People when told to see a particular film, the first question they will ask is “who is in it?” This is how a star is born. Because they cannot know how the film is, the least they can depend on making up their mind to see the film is the presence of a certain star.
The primary difference between a star and an actor is that the star is a personality. One prime example of this is Sharukh Khan. Whether he is in a commercial or doing a show or acting in a film or just being himself, he has the same charisma. From personal interactions that I had with him, I found him much more effective, entertaining and charming in person than in his umpteen blockbusters. On the other hand an actor is playing a character and it is the character which people connect to.
At an Awards function post Satya release when Manoj Bajpai came on stage people were screaming out Bhikku Bhai inspite of Sharukh’s presence which obviously thrilled Manoj. I cautioned Manoj after the event not to get carried away as he should realize that they are calling him by his character’s name and not his personal name. Sharukh by that time might have given 25 super hits but nobody remembers what his character’s name was in any of those films. That is the power of a star. Actors die along with their characters and stars live on.
Lot of people complain that Sharukh does the same kind of acting all the time meaning that he is repetitive. I believe it’s precisely because of that he is such a big star. In fact the moment anyone tries to make him do something other than being himself they will fail. Some examples being Paheli and Swades. I think it works like this on a psychological level. If you meet a person and you like him why the hell would you want him to change every time you meet him? At best you will want him to be in different situations and in different backgrounds or interacting with different people. But he himself should never change. The prime examples of this are Sharukh and Rajnikant. On the other hand when you are making a film which has a subject matter revolving around extremely believable characters, a star can become an impediment because he along with him gets his own baggage of image and expectations and this cuts into the believability of the film. For example, if John Abraham’s stardom is due to his deadly looks in Dhoom why spoil it by making a film like “No Smoking” with him. The Director might have gotten out a performance out of him and he also might have done very well but the question is whether people want to see him act or just look good. So conversely in a situation like this the very star who is supposed to pull the people in can become an excess baggage to the film.
When you go to a DVD store and look around at the choice of films, many times you will catch yourself picking up a film not so much for the stars but because you liked the title or the poster design or what is written in 3 or 4 lines on the back of the cover. So if who is in the film can be a pulling factor, what is it about also can be a pulling factor.
Phoonk belongs to this category. I cast everyone in Phoonk with the intention of making everyone sitting in the theatre to feel that it is his family or his neighbour’s family which is going through the proceedings.
It is common knowledge that many a time stars are signed by Directors not because they fit the characters but because the Distributors and trade pundits demand them. The tremendous opening of Phoonk all over the country proves that instead of Crores charging Mallika, Paresh etc you can pull audience with a 500 Rupees-per-shift charging crow also. I am taking this example because stars are what we put on the posters to attract crowds into theatres, and the star we put on the posters of Phoonk is the crow.