Beta Tom's a desi superstar!
The only Hollywood actor whose career mirrors Bollywood's top heroes
As anyone who's ever taken a selfie will tell you, the camera angled at around 180 degrees below the chin, held with hand, or selfie-stick, produces possibly your worst self-portrait. That's really where the camera is positioned, you notice, as Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), pretending to be the villain, holds a meeting in a Parisian dome in Mission Impossible: Fallout.
Even from that unflattering POV, with no signs of a double-chin, Cruise looks as good as the rest of his incredibly shot, latest film does, in top angle, which isn't just the most preferred selfie-position, by the way. For nothing in movies, I repeat, nothing, appears as majestic as simply an aerial shot, steeply pointing downwards, on an IMAX screen — not even a tracking shot on high-speed motion at eye-level, which is almost just as exhilarating.
MI: Fallout combines both, on a gigantic canvas, reaching its crescendo with the stellar helicopter-chase set in Kashmir, even as the movie, best action film I've seen in years (perhaps since Casino Royale, or for all you know, post Rogue Nation, the last MI instalment, itself) plays out like an indoor concert with thumping, percussion background score, ensuring the energy never saps, not even for a second.
And yet, what you can't take your eyes off is Tom Cruise — frozen in time, with the world waiting for him to save it again. Fallout might well be the most watched movie for a super-star, rather than super-heroes in it. Does that make Cruise the lone, longest surviving, old-world, movie-hero type? Could be. What gets him cruising toward box-office gold on his sharp shoulders alone? Besides that he's always been mindful of a global audience, displayed through multiple settings in his movies (cutting across borders, or even a role for Anil Kapoor, in Ghost Protocol)?
Is there a formula? Apparently there is — according to a detailed study (on Rotten Tomatoes), which establishes a direct correlation between how much Cruise runs (literally sprints) away from clear and present danger in a movie (calculated on an imagined pedometer), and how well his movies run in theatres thereafter! Cruise's Twitter bio reads: "Running in movies since 1981." Read that again: 1981! And, no, he's not been literally running ever since. He didn't have to.
Now they don't make 'em like him anymore, right? Well they don't need to. He already exists. What Cruise's eternal success, through acting in films — one of the most public professions ever — instantly defies is the marketing credo that the world belongs to the young. It doesn't. The young simply share it with others, who regardless of age, they coexist/compete with. No one makes way for the other. Is being older a disadvantage? If you're 56, like Cruise, only two years short of retirement age at many jobs, you are made to believe so.
Cruise's fans, that I was surrounded with in my theatre, seem to progressively love him more. Nostalgia is hard to beat anyway. But this one's harder still. During most of his career, if you lived in India (rather than under a rock), you would've considered Cruise as one of us. Desis always have. We still call a friend of ours, 'Bete Tom', because his mom said he looked like Tom Cruise. And he made his life's biggest mistake to tell us so, in high school.
And, no, my friend wasn't particularly short, with light skin, striking smile, and thick black hair — but many Indians, sometimes in their self-image, are. Which explains the poster of Cocktail or Top Gun on so many desi walls in the '90s, because we loved those films (perhaps), aspired to attract women like Cruise in those pictures (possibly), or Archie's Gallery, only curator of pop-culture merch back then, had a restricted catalogue for Hollywood posters (most likely). This sort of male connect only grows, with age (of the audience, that is).
As does the shelf-life of a romantic-lead for female fans, who distinctly remember that he once simply had them at hello (Jerry McGuire) — even as fewer stars could replace that magic later, given rom-com is a genre in danger of dying anyway. Could Hugh Grant make that shift from a charmer to action hero, still melting women alongside? Leonardo Di Caprio could, but he became the muse for much better directors, drifting towards better things.
At 50-plus, Cruise remains still that old-world super-star, beating villains to pulp, drawing on his trademark moves, advertising the fact that he performs his own stunts, starring opposite women over 20 years younger, holding on to an old audience, attracting the new with event films that are hard not to be curious about. Tell me who he reminds you of?
A full of pantheon of Bollywood's top heroes from the '90s, which Cruise himself could've been part of, given that he was approached to play the lead in Aditya Chopra's Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (1995), originally written as a story of a desi girl falling for a gora boy, that her father does not accept. I don't know how far the talks went. Think he missed his real chance!
Mayank Shekhar attempts to make sense of mass culture. He tweets @mayankw14 Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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