Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A conversation, and a reflection on movie stars...

A discussion with a friend, about the contrast between the zeal with which contemporary stars promote their films, and the anxiety that often manages to shine through, led to the following note. The specific context here is Shah Rukh Khan's Ra-One campaign (during the course of which he's spoken more of failure than he usually does), but the point is generally applicable:

...If the specter of failure seems to haunt the stars, and seems to haunt them more intensely the bigger they are, it is because of the disconnect between the promotions, the campaigns, the machinery of the promotions -- which are about the corporatized entity, the brand, that each of today’s Bollywood superstars have become, be they SRK, Aamir, Salman, whoever -- and the man. Aamir Inc., or SRK Inc., has to be impressed into service – but the man at the core of the machine (here, SRK) might know better, or at least differently. The man at the core of the machine might be talking about failure not because he expects this film to flop (I don’t think it will; but more importantly, I don’t think he thinks it will, and I doubt he could function if he believed it would), but because the man at the core of the machine didn’t get into cinema for this, surely? When the man dreamed decades ago of standing on the Bollywood summit, did he think he would be staking it all on a seemingly derivative sci-fi film with large doses of child-friendly appeal? Surely not – that is to say, I believe SRK is enough of a child of the traditional Hindi film registers to regard that fate with some distaste (the answer might well be different for a new breed of actor, but SRK is from a different era).

Nor is SRK the only one: did Aamir really get into it to be the guy wanting to break opening day records with every film? Yes, he does more "different stuff" than his peers, but even that is drained of joy: he now has to do the unconventional (alternating with huge grossers -- this is necessary, because the audience increasingly has begun to withhold respect unless the star is seen to participate in the drama of consumption itself; for certain segments of the audience, nothing on-screen is as dramatic as the sound of cash registers ringing offscreen), else he wouldn’t be recognized as Aamir. [I am reminded of the (Foucault?) quote that once upon a time, women struggled for the right to have an orgasm; today, they labor under the obligation to have one.]

And even Salman: when he was a teenager in the late 1970s and 1980s; or even after Maine Pyar Kiya and Baaghi released, was he really in it to be a swaggering oaf in every film, to have every film be about an oafish swagger? Surely not. And let’s not even get started on the greatest star of all, the one who is now busy encrusting his legacy with mediocrity from recent years (my one consolation that his achievements are too luminous for even his own latter day efforts to completely obscure), when he isn’t busy hawking cement. This is why the scene from Halla Bol (one of my favorite in recent Bollywood) is so important: not only does it remind us that every star is a stranger to his own image; but (and this is a point I did not make in my review) given that in the film Sameer Khan is confronted by his image right after he has stood idly by in the face of a murder committed openly and amidst a party; it reminds us that every star ultimately bankrupts himself (perhaps I should say, is bankrupted by himself, that is to say by the image that is himself yet other than himself); one might even go further: every star stands idly by in the face of a murder – the murder of his own self.

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