Bollywood Bucket List: The super

In our deeply cynical times, Hrithik Roshan’s Super 30 emphasises the importance of being earnest. The glossy star takes on a change of pace here and plays an underprivileged teacher who helps poor students realise their aspirations. Forget the externals, Hrithik gets the internals right.

The scene in which Hrithik nervously stands outside the hall in which his students’ mark sheets are displayed only to be informed by his brother of excellent news is memorable. The actor flits from one fleeting emotion to another — disbelief, relief, unalloyed joy, gratitude — with consummate ease. I thought to myself, that maybe one reason why Hrithik is able to give his all to his performance is because he focusses his energies on just that one film at a time.

Quick on the heels of watching Hrithik Roshan’s sombre, no-dancing, no-fisticuffs performance in Super 30, I saw the trailer of his next film, War, an all-guns-blazing thriller that has him competing with young Tiger Shroff in swagger and panache and showcasing enough chases and explosions to whet the appetite of an adrenaline junkie.

I was struck by the remarkable reversal of roles for the actor. But what struck me even harder was the realisation that War will be Hrithik's second film this year! I looked it up...the last time this extra-picky star had more than one film hitting the theatres in a single calendar year was almost a decade ago!

This year, Hrithik celebrates 20 years in films as a leading man — Kaho Naa Pyar Hai was released back in 2000. And in these two decades he has done only two dozen films; out of which only 14 films were made in the last 16 years! This is staggering, especially when you consider that Akshay Kumar has had as many as 72 films released over these same 16 years!

In Hindi cinema, it was Dilip Kumar who was in the vanguard when it came to being extremely selective about his films. Immensely popular in the 1950s, the actor had the confidence not to quickly milk his talent but to choose only those roles he seemed worthy of his talent, famously opting out of classics like Mother India and Pyaasa too.

This propensity for pickiness began in the fifties but became particularly pronounced in the sixties. Dilip Kumar began the decade with two blockbusters — Mughal-e-Azam (1960) and Ganga Jamuna (1961) — but then went on to star in just five more films for the rest of that decade.

Raj Kapoor was an extraordinarily gifted director besides being an actor; and when he was in the midst of passionate filmmaking, he often reduced his acting assignments. In the five years between 1954 and 1958, he appeared on screen in only six films.

In 1964 Kapoor acted in and directed Sangam which proved to be a massive money-spinner both in India and in the international market. Yet, thereafter, he was seen in only five more films as a romantic hero — two of which were films he had begun earlier and one was his own venture, Mera Naam Joker (1970).

Manoj Kumar too drastically axed his acting assignments after seguing towards direction. Kumar delivered a thumping hit as an actor-director with Roti Kapda Aur Makaan in 1974 and then scored a hat-trick of hits as an actor with Sanyasi (1975) and Dus Numbri (1976). But, almost incredibly, the audience had to wait for another five years before they saw the star again in a fresh role with Kranti (1981).

In the ’70s and ’80s, stars began overvaluing their creative fertility and started doing films by the bushel-load. Manoj Kumar’s contemporary and friend Shashi Kapoor had apocryphally signed on over a 100 films in the mid ’70s, resulting in him working multiple shifts a day. His elder bother Raj Kapoor, who had cast him in his directorial venture Satyam Shivam Sundaram (1978), exasperatedly labelled him a taxi.

Aamir Khan bucked the trend in the 1990s, bravely paring down his list of films on hand to just a select few. After honing his skills at picking the right projects initially, Aamir began to be seen in about a film a year in the late 1990s.

He scored twin successes in Lagaan and Dil Chahta Hai in 2001, but disappeared from the screen for three whole years thereafter, finally reappearing with Mangal Panday in 2005. In sharp contrast to the stars who sign more films with escalating success, Aamir chose to do fewer films as his popularity soared.

What began as an elite band of stars who are selective has today burgeoned almost into the new normal. This association of young and selective stars can be said to be headed by Ranbir Kapoor. The young turk, even when faced with a few turkeys at the box-office, stays true to his nature and doesn’t try to do damage control by spreading himself thin over multiple projects.

But it’s not just Ranbir. Whether it’s Ranveer Singh, Varun Dhawan or Ayushmann Khurrana, they have all realised that being exclusive pays rich dividends, and they ruthlessly run a filter through the roles they accept with nary a trace of insecurity. These are good times.