Critics, commentators, fans and even the film industry itself love to find replacements of popular actors in every generation.
Rather than reinvent the wheel, the trade finds this to be an easy thing to do as it can simply replicate experiences with minor tweaks.
In this aspect, despite being a successful star who enjoyed cult following Jeetendra hasn’t been able to be replaced as often as others. For a while in the mid-1980s, Jeetendra enjoyed a string of box office hits that were remade in Hindi from South Indian languages, especially Telugu.
The extent of his success can be gauged from the fact that this was the Amitabh Bachchan ‘one-man-industry’ phase but for all practical purposes, Jeetendra was the numero uno male star in Hindi films.
While there have been more than a handful of contenders that at some point in time were considered the replacement for Bachchan (Anil Kapoor, Sunny Deol, Jackie Shroff, and Sanjay Dutt), Jeetendra has never really had a replacement until now.
After the unexpected runaway success of Kabir Singh, a remake of a Telugu film, Arjun Reddy, Shahid Kapoor is now slated to feature in another Telugu remake, Jersey.
The commercial success notwithstanding, Kapoor had to face much criticism for the content of Kabir Singh and how his presence, in some way, validated the blatant misogyny and sexism promoted by the film. This is also reminiscent of the feedback that Jeetendra’s films enjoyed during his southern-remake phase.
Much like how the actor known as ‘Jumping Jack’ withstood the public and critical censure, Shahid Kapoor, too, appears to have found a sweet spot where he can reap the benefits of the success and weather the denunciation.
On the one hand, Kapoor is one of the more successful male stars in Hindi films but one the other hand, he hasn’t been able to impact the zeitgeist in a way that is befitting of a star.
One of the reasons for this could, ironically enough, be his inability to a ‘replacement’ for anyone preceding him. The way a Ranbir Kapoor, Varun Dhawan or Ranveer Singh have been able to emerge as the next generation of Shah Rukh Khan/ Aamir Khan Salman Khan/ Govinda and Akshay Kumar, Shahid Kapoor has always had to blaze his own path.
In the initial stages of his career, Kapoor found it difficult to be paired opposite the already established leading ladies and while this isn’t something that should determine the course of an actor’s career but in India, and more specifically Bollywood, this factor could be the difference between make or break.
Back in the 1970s, Rishi Kapoor experienced the same and held the record for being paired opposite the highest number of debutants.
The things that worked against Shahid Kapoor, interestingly enough, are also the factors that had the possibility of helping him. Although ideally suited to be the boy next door, Kapoor has featured in roles that traditionally don’t come along easily enough to leading men with boyish looks, at least not in Indian films.
Films such as Kaminey, Haider, Udta Punjab and Kabir Singh offered him a chance to bite into something more significant than the usual fare while still being within the realm of popular Hindi films.
It’s here that Kapoor’s planned foray into remaking Telugu films could help him carve a space for himself that isn’t dependent on the usual tropes of Hindi films.
Remakes of South Indian films is not a new or uncommon phenomenon and before Jeetendra perfected it, Telugu or Tamil films being remade into Hindi was a standard industry practice. Producers such as Chinappa Thevar and B. Nagi Reddy would regularly cast the leading stars across Telugu, Tamil and Hindi industries such as Dilip Kumar, Waheeda Rehman, Rajendra Kumar, Sivaji Ganesan, Saroja Devi, M.G. Ramachandran, N.T. Rama Rao, Jayalalithaa, A. Nageswara Rao, Savitri, to make the same film in multiple languages.
By the 1970s, this phenomenon reduced, and it was mostly Jeetendra along with Rajesh Khanna that featured in Hindi remakes of Telugu films, and by the 1980s, Jeetendra had made it his go-to formula. This was the era where movies were shot on an assembly line with the same ensemble cast of Kader Khan, Sridevi, Jaya Pradha, Asrani, Jagdeep, and Aruna Irani to name a few accompanying Jeetendra. For a brief period, stars such as Rishi Kapoor and Mithun Chakraborty competed with Jeetendra in terms of remaking Telugu films towards the late 1980s.
In the 1990s, the formula got a shot in the arm thanks to Chakraborty’s Ooty sojourn where he made back to back films using a Jeetendra kind of set up. During this phase, Chakraborty made 30 films with just one director, TLV Prasad!
This was also the era where Govinda took the Telugu remake template to its peak with multiple films with David Dhawan, including many of his biggest hits - Coolie No. 1, Raja Babu, Sajan Chale Sasural. Since Jeetendra and Govinda’s heady days, Telugu remakes in Hindi never found the same love.
With Shahid Kapoor picking up Jersey as a follow up to Kabir Singh, and rumours of Sandeep Vanga scouting for the male lead for his second film in Hindi, Bollywood’s sub-genre of Telugu remakes might make a comeback.