Rivalry be damned, actors today are far too secure in their space to look anxiously over their shoulder at what the other actors are doing. There was a time when the A-listers could never be friends, not really, not unless there was a photographer around to catch them smiling together.
Otherwise it was as impossible for the yesteryears’ superstars to be friends as it was for them to work together. Hence Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand, the reigning superstars of the 1950s had their own mutually exclusive fan clubs and fans. Raj and Dilip did come together for one film Andaz in 1949. But thereafter they refuse to work together again.
Raj invited Dilip Kumar to play the other hero in the film. Dilip refused. The role went to Rajendra Kumar who was known as the poor man’s Dilip Kumar. In the 1960s it was no better. The top stars Rajendra Kumar, Sunil Dutt, Manoj Kumar, Biswajeet, Raj Kumar, and Dharmendra hardly ever met let alone socialized together.
Recalls Dharmendra, “We were cordial to one another but not friends as such. All of us would pack up our respective shootings and rush home to be with the family. There was no non-stop partying back then. We met at film premieres, and that too rarely.” With the iconic actresses of the 1960s it was different. Waheeda Rehman, Sadhana, Vyjanthimala, Asha Parekh and Nanda were close friends and some of them remain close to this day.
Recalls Asha, “There was no rivalry or competition among us.None of us was replaceable. If a producer wanted Waheeda he went to her only. There was no Plan B. If they wanted me they came to me. We were all happy doing our own thing.” The atmosphere changed drastically in the 1970s when Rajesh Khanna’s superstardom decimated all competition.
One of the other leading actors of the 1970s told me, “Rajesh Khanna took over the market completely. All of us were struggling for survival. It was Rajesh Khanna all the way. There was no question of being friends with our colleagues. We were all strugglers fighting to get roles rejected by Kaka (Rajesh Khanna).”
Rajesh Khanna not only made sure he had no competition he also ensured the top heroines were at loggerheads. Sharmila Tagore and Mumtaz were vying to be cast opposite Khanna. Hema Malini and Zeenat Aman were vastly removed from one another in their screen image and the mutual friends that they had. And then came Sridevi and Madhuri Dixit. There was no love lost between the two divas.
When Amitabh Bachchan took over from Rajesh Khanna the atmosphere scarcely lightened. The fierce Bachchan-Shatrughan Sinha rivalry is well –known. Laughs Shatruji, “We were rivals, competitors. And when we worked together in Kala Patthar and Dostana I got more praise. Naturally, I was not considered a friend.”
The Khan superstars Shah Rukh, Salman and Aamir blow hot and blow cold about their relationship. But they never really felt comfortable amongst themselves.
All that has changed now. The new generation of actors and actresses are very comfortable in their own space. Kareena Kapoor is everyone’s favourite. Ranveer Singh and Arjun Kapoor hang out together. So does Varun Dhawan and Arjun. Parineeti is too much in awe of her cousin Priyanka Chopra to see her as a rival. Katrina Kaif adores Alia Bhatt and Sonam Kapoor-Jacqueline Fernandez have been friends for some years now. Deepika is very comfortable with Priyanka. And Ranbir fears no competition. “We all hang out together and we don’t worry about who’s doing which movie. All of us have enough work,” says Alia Bhatt happily.