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August 28, 1997
Tough act to follow
Raaj Kumar was a star in Bollywood. His son Puru isn't.
While Puru's first film, Bal Brahmachari discouraged any possible fan following, he still has a few roles in his kitty, ones that may help him still make it. But there are already many star children out there, living in the frustration of knowing they can't live up to their forbears.
Like Suneil Anand (pater Dev Anand), Kunal Goswami (Manoj Kumar's son), Rohan Kapoor (Mahendra Kapoor), Rajiv Kapoor (Raj Kapoor's son) Kunal and Karan Kapoor (Shashi Kapoor's sons).
"There are many reasons for a film not doing well, the most important one being luck... Even if you have great actors and a good director, the film can still flop," says Puru. He cites the example of Trimurti. "You see, it had all big stars; moreover, it was a Subhash Ghai film. But it still didn't do well."
Director Rahul Rawail also thinks luck is most important." Nothing else works in this industry. Even if you are a bad actor, if your film is a hit, you will survive in this industry." And once you have a hit, you have it good, he feels. "Chadthe sooraj ko sab salam marte hai" (Everyone salutes the rising sun), he says.
Weren't expectations high, considering he was Raaj Kumar's son?
"Yes, this is true to some extent," he admits. "But you cannot help it. People always compare you with your father, expect you to do well in your life like your father. I don't like this mentality." He points out the case of Sunny and Bobby Deol. "Even if they establish their own name, they are still called Dharmendra's sons."
That often is the crux of the problem. Raaj Kumar's gravelly and ponderous declamations may have got a following but a son may not be capable of the same kind of delivery. Even if a star son or daughter is as good as the parent, s/he lives a professional life in the shadow of someone else's reputation. Until s/he does something spectacular or the memory of the parent fades away.
"It is not merely signing films that will take these people places," says director Mahesh Bhatt. "No actor can force his son to be accepted by people. If you have quality, people will accept you. When a film flops people criticise everybody; but if the film is a hit, no one wants to criticise anyone."
"How can you say that Devsaab's son cannot act when his film flops? If I give one hit, then people will shower praise from the heavens." It was that elusive hit that made his father; he needs another to get up there himself.
An odd case is Rohan Kapoor, who started along with Govinda but had to finally seek refuge in television.
"Though my film Love 86 with Govinda was a hit, my career did not click like Govinda's." He hints that director Yash Chopra was to blame.
"Yash Chopra told me to be very choosy in selecting films. So I did not accept many films that came my way. And now when I look back 10 years later, I feel that it was a great mistake... Govinda accepted all kinds of films. And out of 10 films, if even one did well, he scored. And that is why he still retains a good position," says Rohan Kapoor.
Director Prakash Mehra -- who gave Amitabh Bachchan his first hit, Zanjeer and Puru Raaj Kumar his first break -- feels other market factors too define an actor's success." There are trends in the film industry. If there is a trend of love stories, it is very difficult for a violent film to click during that era." And vice versa.
"If Kumar Gaurav tries to play a don, it is very difficult for the film to do well," he says. Actors like Sunny Deol and Sanjay Dutt, who excelled in violent roles at a time when violence was in, have done well only because they have made a niche for themselves, he says. Ergo the success of Sanjay Dutt in films like
"They have created to some extent an anti-establishment image. And that suits them. So they will do well in their careers. Similarly, the actors whose sons have not done well in their acting career must find for themselves the role they fit in. Some of them may be good directors, not actors. They can try their luck as director or even become villains," says Mehra.
That would amount to desperation. But already, Kumar Gaurav, Suneil Anand and Rajiv Kapoor have turned to direction. Rohan Kapoor has teamed with his father, Mahendra Kapoor, to play anchor in their serial, Aawaz Ki Duniya. But Puru is certain that he won't do negative roles at least.
"I cannot be a villain... People have seen me as a hero. If they see me in villainous roles they will not accept me. When a Hindi film hero appears on screen people know what should be his first dialogue." If he lets them down, speaking the Bollywood villain's argot, he will be rejected outright, says Puru, who thinks it is still early for him to think in terms of direction or other technical responsibilities.
Suneil also turned to direction because he feels that despite acting in four movies, no director could do him justice. "So I turned to direction... I hope I will able to prove myself an actor when my yet unnamed film is released next year."
But Rohan Kapoor found it difficult to come to terms with his new reality. "Now I do not regret anything. I have accepted that every man has to play a role in his life. And I have played the role of actor in my life. Now God wants to me play the role of television anchor. So I am perfectly happy with it."
That may have come a bit too pat, but people like Suneil Anand feel that one just has to keep working.
"Half the game in the film industry is to keep on doing things. And if you do it right, you hit the bull's eye. If you give up, you die." He cites the classic case of music director S D Burman and his son R D Burman. S D Burman told his son he would recognise him only if people said, "Hey, did you see that man? He is R D Burman's father." And when it happened one day, he told R D that he has become a more famous music director than him. The moral of Anand's story being that success need not breed success, but success definitely begets respect.
That's what makes Puru say, "Today, I am nowhere in the film industry. But tomorrow, who knows, I may be a superstar." That is the driving dream. And to hell with parents and pressure.
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