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