The pre-climax sequence of the latest blockbuster Simmba has Ajay Devgn making an entry to save the protagonist Ranveer Singh. His entry is signature style, twirling scorpio, signature music and chanting. The moment the audience sees his shoes, the whole auditorium erupts. This was witnessed across the country. Then as the duo bash up the main villain, Singham stops Simmba and finishes the poor villain with a Singham slap. The audience responds to the character music, the get up and the slap. Its not for Ajay Devgn, its for Bajirao Singham. As the end credits roll we are introduced to Akshay Kumar as Veer Sooryavanshi promising to meet us soon. Welcome to the Rohit Shetty Cinematic Universe.
Today, the real stars are the characters. Globally, the biggest box office draws are characters namely Iron Man, Spiderman, James Bond, Batman, Deadpool, Superman, Black Panther and the latest Aquaman. Character driven franchises are the ones performing extremely well. Marvel and DC have their respective Universes. They have their set of characters who lead the films. They are the draw of these films not the actors who play them. Earlier Stars were bigger than the characters they played. With an ever-demanding audience, actors stopped sticking to an image and started experimenting with their roles, looks and genre of films. They broke their own stereotypes and did different cinema. While Ajay Devgn did Raid, Shivaay, Golmaal, Baadshaho and Drishyam – Bajirao Singham stayed in character, nothing changed. Similarly in Hollywood, Robert Downey Jr keeps experimenting with his roles but Iron Man/Tony Stark has stayed the same since the origin story. Stardom is about consistency and repetition. Just like a strong brand, You have to stay true to your intrinsic values. Hence, the associations with the actors decreased and associations with these characters increased. A brand which keeps experimenting cannot have a consistent demand or pull.
Hollywood has successfully transitioned from a star driven industry to character driven/franchise driven one.
Clearly character driven/franchise films dominate the global landscape. The reason for their success is pretty simple, they are very successful brands. They guarantee entertainment. Back home you may argue that the Khans, Kumar, Roshan and Devgn are going strong. The problem isn’t there going strong but are we creating the next line of Superstars? We are not as we cannot. The times have changed. These superstars are the last of the breed. Today, the audience expectations have changed. Ranbir Kapoor, Ranveer Singh, Raj Kumar Rao, Vicky Kaushal, Ayushman Khurana are loved for their acting chops rather than personalities or mannerisms. They don’t have a fixed image. They shift easily from white to grey to black. The audience looks forward to great performances and to be surprised by these actors.
When you have actors who don’t have images, how do you get those bumer openings?
You create successful characters and franchises. Dabaang, Singham, Simmba, Tiger (Salman) are huge franchises and can be argued that they might be bigger than the actors playing them in terms of box-office pull. We have to create more engaging characters and franchises. We have to invest more in them and create IP’s that can be actor agnostic. We saw a very small glimpse in Simmba of the potential it carries. Let’s go all out!