BREAD AND ROLES
A starry-eyed extra seeks fame and fortune in Bollywood, while his not-bad film seeks more focus.
FEB 10, 2008 – THERE’S BEEN A BIT OF NOISE OF LATE ABOUT Darsheel Safary being nominated for Best Actor at this year’s Filmfare Awards, and he no doubt deserves to win, but even if he didn’t, I’d have kept my fingers crossed after watching Super Star. If history is anything to go by, this is Safary’s moment in the sun, and he’s got to make the most of it before he grows up into a Jugal Hansraj or a Kunal Khemu, who had their well-deserved moments in the spotlight with Masoom and Zakhm, but eventually grew up into adult actors that our cinema doesn’t quite know what to do with. It would be a tragedy if Safary decided to pursue a career in the movies, and the only thing people remembered him for, fifty years from now, is that he was the go-to guy for playing the heroine’s shoulder-to-cry-on in Australia, or the second buffoon from the right in an assembly-line Priyadarshan comedy. Then again, maybe Safary has nothing to worry about just yet. Maybe there is no such thing as the Bollywood Child Actor Curse. Maybe it’s just that Hansraj and Khemu are both somewhat bland when up there on screen, and while they may be perfectly personable in many ways and even halfway decent actors, they simply lack that certain something that cannot be described (but can certainly be recognised): the quality that makes a star a star.
Khemu is an odd fit in Super Star. He plays an extra (named Kunal) who dreams of becoming – well – a super star, but while it’s easy to buy into his middle-class boy-next-door, it’s hard not to giggle when he’s touted as the solo hero of a Rs. 50-crore project. That level of suspension of disbelief is really difficult to achieve while watching a movie. But at least in other respects, Kunal is more than qualified for the job. He’s the kind of Bollywood buff that can rattle off iconic Bachchan monologues, and when he rides a bike through the streets of Mumbai, you can practically hear the number echoing in his head: Rote hue aate hain sab. (The director Rohit Jugraj plays on Kunal’s – and our – movie associations by splicing in near-subliminal cuts of heroes astride their bikes, beginning with Bachchan in Muqaddar ka Sikandar.) Even the people around Kunal are filtered through his film-crazy worldview. As he introduces his family to us, the screen splits in two in order to accommodate Reema Lagoo (his mother) as well as Nirupa Roy (Bollywood’s mother), and Kunal’s best-friend-cum-secret-crush-nurser Mausam (Tulip Joshi) is similarly split-screened to mirror Ayesha Jhulka (namely, Aamir Khan’s best-friend-cum-secret-crush-nurser) from Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander.
With all this, it’s only a matter of time before Kunal’s life turns into its own Bollywood movie, and sure enough, Karan (Khemu again, as a rich producer’s son who’s being launched as a hero) walks into the picture and sets in motion the double-role angle so beloved to our cinema, the kind where the heroes (or heroines) who play said roles are identical in every respect, save for one crucial physical feature that helps the audience tell them apart: here, it’s that Kunal’s hair falls straight and Karan’s is curly. But otherwise, they’re chalk and cheese. Karan has no respect for the movies – and no talents either. He can’t dance, he can’t act, he can’t fight, and Kunal can do it all. So Kunal steps in as hero-substitute, and you think the film is going to channel the swapped-identity lightheartedness of The Prince and the Pauper and line it with the darker tones of zero-trying-to-become-a-hero dramas like Chala Murari Hero Banne (or its distaff cousin, Main Madhuri Dixit Banna Chahti Hoon). After all, there’s surely some kind of tragic irony in Kunal finally getting to be the star of his own film, but only by agreeing to be credited as someone else.
But having established this premise, Super Star sits squarely on it and refuses to let it breathe. All the interesting subtext is tossed out of the window – or at least, simply glossed over – and all we’re left with is story, story, story. Jugraj does well with some scenes that flirt with surrealism, and especially with the character of Karan, who’s no predictably spoilt snob. He’s a guy with a healthy sense of the cards that life has dealt him. (As he puts it, “I’m not stupid. I’m just lucky.”) And he’s got a sense of humour too; despite his utter lack of talent and charisma, he has his face morphed over Amitabh Bachchan’s body in a poster of Deewar he hangs over his bed. But almost every other character is left by the wayside after being developed in interesting ways. When Kunal’s father (Sharat Saxena, nicely balancing middle-class frustration due to his son’s unconventional career and a grudging desire to be there for him) moans that neighbourhood boys of Kunal’s age are aspiring to be CAs and doctors, his wife counters, “TV pe to nahin dikhte.” She’s proud that her son shows up on the telly – even if it’s just for a second, in the fourth row of dancers behind the hero – and it’s odd that she doesn’t feature more in Kunal’s thoughts as he’s on his way to becoming a star. It’s too easy, the way he makes – in his quest for stardom – a leave-the-past-behind pact with the devil (in this case, Karan’s father, played by Darshan Zariwala, who’s decided that mere over-the-top is for lily-livered cowards and enthusiastically raises the bar).
I didn’t mind Super Star in general – a few scenes are nicely done, and more than a few lines have the polish that comes only from being carefully thought over – but I wish Jugraj had made up his mind about what he wanted to do. His story has all the elements of juicy, schlocky melodrama – coincidences, blackmail, convenient last-minute changes of heart – and had it been staged as such, we might at least have had ourselves an all-out, laugh-and-cry guilty pleasure. To Jugraj’s credit, he does try to make a better film than this material deserves, but in careening between classy intentions and massy ingredients, Super Star ends up with no teeth. As if to compensate, Jugraj goes overboard with what he thinks are cutting-edge revelations about the film industry. When there’s talk of an actor delivering a number of flops before scoring his first hit or when there’s a reference to a star with an extra finger, it’s not hard to zero in on Abhishek Bachchan and Hrithik Roshan. And the sticky kiss between Shahid Kapur and Kareena Kapoor that made the cell phone companies richer by millions finds an echo here in an undercooked subplot that goes nowhere. But at least one these filmy nods brought a half-smile to my face – when Karan has a birthday that no one remembers except his faithful servant, who brings him a small slice of cake. I was reminded of Rishi Kapoor’s poor-li’l-rich-boy in Bobby being given something similar by his devoted nanny, after which young Rishi’s face radiates about a thousand watts. See, that’s the sort of thing that makes a star a star.
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