05 August, 2021

Astronomical Figures

Bollywood stardom has always seemed head-swivellingly divine. Actually, such romantic personas are shaped by reality, chance and calculation.

Astronomical Figures
It was the 1920s. The reigning superstar of the day had a salary higher than the Governor of Bombay—5,000 rupees a month—a Chevrolet and a sensational off-screen romance with a co-star. The star’s name was Sulochana. Until the early '30s, the biggest stars of Indian films were women—Sulochana, Devika Rani, Fearless Nadia, Patience Cooper. The stuff that mattered in movies, from stunts to social conflict to romance, was propelled by the heroine—as was a movie's success. So the female lead was all studios cared about. In 1931, Filmland magazine complained: "Producers think that if the female artistes are not good, people will curse them and so they do not care so much about male actors. They are in the wrong. Heroes should be as befitting as heroines."

With the coming of talkies, heroes had their say with a lasting finality. From then, through the history of independent India, never again has a woman been a superstar. What does that say about us — that we, the people, prefer women to be seen and not heard? Whom we do not...

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