Emily Dickinson- the reclusive nineteenth century genius poetess once wrote
Suceess is counted sweetest
By those who ne’er succeed.
I beg to differ. I feel that success might be counted even sweeter by those who had once experienced its heady intoxication and then had lost it all. Hindi cinema is witness to many such careers – bursting like a brilliant comet on the scene and then dimming into an unending tunnel of darkness like a petered out flame. Their story is the story of human life in general – of high aspirations, hard- earned spoils and heavy-handed fate!
The early era:
Master Vitthal was the most saleable Indian actor in the silent era and even starred as hero in the first ‘talkie’ Alam Ara. But dialogue- delivery was not his forte and as spectacular was his reign as a ‘silent’ superstar, as depressing was his steep decline into non-entity zone.
1944- film Ratan counts as one of the most successful Hindi films in history. Powered by Naushad’s superb music (Ankhiyaan Milake, O Jaanewale Baalamwa and Jab Tum Hi Chale Pardes), Ratan ran for weeks after weeks, making its hero Karan Dewan into a rage of the nation. But that was to be the only real hurrah for this singer- actor and he was relegated to doing miniscule character roles for rest of his career. Even worse fate befell Surendra – the singing hero for whom Noor Jehan sang Aawaz De Kahan Hai in the 1946- superhit Anmol Ghadi. After a few more, minor successes like Anokhi Ada, he faded into oblivion, not even managing to grab character roles.
Albela remains a special musical comedy- a touching tale of trials and tribulations of a simpleton who makes it big as an actor, despite the disparaging remarks from doubting world. Bhagwan – the actor-producer- director of this film became a sensation with his easy-going acting and more so with his cute and lazy, minimalist dancing style. People literally showered rupee coins on the screen when Bhagwan and Geeta Bali danced in songs like Shola Jo Bhadke, Shaam Dhale Khidki Tale and Bholi Surat Dil Ke Khote. Then followed a disastrous run of flops and Bhagwan was reduced to caricature himself in mindless, meaningless minor comic roles in his latter career. The man who once had every possible dream in his lap, later had to endure a long nightmare of obscurity and poverty.
Sheela Ramani had a much hyped debut in Hindi films but after a few unspectacular efforts in films like Baap Re Baap, she resigned herself to doing first the side-heroine roles and then, slipped into the Maa- Bhaabhi mould. Even Nirupa Roy – the best known ‘mother’ in Hindi cinema had earlier been a top heroine in B-grade mythologicals!
Seventies and later:
These wild swings of filmi fortunes have continued over the years. Can you believe that today’s TV serial actors like Anil Dhavan and Vijay Arora were top students from Poona’s prestigious Film Institute? In the early seventies, these stars flickered briefly- (Dhavan in Piya Ka Ghar and Arora in Yaadon Ki Baarat)- before losing their way into wilderness. In 1972, Navin Nischal – yet another TV soap- regular of today, played the hero in Parwana, where none other than Amitabh Bachchan played the villain but within next few years the situation had changed so dramatically that in Deshpremi, Navin was playing a minor character role to Amitabh’s hero!
Geet Gaata Chal (1975) and Julie (1977) were great musical hits of mid- seventies but for their star pairs- Sachin- Saarika and Vikram- Lakshmi, the success was practically over after that brief tryst with destiny. Ranjeeta starred as heroine in two of the biggest hits of seventies – Laila – Majnu and Ankhiyon Ke Jharokhe Se but never really made it to the top of the ladder.
In the eighties, Mandakini – the scintillating starlet dazzled through those scenic, graphic waterfall- bathing scenes in Ram Teri Ganga Maili. The film turned out to be a milestone blockbuster but the heroine couldn’t make much headway after such a brilliant start. She was not alone – actresses like Vijeta Pandit (Love Story), Rati Agnihotri (Ek Duuje Ke Liye) and Amrita Singh (Betaab) had earlier suffered the same quirks of fate!
Vivek Mushran (Saudagar) and Rahul Roy (Aashiqui), couldn’t have asked for better opening to their careers. Both had the backing of bigwigs like Subhash Ghai and Mahesh Bhatt. Both had hit bull’s eye by scoring a hit in the very first attempt but then, both of them lost the way so badly that Vivek took the easy option – entering TV serials and Rahul took the ‘high’ road of bragging about a Hollywood break that never came!
Today, the celebrity TV- talk show host Shekhar Suman might be cracking jokes about the flop actors and flop films but after his much publicized debut in Utsav, he himself had become a big flop- show in films before he managed to reinvent himself on small screen.
The Marriage factor:
Leena Chandavarkar, Babita, Mumtaz, Jaya Bhaduri, Neetu Singh, Padmini Kolhapure, Reena Rai, Zeenat Aman – this impressive list of actresses is not a list of failures in real sense but of those whose successful careers were cut short- not by any accident but by choice. All of them left at the top of their trade for the sake of their marriages but not all of them were lucky, never ever to regret their decision to leave it all! Not all of them lived happily ever after! Quite a few tried coming back but realized the futility of regaining lost glory.
Bhagyashree captured the hearts of millions through her endearing performance in the superhit Maine Pyar Kiya. The next moment she got married and started putting conditions that she would be only working with her hubby. As those wretched films pairing her with her husband, hit the dust, gone was Bhagyashree from the film scene- gone forever and left to portray roles in TV serials and play the anchor to a film- rating show!
A Dangerous Game:
Kumar Gaurav must rank as the prime example of this dangerous fame-game. When this son of former Jubilee- star Rajendra Kumar scored a massive debut hit- Love Story, people went to the extent of portraying him as the next superstar- a romantic answer to ‘Angry young man’. A few flops later, he just became a ‘has been’, a shock he never could take, plunging into depths of despair and depression!
Divya Bharti remains a dark chapter in these ‘short success’ storybook. A charming young actress- she plunged to death from her apartment – just days after receiving the ‘Most promising young actress’ Filmfare award! Till today, her death remains under cloud of suspicion. Whether a suicide, a murder or an accident – one thing that emerged in the investigation in no uncertain terms, was the murky behind-the-screen doings of the showbiz and the dark and deadly toll it takes on artists, who project such bright and bubbly images on screen!
So for every Amitabh rising through a flop Saat Hindustaani, every Madhuri emerging via an unremarkable Abodh and then, marching on to become superstars, there are at least a hundred Anil Dhawans and Mandakinis who couldn’t make it big in spite of a great start to their careers. The fame and fortune in this film industry are notoriously fickle. What sells today like hot cake today, might just be stale bread tomorrow. Reaching the top might turn out to be easy, but staying there is always difficult. When it comes to acting fame, 15 minutes versus 15 years is the question that usually answers questions about class and appeal!