Thamizh Talkies: Markings of a legend
The writer is a former journalist who has worked in the film industry for several years and is passionate about movies, music and everything related to entertainment
I love watching cookery videos though I rarely cook. I love watching videos of elephants and tigers in the jungle, though I would never dare to go on a safari. I love to hear poetry in any language, no matter my unfamiliarity with the language. The more the unknown, the more exotic the listening experience becomes—with good subtitles of course! I guess this exploration of what one would not do in real life, is what makes the visual medium of storytelling so alluring. I love to watch actors (my heroes and heroines) do what I won’t or can’t do in my own life. They are what I aspire to be. A friend asked me one day to write down attributes which go into the making of a ‘star’. The very word, ‘star’, is not exclusive to cinema. Primarily, cinema is an art form, and one has to have the talent and passion for it, much like in any other art. A mere star will fade when the lights go off, whereas the one with abundant talent will shine on even after his or her lifetime. And even then, the measure of talent determines how long and how bright the talent can shine on. Those stars whose talent outshines their star status are whom we call ‘legends’.
The Indian film industry is a vast space that has had and still houses legendary luminaries who have shone their light and continue to shine on. Spelling out those names in the categories of directors, actors, producers and technicians will be a mere listing. But what perhaps is a point of interest for an analysis would be the question of what attributes make for a star. Listing those attributes will make us realise why we love whom we love. If what I see of the actor moves me in some way, then I will follow him or her. The ‘what’ will vary from person to person, but some attributes are universal. Today, those attributes that go into the making of a star begin with million-plus followers on social media. But there are those stars (actors, directors and technicians) who have also crossed the line from being mere celebrated icons to evergreen and much loved legends by their sheer longevity. They have a different set of attributes which made them stars in the first place. The one thing to primarily have is talent for the medium. This is what we call the grip over the craft of cinema. The other thing is to have the timing of success knock on his or her door. While the first attribute is self-honed, the second is a combination of many factors. Much like in life, cinema also hosts a serendipitous association with success. Who refers which actor, when does this happen, and to whom? These make all the difference to a well-timed super hit presence. But even for this reference, the actor must have basic talent or screen presence. Casting agents always look for that one special attribute that makes the actor stand out in front of the camera. Then comes the professional approach to work that the actor brings along.
I’m sure when you are reading the above, you are thinking of your favourite film icon with a warm smile as you recall your first fan moment for that icon. The actor who you follow for their views and film updates are also people whose real lives you wish to catch a glimpse of (I’ve always wondered how it would be if Ajith or Vijay were to tweet online without their fan clubs representing them). What about the pop musician whose latest album speaks to your soul, the director whose method and tips you ardently consume even if you don’t understand film terminology? And then, there are these social media stars today—the chefs, the mimics, the meme creators and opinion-makers—who are all mini-icons in their own right. But legends?
What goes into the making of these giants who have been around and still somehow stay relevant to the current times? Like an AR Rahman whose music in Dil Bechara is the second key reason for the film’s huge online opening. Like an Amitabh Bachchan whose daily tweets and Instagram posts make for an indulgent watch like you would indulge your grandfather at home. Or like the tweets of Kamal Haasan, who touches a whopping 61 years of being a legendary star on August 12, the day his first film, Kalathur Kannamma, released. Somewhere, such legends have also adapted to make themselves relevant to present-day pointers. But that unquantifiable, unknown non-trackable emotional connect with the audience which happens like magic… that is why an actor transforms from being just another star into an immortal, unforgettable legend. Now, that is a throne accorded to the very best.