That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. – Juliet,
Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare
The bright light of the afternoon sun made me blink. The eyes screwed up and began adjusting the vision while the brain started to process the location of the nearest auto rickshaw stand. I had just spent the last 3 hours in a dark cinema hall being thoroughly entertained by a movie called “3 Idiots” and as I flagged and got into the 3 wheeler, the names of 3 film stars of Indian cinema flashed across triggering a train of thought. Comparing film icons or film stars is a national pastime & was not immune to it. Auto comparison is what this was ( Auto = Automatic and not because it was done while I was inside an Auto rickshaw). There is no other reasoning of the need to compare them at all, but for an idle mind that needed some fodder. The neuron of wackiness had raised its head in my head.
The names that immediately popped into my mind were Amitabh Bacchhan, Shahrukh Khan and Aamir Khan; 3 equally talented and successful superstars of Indian cinema. If ever one is to compare then the ground for comparison needs to be a fair ground. This very small sample set met all parameters required for popularity and talent in their field of choice. Their beginnings had been relatively similar too; they had taken nearly 20 odd films to get to their big breaks to get stably established. All came from non-acting backgrounds. Two are contemporaries while the third though active is a generation senior to the other two. These were the apples in my basket. We are not discussing favorites here as I have liked them all at different phases so what was my originally idiotic thought that began this train?
If one is to take a closer look at Billy the Bard’s line and turn it upside down, does it conversely hold true. Can anything that smells sweet be called a Rose? or if you call something a Rose will it begin to smell sweet? Is there a power or a character that emerges from taking on a name ? And what connects this thought to our 3 stars?
Amitabh Bacchhan made his debut in Saat Hindustani and after a few false starts was about to return back to where he came from. One can almost visualize the scene at the railway platform, as he is boarding the train. 3 people who were standing there one producer-director, Prakash Mehra and 2 writers ( Salim Khan & Javed Akhtar ) call out "Vijayyyyy" and Bacchhan turned to look back, "Come back don’t go" they say. He stays back and makes cinematic history as the angry young man. Amitabh on screen became synonymous with Vijay. This at the most changed to Jai or Jay. Whether he preferred to be called by that name or the directors/producers insisted he be called thus can remain a mystery. What is not a mystery is in almost all roles for close to 15 years that he did thereafter he was Vijay. This was till his fall from grace after some really crass movies like Lal Badhsah that he took a break, from these ashes to again be reborn like a phoenix on TV and rekindle a film career. The funny coincidence is that in all the movies where Amitabh has had the name Vijay despite roles being different; the displayed angst is identical whether he played a cop or a don. The variety of Vijay’s career graph has been in the different last names/ surnames, as he changed from a Vijay Khanna to a Vijay Dinanath Chauhan. You take one Vijay and you have seen them all which is a tragic waste of nearly fifteen productive years of a great talent.
Shahrukh Khan began his film career as an extra in the mercurial movie “In which Annie gives it to those ones” a movie that was written by the Booker prize winner Arundhati Roy. If you blink you would miss him. TV happened to him nearly the same time where he was noticed and his work appreciated. Shahrukh Khan's most exciting phase of work is in his early years but that did not make him King Khan till he donned the mantle of a lover boy “Raj” in Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge in the year 1995. Till date after this movie, saving two or three exceptions, SRK has been some version of Raj/Rahul. The journey of 14 years has been a repetition of playing himself where the character in the script could be anybody, but what would emerge is Raj/Rahul. Lately he even started appearing as SRK the superstar ( Billu, Luck By chance, Om Shanti Om). SRK/Raj is what you would get whether playing a suave Don or an ancient Indian emperor-Asoka. The day he actually chucked aside that tag to play Kabir Khan in Chak De and a Mohan Bhargava in Swades, a different character came through. But these were more exceptions than a rule. Here one could see flashes of his earlier brilliance, being shaken up awake from a long hibernation. Before one got used to this he returned back to playing Raj in his comfort zone. SRK and Raj have got so intermingled that the work has a sameness which does not befit his talent. It is the intoxication of perpetual perching on the imagined throne of Hindi cinema that requires King Khan to remain a "Raj".
Raj rules now as Vijay did earlier. There is a peculiar power in these names that have graced the characters played by these two stars.
Aamir Khan too has tasted immense success in Quayamat Se Quayamat Tak (his debut as a lead actor) as a Raj. He again saw big success when he had the name Raja for "Dil" and "Raja Hindustani", both spectacular hits. In these 3 movies Raj & Raja are similar romantic characters. Coincidence? But this actor has never been king nor seemingly aspired to be one as evident in his path to stardom. His has been the path of a daring knight of the Kings court who could do anything. A dashing reporter in " Dil Hai Ke Maanta Nahi" who is hungry for a story, boarding an inter-city bus as Raghu Jetley kick-started this journey. The character Pooja played by Pooja Bhatt even asks the question at some point in the film “What kind of a name is Raghu Jetley?” His journey has had some interesting milestones; Sanjaylal Sharma the enfant terrible student who comes of age in "Jo Jeeta wohi Sikander". Siddhartha Marathe of "Ghulam", Amar Dhamjee in "Baazi", Munna of "Rangeela", DJ of "Rang De Basanti" all have had their time. Akash Malhotra of "Dil Chahta Hai" could not have been more different from a Bhuvan of "Lagaan" or a Ram Shankar Nikumbh of "Taare Zammen Par". With each name a different flavor has emerged to the character played by this actor. The movies may not have all succeeded phenomenally but the journey from Raghu Jetley to Rancho of 3 Idiots been rich varied and fulfilling. This then extends to the viewers who wait in anticipation for a new movie to release and a new character with a new name to emerge.
It is said that with “Six Degrees of Separation” one can connect anything or anyone. This was the muddled tattle about the nomenclatural title ruffling the cerebral neuron as I came out of the movie.