Why India will love A Star is Born

Published: Oct 10, 2018, 06:04 IST | Mayank Shekhar

The 80-year-old script about fame, ego and self-destruction is probably as inherently desi as Hollywood can possibly get

Why India will love A Star is Born
Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in a still from A Star Is Born

Mayank ShekharNo, actor Bradley Cooper did not really pinch Mahesh Bhatt's script to make his directorial debut, A Star Is Born. The number of desis likening the trailer to Aashiqui 2 (2013) must infinitely amuse Warner Bros, the Hollywood studio opening the incredible musical in India this Friday.

Cooper probably hasn't seen Bollywood's sleeper, super-hit, with Aditya Roy Kapur looking rather well-kept for a self-destructive singer, going down the rabbit hole of alcoholism, while the stars of his wife (Shraddha Kapoor) are simultaneously on the rise. That film, produced by Bhatt, was a relatively schmaltzy version of Hrishikesh Mukherjee's Abhimaan (1973), with Amitabh Bachchan in the lead.

Which, in turn, was inspired/lifted from A Star Is Born — a script about relationship, male ego, fame, and subsequent devastation, that's been filmed thrice in Hollywood, already: 1937 (with Janet Gaynor, Fredrick March), 1954 (with Judy Garland, James Mason), 1976 (with Barbra Streisand, Kris Kristofferson). There appears to be complete consensus among film buffs that the latest A Star Is Born—with Lady Gaga, as a brunette, killing it with her first acting performance in a feature film—is by far the best.

Yup, Lady Gaga. According to a Vice.com report, "Cooper cast Gaga after seeing her perform (the song) La Vie en Rose at a charity event in 2006. He drove to her house in Malibu the next morning to test their chemistry. It's the same song [the drunk rock-star] Jackson Maine [played by Cooper] sees Ally [Gaga's character] perform at a drag club, setting their story [in the film] in motion."

Jackson is always Jackson Maine. Ally, on the other hand, is Ally alone. This, I suspect, is the first sign of fame, when people start calling you by your full name, deeming the individual as a character first; and a mortal, with flaws common to humans, much later. 'Dilip-Kumar', 'Amitavachan', Shah-rukh-khan', Karan-Johar', if you notice, in an Indian context, almost always get referred to as monosyllables.

Ally, a super-talented singer-songwriter, works in a restaurant kitchen; having reconciled to the fact that she will never really make it in showbiz, since the general feedback is that while "she sounds great, she doesn't look great". Her long nose exceeds her musical potential. Jackson Maine shows up in A Star Is Born as an established star, yes; but also someone who's already grappling with an incessant addiction to alcohol—a physical need that emotional love evidently cannot overcome. This is really what this story is about. Rather than simply of jealousy that might follow a wife-plus-protégé beating her mentor on the very path he introduced her to.

That sense of complete helplessness for a girlfriend/wife, who means so well—as does he—while their lives go downhill, regardless, is hard not to connect with. I noticed this looking at the number of people who, after the movie, messaged to say they'd cried buckets, and at least one friend left the hall, because she just couldn't bear the pain. I watched A Star Is Born with a bunch of Bollywood buffs a couple of weeks ago.

The film was still playing on their mind when I met some, almost a week later. This may have something to do with the fact that as a subject, and indeed a film, that is relatively so uninhibited with expressing deep emotions, A Star Is Born probably as inherently desi as Hollywood can possibly get. In the same way that James Cameron's Titanic (1997) remains the most loved 'Bollywood' film that America has ever produced.

The showbiz scene though is slightly different between the two industries. For one, rock-stars in the West, through the entire career, rarely, if ever, produce/create albums, beyond early two digits, max. Even the most prolific artistes would do about 10-15 albums in their lifetime, repeating their fans' favourite tracks in concert after concert, requiring them to progressively practice/rehearse less. As against at least a 100-plus albums, that pretty much all over-worked, mainstream Indian music composers churn out in their career.

I don't know if this is what makes seriously gifted rock-stars—with night-jobs, that is always more conducive to operate as functional addicts—slightly more prone toward drug/alcohol abuse. Hard to say. There's been a near pandemic through history, alright. Or maybe, artistes are just more sensitive to their emotional side, making them physically more vulnerable to substance use/abuse.

Cooper's Jackson Maine, totally washed up, almost like Nicolas Cage from Leaving Las Vegas (1995), appears more the latter. As does Cooper himself. I've interviewed him once (pardon the humble brag), on the sets of Hangover 3. But his best interview's got to be in the show, In The Actor's Studio, shot at his New York drama school, where he cries throughout. He can't believe he's there. They show an old clip of him asking a question to Sean Penn, when he was a second-year student, in the same hall/audience. With A Star Is Born, Cooper has more than done his alma mater proud.

Mayank Shekhar attempts to make sense of mass culture. He tweets @mayankw14 Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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