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Does screen chemistry work?

Saibal Chatterjee wonders if screen chemistry is all that carries a film.

india Updated: Apr 05, 2006 21:33 IST

By Saibal Chatterjee

The first time Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai starred opposite each other - in Rohan Sippy's Kuch Na Kaho - the box office wasn't particularly kind to them. And then, the two, in the company of the Big B, swayed to the folksy beat of 'Kajra re' in Shaad Ali's Bunty aur Babli and swept everything before them.

 
 The screen chemistry of Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai sizzles

Much water has rippled under the bridge since then. Abhishek and Aishwarya will be seen together in several upcoming films, including Yashraj Films' Dhoom 2, J.P. Dutta's Umrao Jaan and Mani Ratnam's Guru. Inevitably, talk has veered towards the subject of screen chemistry. Do they have it, or don't they?         

Well, coming to think of it, it really doesn't matter. It isn't the chemistry between two actors that sells a film. It's the story and the treatment that does.

If Abhishek and Rani Mukherjee hit it off famously in Yuva  and Bunty Aur Babli, much of the credit would accrue to the script and the manner in which the director projected the pair on the screen. Theories that rest on things like on-screen rapport are rather fanciful, if not entirely a figment of the media's imagination. 

The screen chemistry between the lead pair of a film cannot guarantee commercial success. Casting may be an important component of filmmaking, but it is never the only thing that determines a film's fate. Some stars do look good together because of the comfort level they share at work, but eventually that has nothing to do with box office returns.

Yes, A-list cast members do give a film a certain profile in the marketplace, but it is really the quality of the end product and the power of the histrionic inputs that eventually count.

Fans would give anything to see Shahrukh Khan and Kajol together on screen again, but did the King of Bollywood stop delivering box office hits simply because Kajol went into semi-retirement post-marriage? He obviously didn't.

Shahrukh has had hits with an assortment of female co-stars since - Chalte Chalte with Rani Mukherjee, Kal Ho Na Ho with Preity Zinta and Main Hoon Na with Sushmita Sen. Moral of the story: life goes on.

Of course, Shahrukh and Kajol's super successful on-screen association is a part of Bollywood folklore. Together, they have after all been in three of the biggest hits Mumbai movies have ever seen - Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham. That doesn't, however, prove that chemistry between two actors has a salutary effect on the bottom-line of a film.

DDLJ, KKHH and K3G contained many other crowd-pleasing elements - other saleable stars, foot-tapping music, wonderful locations and high production values - that served to inveigle the masses. And, of course, they also had Shahrukh and Kajol. The film came first, not the star pair.

The value attached to romantic screen pairs obviously stems from the fact that popular Hindi cinema has, over the decades, been ruled by a succession of such couples.  The phenomenon began with Ashok Kumar and Devika Rani and continued via Raj Kapoor-Nargis and Dilip Kumar-Madhubala all the way down to Rajesh Khanna-Sharmila Tagore, Amitabh Bachchan-Rekha, Dharmendra-Hema Malini and beyond.

But the career graph of one of Bollywood's finest contemporary actors, Aamir Khan, should be enough to disprove the theory. Consider Aamir's recent hits: Raja Hindustani, Ghulam, Sarfarosh, Lagaan, Dil Chahta Hai and now, Rang De Basanti. Aamir has had a different female co-star in each of these films.

He worked with Karisma Kapoor in Raja Hindustani, Rani Mukherjee in Ghulam, Sonali Bendre in Sarfarosh, Gracy Singh in Lagaan, Preity Zinta in Dil Chahta Hai and British actress Alice Patten in Rang De Basanti. If Aamir's films click, it is because the masses love them, not because of who he shares screen space with.

Hrithik Roshan, too, tends to pick a new co-star with every film that he does although he has been seen on screen with Kareena Kapoor and Preity Zinta on more than one occasion. His list of co-stars is long - Kareena, Preity, Amisha Patel, Esha Deol and Rani Mukherjee. In his upcoming release, Krrish, he will be seen opposite Priyanka Chopra.

Madhuri Dixit, who reigned over Bollywood for well over a decade, never hitched her wagon to any single male superstar. From 1988's Tezaab  to 2002's Devdas, Madhuri delivered at least one superhit every year but, barring Anil Kapoor (her co-star in films like Beta, Jamai Raja, Kishen Kanhaiya and Pukaar), she never formed a permanent screen pairing with anybody.

She needed no crutches. No matter who her male co-star was  - Sanjay Kapoor in Raja, Ayub Khan in Mrityudand, Sanjay Dutt in Khalnayak  or Shahrukh Khan in Dil To Pagal Hai - she never failed to leave her own stamp on the film.     

When Vivek Oberoi and Aishwarya Rai formed an item on the Bollywood social scene, Kyun… Ho Gaya Na sought to capitalise on the peaking popular interest in the personal life of the two stars. The move boomeranged big time and the film sank without a trace.

Similarly, music video maker-turned-director Ken Ghosh, who had earlier delivered a big hit starring Shahid Kapur, Ishq Vishq, paired the young actor with his real-life flame, Kareena Kapoor, in Fida.  Moviegoers did not quite flip for the idea.

We might see a bit of history being repeated when the screen pair Abhishek and Aishwarya - interest in their lives is at fever pitch - tests the box office waters later this year unless, of course, their films do the talking.