The other day I called my daughter to offer my condolences…her teenage icon Patrick Swayze was no more!
She too shared her grief with me as there was a time in her life when ‘Dirty Dancing’ was this huge feature of her life.
All of us have been through this teenage crush and adoration for a matinee idol or sportsmen. My idea of a super hero was George Peppard especially after reading and seeing him bring to life the main character (now that is forgotten!) in ‘Carpetbaggers’. For many of my friends it was Robert Redford. However, all of us thought that Clark Gable was truly romantic even though he was more my mother’s generation. ‘Gone With the Wind’ was a magnificent movie and everybody thought that Scarlet was a fool to idolize wimpy Ashley Wilkes when she had Rhett Butler eating out of her hand!
We were the ‘English’ film crazy generation. Sivaji Ganesan and Gemini Ganesan pictures were seen without any idolization. Muthuraman did cause a few hearts to flutter. In Hindi films Dilip Kumar was always intense and serious while Shammi Kapoor rocked with his nautanki, song and dance routine. Biswajit acted in so many films but none in my circle really hero worshipped him. Dev Anand and Sashi Kapoor made a huge impact as Indian polished versions of Hollywood’s heroes. Today Dev is a caricature; Shammi has taken on the holyman mantle while the debonair Shashi has disappeared into a mass of flesh.
In the late sixties, when I was a teacher in a college in Mumbai, I saw mass adulation from teenagers and the focus of their worship was Rajesh Khanna. In fact I had a student who dressed, walked, talked and spoke like Khanna and was nicknamed RK! Soon Amitabh Bachhan appeared in his broody, comical, intense and flippant roles and just had every age group eating out of his hand. Even today he is an icon for many people because of the dignity with which he conducts himself. The Shah Rukh factor, the Aamir magnetism, the Hrithik Roshan phenomenon are ruling young minds. Newer celluloid heroes in India are being created a dime a dozen in all languages.
For the past month or so TV channels in Tamil Nadu have sickeningly gone on and on about Kamal Hassan that has left such a cloying taste in viewers minds. In the South the Rasigar Mandrams or fan clubs keep alive the phenomenon of Rajni and Kamal. Both are larger than life and their past and present private lives do not in any way dent or take away from their charisma. Second line heroes like Mohan and Karthik were chocolate box heroes and then a long line of stars have rapidly entered the fray. Today the young gen of girls are obsessed with Surya, Ajit and Chiyaan Vikram. Again many clones are trying like crabs to climb to the top.
The icons of cricket craze have been popularised and bolstered mainly by TV and print media. If they are not on the pitch they are to be seen in ads and their popularity goes way beyond the willow and ball. Sachin is the only role model who has sustained his allure with young children for many years. Dhoni and Co are there only as long as they perform just as Saurav, Rahul and Kumble have been retired into older has been icons.
Back to Hollywood there are so many heroes like Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt rule the roost. Performers with music as their main USP like the Beatles, Sinatra, Reeves, actor-singers held their own as contemporary icons just as Michael Jackson, Sting, Elton John and many other bands are more of modern icons than actors.
How many actors can you count as icons who have held sway for many years, capturing the imagination and adulation of different generations? I can think of only Amitabh Bachhan!!