Are comebacks in Bollywood really go-backs?

There has not been a single comeback actress - barring Kajol – who has managed to retrieve even a modicum of the fame that once belonged to them

Are comebacks in Bollywood really go-backs?

Monojit Lahiri

First things first. Nostalgia can be a funny thing and can play weird tricks in one’s mind. Most of this can be disturbingly misleading with a massive difference between the imagined and real. Stuff that you once loved in your formative years – the films, stars, songs, books, places, food, even people and the associations that coloured them – can and do suffer badly when subjected to a brutal reality check in later years. While music, (mostly) does stand the test of time, the other stuff (mostly) appears hopefully dated. In these nano-second, digitalized age, sepia printed objects are no longer objects of desire, but objects that are gently pushed into the mind’s museum, taken out only when nostalgia and sentimental moments come knocking. Otherwise, they look like images from another century – in style and substance – and any resemblance to new-age movies can be an embarrassing coincidence! In this context, many heroines, braving all odds, seem determined to make comebacks after a sabbatical. Has it, can it, does it, will it work?

History decrees a resounding ...No! There has not been a single comeback actress - barring Kajol – who has managed to retrieve even a modicum of the fame that once belonged to them. and the reason is not hard to locate. In India, mass entertainment means movies; movies mean Bollywood; Bollywood means stars, glamour, dashing heroes, sexy heroines, romance, music, exquisite locale melodrama – all in dramatic, hi-pitched, feel-good fashion, forever keeping the wilful suspension of disbelief factor, centre-stage. In this scenario, young, glam, sexy and single are the four must-follow commandments from the powers that are- the audience. Single, because a la-la-la between a married heroine and a hero [married or not] is just not on. For this lot, conditions apply and there is a well defined LOC between them and the audiences. In the chauvinistic times we live in, with B-town being a lead player, these creatures, post-mangalsutra, are taboo for lead roles, where passion and romance come into play. Youth, driven by energy, sex appeal, glamour and beauty is the name of the game.

It is precisely this factor that road-blocked yesterday’s gorgeous queen of the silver screens, Madhuri Dixit’s comeback venture Aaja Nach Le. Despite a Yash Raj offering, no one danced to the once sizzler’s tune. Her other offering too didn’t make the expected waves. The same fact devoured Karishma, Juhi, Preeti Zinta, Raveena Tandon, even Sridevi relating to her TV serials. Smart, author-backed, age-appropriate roles [English Vinglish & Mom] saved her and Rani [Mardani & Hichki] but their aura was nowhere near what it once was [Chandni, Mr. India, Chaalbaaz, KKHT, Veer Zara Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna].

In the men’s space, two outstanding examples of desperately-seeking-comebacks are yesteryears stars Govinda and Sunny Deol. Govinda ruled the early nineties with his sexy, racy comedies where his sadak-chaap body language and jhatka-driven songs drove his fans nuts. Raja Babu, Haseena Maan Jayegi, Dulhe Raja, Coolie No.1, Hero No.1, Sajan Chale Sasural, Bade Miya, Chhote Miya [where he completely outclassed the Big B], Govinda could do no wrong for the front-benchers, ready with their ceetees and screaming to a zillion repeats of ankhiyo se goli maare!

Sunny Deol too rocked the charts with his He-man/macho roles, outstanding of which were Arjun, Ghayal, Damini and of course Gadar. There were scores of others too but the Khans [read SRK] completely wiped him off with his astonishing versatility. From a chilling villain in Darr, Baazigar & Anjaam to the Badshah of romance in KKHH and definitive DDLJ, song, dance, comedy, drama, action, Sharukh was unstoppable.

Aamir & Salman too weighed in with their power-packed USP’s and the new-age audiences totally dismissed the corny & predictable capers of Govinda and the very limited range of Sunny to collectively fall in love with this tantalising trio. Along the way, killers like Ranveer, Ranbir and gifted actors like Ayushman, Raj Kumar Rao & Vicky Kaushal joined the party and didn’t make life any easier for the Gone-Guys! Sadly, both Govinda & Sunny, once so loved & sought after, refused to read the writing on the wall and insist on making embarrassing comeback films which echo the classic line : Pehla din, ticket nahi mila. Doosra din picture nahi mila!!

It is in this very backdrop that Shilpa Shetty has attempted a comeback. After a 14 year banvaas [her last film was easily the one with her best performance, Anurag Basu’s ensemble venture, Life in a Metro] she returned with a frivolous, racy comedy Hungama 2 which, by all reports, has hardly lived up to its name, for her or the franchise. She’s reportedly signed for a couple of other films and a web series too. In all truth, unlike other heroines, she kept herself in the public eye with her popular health & wellness videos, IPL franchise, TCV’s special appearances as Reality Show judge etc. However, in all truth too, her claim to fame does not exactly reside in memorable acting performances, but the iconic jhatka-driven evergreen song with Akshay Kumar in Tu Khiladi ... Chura ke dil mera ...! Not in a single film [except Dhadkan] did she do anything worth remembering, totally overshadowed by the likes of Kajol, Karishma and Raveena. It was as Celebrity Big Brothers winner – a global show – that briefly made her a dazzling headliner and got her fame and a super rich hubby!

So, why is she back? Will she succeed in her second innings or is she a closet masochist?! Being smart and sharp, the Shetty babe is surely aware of the ground realities of 2021, in terms of what she can/can’t do in this new Bollywood, where the likes of actor-stars like Deepika & Alia Bhatt dazzle. If she’s here to have fun, indulge in some familiar time-pass as eye-candy, a consumer perishable, popcorn for the eyes, it’s cool.

However, if she’s looking for something like Life in a Metro, then she must be super selective and discriminating with scripts, roles, directors. She must also be aware that no one ever took her seriously as an A-lister, even in her heydays, so that expectation can be safely dismissed and re-invention mode be seriously examined and pursued if she genuinely wishes to be more than just an interesting curiosity. So, the final decision is hers: Does she want to define her comeback with a whole new, modern and updated spin to her chart-buster, beyond her jig with Meezaan, proving to gen X, Buddhi hogi teri Ma! Or is she just having fun? But at present, Shilpa’s biggest concern however is way beyond her starry pursuits.

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