“Superstar” is an adjective which is rarely attached to new actors in 21st century Bollywood. There are stars and actors and there are prodigies and immensely talented youngsters, but can you name a single actor who can be termed a superstar? Shahrukh Khan, Salman Khan and Aamir Khan are perhaps the only current actors who can be called superstars in the true sense of the word.
If you’re like me and you like watching old Bollywood movies, I am quite certain that you switch on Set Max or Zee Classic every once in a while to watch reruns of Bollywood movies from 40 years ago. A different sort of feeling rises within – the pace is slower, the dialogues are better, the impact much more powerful.
Those are movies from the golden age of Bollywood when superstars such as Vinod Khanna, Rajesh Khanna, Dev Anand, Dharmendra and of course, the legendary Amitabh Bachchan ruled. Popular actresses such as Parveen Babi, Hema Malini and Rekha donned film posters all over India.
Today, these very names are often remembered with the term ‘superstar’ and there is no reluctance in saying so.
Many of these superstars who ruled then have faded away, some gracefully, some not so gracefully. Most have opted to retire to a life of memories, spending their years in peace and quiet. There are very few who still remain and who have managed to remain a part of the filmy scene.
We reminisce some of these superstars from the days of yore.
Undoubtedly the first superstar of Bollywood, tales Rajesh Khanna’s superstardom are now legendary. He debuted in 1966 with the film Aakhri Khat directed by Chetan Anand which was quickly noticed by filmmakers across the industry. However, it was the 1969 blockbuster Aradhana with Sharmila Tagore (a remake of the Hollywood film To Each his Own) which propelled him to national fame. His influence also led writer duo Salim-Javed and one of the most iconic singers of Hindi music, Kishore Kumar to various opportunities and jobs in the industry. In fact, Kishore Kumar became the voice of Rajesh Khanna in all his films till 1991.
Stories of girls sending him love letters written with blood, killing themselves, mobbing him in public are quite famous. Film critic Monojit Lahiri remembers -
“Girls married themselves to photographs of Rajesh Khanna, cutting their fingers and applying the blood as sindoor. Rajesh was God, there has never been such hysteria.”
Crowds of fans would stand outside his bungalow everyday, chanting and singing his names and songs. Cars of producers would be lined up. His car would often have to trudge through heavy crowds with girls kissing it and covering it with lipstick marks. Imagine someone doing that for a Bollywood actor today!
Amitabh Bachchan is perhaps one of the oldest and most enduring superstars of classic Bollywood. His first super-hit, blockbuster film, Zanjeer catapulted him to widespread fame and critical acclaim and he began to be known as the “angry young man” of Indian cinema. So powerful and dominating were his films in the 1970s and 1980s that the late French director Francois Truffaut called him a “one-man industry.” Consider the fact that his first film was released over four decades earlier, and he undoubtedly becomes the most enduring star of all times. Currently, Amitabh Bachchan is recuperating in a Mumbai hospital and we hope that he recovers soon!
Hema Malini, fondly remembered as “Dream Girl”, was one of the most successful female actors in the 70s and 80s. Known for her grace and beauty, Hema held a remarkable presence on screen. Baghban brought her back on the box office stage with a bang and we look forward to many more years of fine performances.
Rishi Kapoor is another actor who despite having become nice and round, does a great job as the avuncular uncle or father in the newer films. He carries years of experience and tradition on his shoulders, and his joy in his craft is evident in every role.
Mithun Chakravarty, the ultimate Disco Dancer, is synonymous with so many traits of a super star that it’s quite impossible to not include him on this list. He has done tons of ridiculous action movies, performed tons of now legendary dance sequences, and said many hit dialogues in his film career. has become popular as “Dada” on Dance India Dance – a dance based reality show. He may no longer be very nimble on his feet, but he still has the grace and the expertise to guide the newer aspirants who would like to step into his dancing shoes.
And some others
There are many more superstars who we would like to see once again, even though it may be for short scenes or roles. Dev Anand does keep coming back with new flop shows, but he only seems to remind us of the fact that he is no longer a superstar, just a mockery of his old self. Naseeruddin Shah was never a superstar, but he along with Amol Palekar has managed to retain his own niche as a phenomenal character actor. We miss Shammi Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, Zeenat Aman, Mumtaz and many others – they were the true superstars and in their heyday they could give any of the new “stars” a run for their money.