Who Is NOT An ‘Outsider’ in Bollywood?
According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, an “outsider” is a person who is not liked or accepted as a member of a particular group, organization, or society and who feels different from those people who are accepted as members. This is the commonly understood definition when it comes to the media storm raised around the sudden and tragic suicide of the rising and successful Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput.
However, if one looks back, apart from the young bravado filmmakers like Karan Johar and Aditya Chopra and a few others, like star-sons Sanjay Dutt and Rishi Kapoor and Ranbir Kapoor, almost every actor and filmmaker arrived in Bombay to create new roots with stars in their eyes and make it big in Hindi cinema decades before the term “Bollywood” was even invented let alone become currency. Even the youngsters are second generation Mumbaikars whose parents came down from elsewhere.
Before we get down to examine the “Who”s and the “Why”s, let us question ourselves about why Bombay and not Delhi or Calcutta or Madras or Trivandrum (former names of today’s cities) was chosen by these dreamers?
The reason lies in the fact that Mumbai was appropriate as the centre of importance for the Indian cinema industry. It had a modern port; a city with European influences and pretensions minimal to Indian history and society. In addition, it appeared neutral to the religious passions of South Asia, the great Hindu-Muslim clashes. All races and religions lived in Mumbai in relative harmony. It was in Mumbai that English drama and poetry flourished. A number of Western ideas that were English-stimulated, synthesized with the Indian ideas.
Dadasaheb Phalke, considered the “father of Indian cinema” remained rooted to Nashik when he began his carer in films. It did not occur to him to shift from his home which became a veritable residence for almost everyone who worked with him and he lived and worked in Nashik forever. But most of the other stalwarts who are archived in the history of Indian cinema were neither born nor brought up in Bombay.
Mehboob Khan (1906 – 1964) rose from extremely impoverished origins as an underpaid, ‘invisible” junior artiste who became a classic filmmaker in Indian cinema for all time. He ran away when he was 16 from Sarar, a small village in Gujarat to become an actor in the Bombay film industry.
His first film as director, a costume drama called Al Hilal (1935) flopped but it gave him the impetus to go on and direct more films. His next film, Ek Hi Rasta (1939), produced by Sagar Movietone established him as a director of merit who could produce commercially successful films with a solid storyline. Other films that dot his filmography are – Humayun, Andaaz, Aan and Amar, each with storylines that were much ahead of their time.
Himangshu Rai, founder and director of Bombay Talkies, was one of the most elite and educated Indians to grace the film industry in Bombay. But he did not originally belong to this city. He studied in Santi Niketan, then went on to England where he met playwright and screenwriter Niranjan Pal who encouraged him to found this production house.
So, he was not from Bombay. Nor was the actress Devika Rani, who he married and who became his top heroine in his films. Me met Devika Rani in London who did not belong to Bombay either.
He set up Wadia Movietone which made the first Hindi talkie film Alam Ara. His younger brother, Homi Wadia, left Surat at age 16 to join JBH in his film company and became one of the most famous actors in Hindi cinema during that time.
The story is endless… Ashok Kumar, Kishore Kumar, Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, Chetan Anand, Vijay Anand, Prithviraj Kapoor, Pran, Amrish Puri, Madan Puri, Guru Dutt, then the entire Bengal contingent beginning with Bimal Roy, Salil Choudhury, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Asit Sen, Kanu Roy came from the Calcutta film industry, mainly from New Theatres to find new roots in Bombay for reasons created by World War II. Chandulal Shah, founder of Ranjit Studio which produced many milestone films, came from Jamnagar, Gujarat, to join a company but later drifted to films.
The Kapoor Brothers too, spent their earliest childhood in Calcutta where their father Prithiviraj was in theatre and in films too. The next maharajah of Bollywood – B.R. Chopra, also migrated from Lahore after finishing in post-graduation in English from the University of Punjab in Lahore. His youngest brother, Yash Chopra who became the emperor of Bollywood cinema also came down from Lahore. Vijay Bhatt came down from Bhavnagar in Gujarat to Bombay with a job in the BEST.
Amir Khan and Salman Khan are perhaps the two exceptions to the contemporary top stars who were born and bred in Bombay and continue to live and work in the city.
The rest, beginning with Shahrukh Khan, through Saif Ali Khan, through Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri, Irrfan Khan, Rajkumar Rao, Nawazuddin Siddique, Ranvir Singh, all came from outside. Thus, they are all ‘outsiders’ who were born and bred elsewhere but uprooted themselves from wherever they belonged to in order to find fame and fortune in the tinsel world called Bollywood.
The biggest star to have graced Indian cinema for five decades – Amitabh Bachchan, came from Allahabad, then Delhi then Calcutta. Those National School of Drama graduates who stepped into television hardly could make space for themselves on the big screen. Those who succeeded, such as Anupam Kher, Rohini Hattangadi, and even Irrfan Khan, never came back to television ever again.
In this sense, Sushant Singh Rajput also came from Patna so why, then, did the Bollywood bigwigs resort to underhand dealings – as reported – to oust him out?
The Outsider has a different definition in Bollywood industry. Actors who have become stars on the small screen are simply not permitted to make it big on the large screen. Who is responsible for this ousting of television stars and the deliberate keeping them away from big screen fame and money is a subject for debates and panel discussions and media mud-flinging and gossip-digging.
But the fact remains that apart from Shahrukh Khan who made his debut on the small screen with Fauji, on Doordarshan followed by a lead role in Circus, almost no one has survived the transition from television to big cinema. Perhaps the only other actor who hit a major milestone after his hit performance in Buniyaad, produced and directed by Ramesh Sippy hit big time in films and is still going strong as a character actor. Anita Kanwar, who played his wife, remained without work and left television and films forever.
Why? Either, the caucus that reportedly triggers the nepotism machine did not exist at the time, or it did not notice this plain-faced, not-great-looking actor in two serials of which the first one was not seen by many though the second one made his a known face among couch potatoes. His first film Baazigar hit the box office and he came to stay, and how!
Smriti Irani, who switched over the politics after the stupendous success of Kyonki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi could not make the slightest dent in Bollywood. She played the leading lady in a Bengali mainstream some years ago but the film flopped on its face.
Mukesh Khanna and Nitish Bharadwaj, the two actors who portrayed Bhishma and Lord Krishna in B.R. Chopra’s Mahabharat, tried and tried but could not get good roles in large screen films. Why? Mukesh Khanna proved this yet again when his Shaktimaan became one of the biggest hits in serialised version on Doordarshan.
Nitish Bharadwaj is reduced to small cameos in Marathi films mainly released on OTT platforms. They are very good actors, have an excellent screen presence and have the capacity to draw crowds but their only leeway was the small screen. The same goes for actors in the other mythological serial Ramayan.
Arun Govil, who portrayed Rama in the serial, made by Ramanand Sagar, had already done a few B-Grade films but after the success of the soap, his film career went down south. Dipika Chikliha who played Sita, also did some soft-porn movies but after the Sita role, she was so much out of work that her career went nowhere and she got married to an industrialist, shifted base to Gujarat, stepped into politics, and quit the scene.
The “Outsider Theory” therefore, is not about people who have arrived from outside Bombay not permitted entry. It is about small screen stars trying to strike it big on the big screen. Nothing wrong in being ambitious if one is determined, hard-working and talented.
So, why are the so-called “villains” accused of nepotism – trying to keep out a talented actor from joining them? Are they insecure about their own careers and the staying power over Bollywood? We all know that there is a hierarchy that places big screen people in Bollywood on a higher rung of the “Rich and the Famous” ladder over the stars of the small screen.
But why? I leave the readers to find their own answers.