IS BOLLYWOOD ONLY AN 'ALL-STARS' EDITION?
Some time back, Karan Johar announced the beginning of his epic Takht. Ranveer Singh, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Alia Bhatt, Vicky Kaushal, Bhumi Pednekar, Janhvi Kapoor and Anil Kapoor have all been roped in to star in this Mughal epic about the conflict between Aurangzeb and Dara Shukoh over control of the Mughal throne. While it won’t be out till 2020, it does bring into light an interesting question: how come there aren’t more successful ensemble cast (true ensemble) Bollywood movies?
Bollywood as an industry, has always tried to focus more on the ‘personality’ aspect when marketing its films. It’s been about the ‘actors’ and the ‘stars’ that are in it. Takht, for example, has an ensemble cast filled with so much star power that it could potentially blind you. To be fair, that’s a given with any film industry, but Bollywood has always liked propagating it more so. Which is why it’s never easy for the industry to produce what is a true ‘ensemble cast’ film. Now you’d say, “Wait, isn’t a movie like Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham or Lagaan an ensemble film?” Technically, no. Those films wouldn’t be, since an ensemble cast features a bunch of actors, whether popular or not, who share roughly the same amount of significance with their roles and the same amount of screen time. What these movies are is a ‘multi-starrer’. There are several big names that could be associated with a multi-starrer, but the difference lies in the fact that some performances are noticeably more important or just plain longer than the others. Case in point, the previously mentioned K3G, in which the actors themselves have said that the movie mostly revolves around Shah Rukh Khan, Amitabh Bachchan and Kajol, and the other three are present as supporting characters for the actual central plot, despite Karan Johar’s efforts (no doubt, still
a great movie). In fact, the last time Bollywood had an ensemble cast movie in the realest sense was Dil Dhadakne Do, where Anil, Ranveer, Priyanka Chopra, Shefali Shah, Farhan Akhtar and Anushka Sharma were all given equal focus and equal importance. Sure, there are movies like Bombay Talkies, Life…in a Metro and Lust Stories that all feature a similar cast, but those are classified as anthologies, movies which intertwine multiple stories that may or may not be related; an ensemble has one plot. It’s all a bit much, isn’t it? Let’s make it a little simpler. An ‘ensemble’ would generally consist of, say, at least five main cast members. That would instantly disqualify 3 Idiots and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, each of which have three central cast members and other supporting ones. For greater clarity, an example of a classic Hollywood movie with an ensemble cast would be any of the Avengers movies, like Infinity War. Iron Man may be a fan favourite, but that doesn’t mean that Captain America, Star Lord, Thor, Spiderman, Dr Strange or even Black Widow don’t get as much screen time or weight in the story itself. Each member of the main cast is as important as the other. And there are a lot of them. Bollywood hasn’t perfected that formula just yet. And there are a few reasons why. Firstly, it’s harder to manage the immense amount of star power that would be required to make an ensemble film in Bollywood, where no actor outshines the other on the basis of being a celebrity. There’s no point in casting Shah Rukh with, for instance, Warina Hussain, Kriti Sanon,
Mughda Godse, Kartik Aaryan and Saqib Saleem and call them all equals, since, whether fairly or not, SRK’s star power would instantly make him the main attraction of the film. That’s why Takht sounds like a dream project, such high-profile stars sharing the same spotlight is bound to be a treat for every Bollywood movie fanatic. Also, it’s a little harder for directors to manage so many stars altogether. Karan Johar taking that kind of thing on is a brave move, and it’s something he’s done quite well before with movies like Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, a film that was close to being an ensemble, but Preity Zinta and Abhishek Bachchan’s roles weren’t big or meaty enough, even though they were central to the actual story (again, pretty amazing movie 12 years down the line). It’s a lot of work making big-budget movies with big-budget faces. Often times, the stars as well don’t feel the need to actually have to pair up with another big name(s), because they know they’re capable of earning the big bucks from the box office on their own, not to mention have to share the limelight. So what is the future for an ensemble (the new ‘word of the day’) movies in Bollywood? It’s a task, no doubt. It can happen, though. If Hollywood can have it, so can Bollywood (an ensemble, not a multi-starrer, we got enough of those). Also, just think of how crazy theatres around the country would get if Shah Rukh, Salman, Aamir, Priyanka, Kareena and Deepika (one of many ideal sample casts) all end up on the big screen together as one big happy family. Now that’s how you cause a sensation!