Plenty of high wattage headlines from Bollywood all of last week indicated that all was well in showbiz; that trade and commerce are flourishing and despite the dismal monsoons, achche din are back again. Moving on from the acrimonious Preity Zinta-Ness Wadia quarrel, there was plenty to celebrate—King Khan or Badshah of Bollywood, whichever moniker you may choose, was honoured by the French government represented by the Minister for Foreign affairs Laurent Fabius; the highest civilian award—Knight of the Legion of Honour —was conferred upon him at an elegant ceremony at Mumbai’s famed Taj Mahal hotel (in Colaba) with numerous exhortations from the good minister to the superstar for using charming locales in France for filming his next project. And why not? After all, Khan was only recently declared the second richest actor in the world with fortune ($ 600 million estimated) substantial enough for a list of Hollywood and Bollywood’s wealthiest put together by celebrity website Wealth X. This, besides his major following in European nations, Germany in particular!
Interestingly, Bollywood’s best —Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan top the list—have been bestowed with top honours from around the world and with good reasons too. They are quite evidently, the most followed, admired and loved movie stars of our times, influencers and thought leaders, reigning supreme over the imagination of a billion and more and still counting.
Given their massive following, superstars obviously become a good focal starting point for efforts aimed at assimilating the multitudes of Asians (Indians and those with sub-continental origins) within multicultural western societies. What better way to do so, than honour their heroes? And then there is the whole prosaic theory related to trade and commerce. A whole clutch of nations and trade blocs are looking for ways to bolster their economy and those that have tourism as a major source of their national income, hope to harness Bollywood films for showcasing their tourism delights to the world.
However, commercial worth notwithstanding, not every Bollywood star makes the cut for top league international honours. The few that do, have to be exceptionally accomplished ( Khan just won himself Entertainer of Indian Cinema Award at the 8th Annual Vijay Awards) another with a worldwide following and an impressive enough cultural footprint, so to speak. That Khan is firmly entrenched in that hallowed league of extraordinary gentlemen from around the world is certainly a matter of great pride as also an indication that the gap between Hollywood and Bollywood is narrowing every day.
Theatre, that testing ground for actors, never fails to surprise you. Naseeruddin Shah, one of our finest acting talent in cinema, is even better on stage. His presence is mesmerising, his voice rising and falling conspiratorially, expressions changing, is a spectacle to behold. Well, another surprise revelation was Sonali Kulkarni, when I got to watch White Lily and the Knight Rider, a play in which she plays the lead. And don’t you let the name fool you—she is no wilting lily in this one! Kulkarni is a well-acknowledged actress with several award-winning films—The Good Road being one such-to her credit. And as is wont to happen with award winning actors, they assume the reputation of being grim as death, but not Kulkarni who is full of beans. Well, the play, about modern romance conducted through cyberspace, the situational comedy it makes for and its flipside was engaging for most part. But the most remarkable aspect of it was Kulkarni herself who stood out for her fine portrayal of an effusive, reaching 30 singleton and her adventurous pursuit of love. Among those rolling in the aisle with laughter was maverick television and film producer Ekta Kapoor. We will hardly be surprised if she has decided to sign up Kulkarni for her next laugh riot; watch this space for more on that one.