Bol­ly­wood’s stars and the mys­tique that is the source of leg­end

Yorkshire Post - Culture & The Guide - - STAGE - TONY EARN­SHAW

TO­DAY’S Bol­ly­wood stars, like yes­ter­day’s Hol­ly­wood stars, know how to swank.

A few short years back I wit­nessed the an­tics of some of In­dia’s mod­ern greats when the In­dian In­ter­na­tional Film Awards – the IIFAs – came to York­shire. Aish­warya Rai, reign­ing queen of Mum­bai’s film scene, ar­rived in Brad­ford like Marie An­toinette and with al­most as much pomp and panoply. She was beau­ti­ful, el­e­gant, be­yond re­gal. In fact, Brad­ford, and its now de­funct Bite the Mango Film Fes­ti­val, was re­spon­si­ble for at­tract­ing to the UK – nay, to York­shire – some of the bright­est stars in the Bol­ly­wood fir­ma­ment.

There was Sha­bana Azmi, Aamir Khan, Amitabh Bachchan, aka The Big B, and the liv­ing leg­end that is Dilip Ku­mar. I re­call watch­ing with open-mouthed amaze­ment as the seem­ingly 7ft tall Big B scythed his way through an ador­ing au­di­ence meet­ing nary one eye and re­main­ing, al­ways, aloof. Now there was a star.

Yash Cho­pra, who died ear­lier this week aged 80, was a star­maker in the man­ner of Ce­cile B de Mille, David Selznick and Dino de Lau­ren­tiis. He could spot star qual­ity at 500 yards. And the stars he moulded have stayed the course in an in­dus­try that is as fickle in In­dia as its cousin in Los Angeles.

In­dian divas and dar­lings ar­riv­ing in cold, blus­tery, grey York­shire made the most as­ton­ish­ing de­mands. Hav­ing waived their as­tro­nom­i­cal fees, al­most all of them sought the best stan­dards for their stay. That meant a Pres­i­den­tial Suite at a top ho­tel. Ap­par­ently there were only three such ex­am­ples of glo­ri­ous ac­com­mo­da­tion in the en­tire county – not enough to ac­com­mo­date these self-styled gods and god­desses of the screen and their en­tourages.

It was amus­ing to be on the pe­riph­ery of the scut­tling and scrab­bling as peo­ple who re­ally should know bet­ter fought to pan­der to the whims of stars who, high up on pedestals, breathe bet­ter qual­ity air than the rest of us.

While I was glad it wasn’t me hav­ing to bow and scrape, I had to ad­mire the men­tal­ity of an in­dus­try that al­lows such mad­ness to pro­lif­er­ate.

Fifty years ago Hol­ly­wood was a town where or­di­nary mor­tals were plucked from the gut­ter, from trucks and cof­fee bars and treated to trans­for­ma­tions that would make to­day’s plas­tic sur­geons wince with jeal­ousy. Even­tu­ally such stars grew tired of be­ing slaves in gilded cages and the so-called “stu­dio sys­tem” grad­u­ally pe­tered out. At that point the mys­tique of ac­tors fiz­zled out, too.

Peo­ple like Yash Cho­pra knew all about mys­tique. In cre­at­ing stars he made sure they be­haved to form. My favourite mo­ment: when Dilip Ku­mar fin­ished an on-stage in­ter­view he left through a throng of ad­mir­ers. Later a young fan asked for the still half-full bot­tle of wa­ter that the great man had left be­hind. “Why?” I asked. “Elixir of leg­end,” came the re­ply. Nuff said.

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