The Flip Flops on Flops
Aveteran super-star once told me a fascinating story about Bollywood’s chameleon-factor that drives its star-lit aura. Young lean, very dark — the total antithesis of the fair-complexioned, chocolate-heroes that ruled the eighties — this star-aspirant, with no contacts or relatives in Tinsel-ville and only Travolta-style dancing skills to showcase, was systematically treated like dirt by the big dads of the industry.
Mocked and ridiculed, he remembered one eminent producer-director who, while talking to him, summoned his gateman — a tall, fair, pahadi — and asked why the pahadi should be ignored for a leading role compared to this kaalu?
Ironically, when this very same kaalu struck big n’ hard and became an overnight sensation with everybody and their uncle standing in line to sign him up, this very same jerk — predictably — not only joined the junta but had the gumption to indulge in award-winning posturing. “Yaar, aaj to sab uske peechey bhaag raha hai, (these days everyone is chasing him) but I remember when I met him briefly a few years ago, maine sub ko kaha … dekhna, ek din yeh bachcha kahan pahuchega! (I told everyone then, you watch, where this kid will reach).”
While we both laughed at this, he added an intriguing bit of information. He confessed that when he came to meet him, with open arms and a wide smile, the new star, reciprocated, listened to the outline of his story and signed the dotted line.
At my expression of shock and disgust, he offered an amazing explanation, “Dada, get one thing straight. He mocked a dark, unknown, out-of-work struggler with zero background and credentials. He came to sign a successful and confident, in-demand star, all set to zoom North. These are two different creatures.”
He, however, admitted that the signing amount he took from him was way higher than what he received from other producers!
Not everybody in Bollywood is as sharp, human and grounded as this veteran, dealing with success and failure in such a mature fashion. It is normal to go with the flow, swing with the winds … until a speed-breaker disturbs your ride, journey, even destination.
Praise and hype are normal during the signing up, shooting and promos. Once the fate is sealed … and it’s a Black Friday, a dramatic flip-flop takes place! Suddenly relationships — all gooey and mushy and swearing eternal allegiance — vanish.
Why do stars distance themselves from directors and films that fail at the box office? Aren’t they part and parcel of the project? Isn’t it collaborative? Aren’t they professionally, emotionally, morally, artistically involved in this creative journey? Don’t these very same blokes freak out and throw parties when the film clicks and accept all the praises, all the way? Why, then, do they disown, back off and go underground, even badmouth the producer-directors whom they considered Spielberg & Copolla’s blood brothers.
Film critic Partha Chatterjee can’t resist a smile: “Bollywood is Russian Roulette, Snakes n’ Ladder land with insecurity ruling the roost. Very few have self-confidence, guts, courage and perspective to accept failure and move on. For stars, a flop is the kiss of death and vamoosing from everything connected with that disaster, they believe, is the only way to avoid hurt. All the great bonding and bonhomie can go to hell and in its place deviousness begins. Blame-game, finger-pointing, Chinese whispers … its awful!”
Others view it as simple self-preservation. When Sajid Khan’s Humshakals didn’t exactly catch fire, both Bipasha Basu and Saif Ali Khan reportedly called the film a “mistake” and promised never to make another film with him. Super-star Akshay Kumar steering away from director Shirish Kunde’s Joker is very well known, as is Abhay Deol ducking from Aisha and Shahid Kapoor and Kareena Kapoor bolting from Milenge Milenge.
Bollywood has its own take. Mahesh Bhatt wonders “Why is anyone surprised? This is a new, competitive, impatient, fast-forward space where winners take all and losers take the … fall! Have you forgotten the priceless adage, success has many fathers, failures none?”
Madhur Bhandarkar believes that objectivity is required along with realism. Success and failure come with the territory and both should be taken sportingly in one’s stride.
Star Ajay Devgun agrees. The intense, brooding, anti-hero reckons that one should have the guts to face the result of one’s labour, with honesty. “Failures make you stronger, more determined to succeed, analyse and introspect. Never downplay or disown flops. They are critical components of your growth and learning curve.”
Director Mohit Suri says: “While it is not right to point fingers, for my films I take full responsibility for any flops I direct. The buck stops at my table. Since it is my vision and blueprint, it’s my baby. As for hits — it’s a joint celebration. Everybody counts!”