Sinha cannot bring himself to accept the changed circumstances and summarily rejects her on both counts.
The loss of a baby (Abhimaan), a jail sentence (Guide), and disillusionment, estrangement and death (Kaagaz Ke Phool) — e
ach time a reversal of fortunes between a couple, as exemplified in A Star Is Born, results in a tragedy. Makes me muse over the Haiku I wrote:
facing each other —the islands kept apart by a sea of ego