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KANK: Aiming for the 'stars'

The film's USP is its star cast and Karan Johar's ability to exploit the qualities of his actors, writes Saibal Chatterjee.

india Updated: Aug 12, 2006 19:28 IST

Ignore the publicity spin masters. It isn’t really the theme of the film that separates Karan Johar’s latest magnum opus, Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, from run-of-the-mill Bollywood releases. Yarns about of marital infidelity and explorations of the centrality of true love in the institution of marriage are as old as the hills, as much in cinema as in literature.

What, then, is the USP of KANK? It’s the film’s top-heavy star cast and Johar’s proven ability to fully exploit the individual on-screen qualities of his actors.

It isn’t often that a Hindi film features two of the biggest box office stars Bollywood has ever produced (Amitabh Bachchan and Shahrukh Khan), two of the three reigning Mumbai showbiz divas (Rani Mukherjee and Preity Zinta) and one of the brightest contendors to the throne (Abhishek Bachchan). With a stellar line-up like that parading across the screen for a running time of well over three hours, who needs even a modicum of a novel story?

The film's USP is its top-heavy star cast and Karan Johar’s proven ability to fully exploit the individual on-screen qualities of his actors.

That, indeed, is what megastardom is all about. A star with a steady fan following can sell anything from toothpaste to hair oil to indifferent films. Of course, the men tapping into the groundswell of mass support that these stars command have to know exactly how and where to draw the line. Karan Johar is one those who knows. 

In a recent media interview, Shah Rukh Khan asserted that Bollywood would never be able to do without its star system. He is absolutely right. An industry that peddles films that are notoriously low on substance does need its stars to keep the paying public interested in the glossy but clunky products that it churns out.

The presence of a Shah Rukh Khan guarantees a strong box office opening, and if a film starring the Bollywood badshah has him doing the things that the masses love him for, you have a commercial hit on your hands. So writers, producers and directors who do not have a substantial storyline at their disposal turn to a saleable star to boost the box office potential of their films.

Hollywood, too, has its star system, with the likes of Tom Cruise and Johnny Depp, among numerous others, calling the shots. These actors do make a difference to the fortunes of their films, but, in the ultimate analysis, it is the entertainment quotient of the films that ensures box office durability. The star, no matter how big his paycheck and fan following, is zilch without a well-crafted movie. Tom Cruise needs Mission Impossible as much as the hugely successful franchise needs him. One is incomplete without the others.

Can the same be said of the relationship between a Bollywood star and his film? KANK wouldn’t be half as big a draw without its stars. For in Mumbai, especially in the big budget blockbuster space, substance plays second fiddle to the stars. Fans are loyal to their screen idols only as long as they get their money’s worth. They are satisfied with nothing less than the whole hog and then some more. Shahrukh must do everything, yes everything – sing, dance, cry, laugh, frown, play the fool, get tough, go bonkers in love – all in the span of three hours for a film to work at the box office. Naturally, amid it all, there isn’t much scope to narrate a tale that makes sense.

So, why expect KANK to rewrite Bollywood history? It’s enough for Johar’s third directorial vehicle to be exactly what it is meant to be – a multi-star vehicle designed to send everybody home in a happy frame of mind, secure in the belief that they have been given generous doses of the superstars and their mannerisms to last them until the next Shah Rukh Khan or Amitabh Bachchan starrer hits the neighbourhood multiplex.

That’s what Karan Johar is good at – not allowing too many cracks to get between his intent and his achievement. His stars are big, but his goals are small. The low artistic ambition, exalted commercial target formula works best when you have the biggest Bollywood stars on your side. There is no reason to suspect that KANK will belie that belief.