“The look – shock, surprise, delight, disbelief – on Ben Affleck’s face when he heard he’d won Best Director for ARGO at Thursday’s Critics Choice Awards on the CW network was priceless,” writes Boston Globe’s Stephen Schaefer. Though he may not have shown it, Affleck’s other dominant emotion was most likely relief. Winning the Golden Globe for Best Director has won him what he needed most as an aging male star: twenty more years on the Hollywood A-list.
Moving behind the camera is now a staple career move for male actors in Hollywood, and for a number of different reasons. Clint Eastwood used the director’s chair to make that quantum leap from box office success to cinematic legend, to leave behind his one-dimensional though wildly successful Dirty Harry image.
He is no longer the one-dimensional action hero but a serious and important moviemaker in the same league as Oliver Stone. Self-directed movies like Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby also earned him the two Oscar nominations for Best Actor.
Ben Affleck is likely aiming for the same trajectory, hoping that his directorial chops — which he first exercised to critical acclaim in Gone Baby Gone — will save him from that dreaded fate, ie. being defined forever as Matt Damon’s less successful bro.
Of course, not everyone can do an Eastwood. Remember Eddie Murphy and Harlem Nights? I thought not! But it remains a powerful ace that male actors can always play when those crow’s feet are far too deep to ignore even in a man. (The glaring exception, of course, is George Clooney who seems to be enjoying a long second wind as a silver fox — and primarily directs movies like Ides of March to satisfy his inner politics junkie.)
If in Hollywood turning director has become a form of career triage, the big question is this: Why don’t Bollywood actors follow suit? Even Amitabh Bachchan, the man who has reinvented himself over and again in a wide array incarnations, has never taken that ultimate step. He’s done everything but: turned into an advertising mega-brand, conquered television, dabbled with singing, experimented with every kind of movie, be it art-house or kiddie flicks. He has the knowledge, intelligence and confidence to make the move. So why not just do it?
This coyness is especially puzzling in an industry that boasts a rich tradition of highly successful actor-directors — Guru Dutt, Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand. Men who went behind the camera to attain a legendary status denied to even highly successful stars like, say, a Rajesh Khanna. Movie stars outside Mumbai have shown greater ambition and chutzpah. Tollywood has given us a Uttam Kumar — who didn’t quite become a star director — but also that truly rare creature, the actress-director Aparna Sen. Kamal Hassan has a well-earned reputation as a director to match his acting resume — though if the much-touted and over-budget Vishwaroopam sinks, so may his career as a filmmaker.
In Bollywood, however, stars instead prefer to establish production companies, primarily as an alternative form of revenue, or, as in the case of SRK, to finance overpriced duds like Ra. One. The only real contender for a George Clooney in Bollywood is Aamir Khan who has used his producer clout to back off-beat projects like Peepli Live and Delhi Belly. He also has a reputation for ghost-directing his projects, be it as an actor or producer, and is the only one of the current crop to direct a movie, when he stepped in to replace Amol Gupte in Taare Zameen Par. He’s recently been making noises about returning to the director’s chair. And if he does, it will be with the single-minded passion and dedication of a Guru Dutt or Raj Kapoor.
There may be hope for Bollywood yet.