We are comfor-tably past the half-yearly mark. And it’s as good a time as any to throw a more-than-a-sideways glance at Bollywood’s top game-changers of 2017 (so far). Some of the names you are about to read will astonish you, a few will confound or comfort you, a few still may amuse you (hint: a controversial child), some may raise the temperature of Twitterati liberals (hint: a controversy’s child), a handful among them may be usual suspects but certainly, taken together, they will tell you how Hindi cinema and its stars are challenging the stereotypes in their sometimes quiet, sometimes vocal ways.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet the most influential persons of the year who have helped shape news – warts and all.
Poster Boy of Patriotism Meets Mrs Funnybones: Twinkle Khanna & Akshay Kumar
Twinkle’s turnaround from a no-show film actor to a writer-columnist with comic flair has been surprising and unprecedented. Her salty take on everything, from potshots at the Khans to motherhood, has made her T’own’s resident circus clown, a Shakespearean jester whose blunt tongue teases and offends, with equal force. At the Vogue Beauty Awards, Akshay read out from a ‘thank-you’ speech written by his wife. His remarks were met with loud cheers: “They say that beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder but I say beauty is whoever let you hold her.” Khiladi Kumar could well be talking about his recent hits in which he was invariably paired with nubile beauties! 2016 unquestionably belonged to Akshay with blockbusters like Airlift, Housefull 3 and Rustom. He opened 2017 with equal success. Jolly LLB 2 and Toilet – Ek Prem Katha were money-spinners. Wonder how Twinkle, with her mocking cynicism towards all things commercial and conventional, makes for such a dream team with Akshay who’s anything but a mould-breaker. Opposites do attract, after all?
Scourge of Nepotism: Kangana Ranaut
A rank outsider, Kangana Ranaut makes news more for her explosive off-screen jibes than her box-office exploits. She first sent Hrithik Roshan reeling for what the Indian media touted “an affair gone wrong.” Then, she took the mickey out of big daddies Saif Ali Khan and Karan Johar who chanted “nepotism rocks” at IIFA 2017 in New York. Hardly a pushover, the Queen hit back, “Are you implying that artistic skills, hard work, experience, concentration spans, enthusiasm, eagerness, discipline and love, can be inherited through family genes? If your point was true, I would be a farmer back home.” Even if the Rangoon star were a farmer, rest assured she would take the bull by the horns.
A Controversial Child: Taimur Ali Khan
Born famous, Saifeena’s royal toddler was trending even before he could take baby steps into the world. The choice of Baby Taimur’s name, which some detractors mistook for the Mongolian conqueror Timur, led distraught daddy Saif Ali Khan to even consider renaming the Pataudi heir. Reminds us of another Kapoor. The day Ranbir Kapoor was born, his grandfather, the legendary Raj Kapoor, received a proud telegram from a Punjabi distributor congratulating him for having “another hero” in the family. There’s still time to welcome Baby Taimur into Bollywood, though.
A Controversy’s Child: Pahlaj Nihalani
A producer renowned in his time for double innuendo lyrics and commercial tripe starring mostly Govinda (heard of Ilzaam, Paap Ki Duniya or Shola Aur Shabnam?), Nihalani’s stint as Censor Board chief turned him into a laughing stock among Indian film buffs, to put it mildly. At one point, he may have been Bollywood’s Most Hated Man. Derided as “Sanskari” by Twitterati for his overt moral lecturing, Nihalani’s tenure as CB honcho was mired in controversies, especially his public scraps with Anurag Kashyap. He reserved a special resentment for female filmmakers and the depiction of women on screen. After two years of what filmmakers called “bullying”, he was sacked only last month. Satirists will now have to look elsewhere for that much-needed dose of humour.
Poster Girl of Freedom: Alankrita Shrivastava
Director of Lipstick Under My Burkha, a bold take on female sexuality, Alankrita challenged the Censors that refused to clear her film for being too “lady-oriented.” The joke turned out to be on the “too-male-oriented” Mr Nihalani! In Alankrita, the press found a freedom of speech martyr. The ladies of Lipstick captured the gaze of a nation but the film had started a conversation that India wasn’t quite prepared for.
Cinematic Goddess: Sridevi
Sridevi, who turned 54 this August, does fewer films now but the ones she opts for, like the recent MOM are designed purely for her. That’s as good an ode to female superstardom as it can get in male-driven Bollywood. Sridevi can still set a million hearts aflutter. It’s difficult to imagine a better description of the actress than what Salman Khan said recently, “She is bigger than all the Khans.” In her 300th film appearance, she powered MOM with her silent grace. “God can’t be everywhere,” says a helpless Sridevi in the film. “That’s why He created a mother,” pipes in her ally Nawazuddin Siddiqui. In pre-release interviews, Siddiqui was right on mark when he called Sridevi our most striking cinema Goddess.
Her Mom’s Daughter: Konkona Sen Sharma
Audiences raised on a healthy diet of indie hits were always dazzled by Konkona’s natural talent. After all, the star of such fine films as Mr and Mrs Iyer, Life In A Metro and the recent Lipstick Under My Burkha is known for her artistic integrity and her melt-into-the-character performances. Her Bengali output is said to be even better. But who knew Konkona would turn out to be very much her mother, the famed Aparna Sen’s daughter? Her directorial debut A Death in the Gunj is a subtle film about family secrets haunted by something dark and sinister. Its European sensibility confirms her as a talent waiting to crossover.
In Fine Form: Nawazuddin Siddiqui
He makes every character seem like it was written just for him. First he stole leading man Shah Rukh Khan’s thunder in Raees in January this year. Next, with his delicious charm, he made DK, the Bholenath-invoking gumshoe of MOM, so eminently watchable. With the upcoming Manto – a Nandita Das film on writer Saadat Hasan Manto – whose excellent trailer has left his fans wanting for more, it looks like Siddiqui is going to make the rest of the remaining year just as exciting – for himself as well as for us.
Southern Gladiators: Prabhas and Rana Daggubati
Why did Kattappa kill Baahubali? This cryptic question had tormented Indians for months, until the final part of Baahubali supplied the answer last April. An unstoppable talking point, the Baahubali franchise changed the way we look at cinema. It’s the tent-pole of tent-poles. This multilingual Tollywood export had a bigger box-office than most Hindi hits combined. Baahubali’s success turned Prabhas and Rana Daggubati, otherwise top Telugu stars, into figures of national curiosity. Women fawned and fantasised over their hot-bods. Let’s say, we are glad to have these gladiators in our midst!
A Single Father: Karan Johar
At 45, he has played godfather to tyros with famous surnames. But earlier this year, something changed in Karan Johar’s life. He became daddy to twins, Roohi and Yash. Opting for surrogacy, Johar remarked that to be a father was his “lifelong dream.” Talking to Hindustan Times, the director said, “My life has changed since Roohi and Yash arrived. This is my biggest blockbuster.” For a man whose K3G reminded India of “It’s all about loving your family”, the circle of life seems complete.