In Bradley Cooper's upcoming movie A Star is Born, Hollywood gives an age-old tale a millennial spin

Gautam Chintamani

Feb,04 2018 11:58:20 IST

As we get ready for a fourth coming of the classic Hollywood saga A Star is Born, there might not be anything that comes close to A Star is Born when it comes to stories that Hollywood repeats many times over. The previous accounts include a 1937 Fredric March-Janet Gaynor version, the 1954 George Cukor musical version featuring Judy Garland and James Mason, and finally the Barbra Streisand-Kris Kristofferson front lined one in 1976. Although it’s rare for a template as oft-repeated as A Star is Born to throw up something new, this time there's not one but two first-times associated with the film; this version marks the directing debut of Bradley Cooper, who also plays the male lead, and the big screen acting debut of a certain Stefani Germanotta, better known as Lady Gaga, who plays the titular ‘star.’

Among things associated with A Star is Born, the one that stands apart is how, almost like clockwork, the template gets ready to be re-imagined ever so often. In fact there is a popular adage in Hollywood that forms the film’s basic kernel - a young woman is noticed by a top star who mentors her and they fall in love, but she becomes more popular and he can’t take this so he dies or walks away, and she carries on but somewhere loses her identity and becomes a flag bearer of his talent – is just the thing that could probably best define Hollywood. This is the reason that makes this romantic tragedy a go-to project. Such is the fascination for this tale of fame, success, love, and loss that even before the first A Star is Born there was What Price Hollywood? (1932) where the theme was first explored but from a slightly different perspective – a rising actress had to choose between an alcoholic filmmaker and a puritanical husband.

The universal appeal of the basic premise of A Star is Born has been most famously interpreted by Hindi cinema in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Abhimaan (1973) where a much-established singer Subir Kumar (Amitabh Bachchan) marries Uma (Jaya Bhaduri), the daughter of a classical singer (AK Hangal), and when they sing at their wedding reception everyone notices that the wife is a diamond in the dust. She gets offers to sing, and although she is reluctant, Subir is gung-ho about the prospect and pushes her to take the plunge. Her soaring popularity sees Subir lose interest in work, take up drinking, and the two become distant. When Uma offers to quit, Subir is enraged and things only get worse. While Abhimaan was reminiscent of A Star is Born, there was a notion that it was actually inspired by the real-life marriage of Kishore Kumar (noticed the protagonist’s name ‘Subir’) and his first actress-singer wife, Ruma Ghosh.

The film was initially titled called Raag-Raagini, and one urban legend also suggests that Pandit Ravi Shankar and Annapurna Devi’s rocky marriage, where Pandit ji didn’t allow Annapurna Devi to perform in public as she was far more gifted, could be the inspiration for Abhimaan. Somewhere the audiences also drew parallels between the films and the onscreen couple’s off-screen life – Bachchan was just starting his ascent to stardom while Bhaduri was a well-established star and her leaving films post-marriage only fueled the speculation.

When it comes to influencing Hindi cinema, What Price Hollywood? seems to be an equally enticing inspiration. One can see the traces of A Star is Born in Mahesh Bhatt’s Awaargi (1990) where Azad (Anil Kapoor) is small-time goon who not only saves a prostitute Meena (Meenakshi Sheshadri) but also helps her fulfill her dream of being a famous singer. Azad urges a music director, Dhiren (Govinda), to aid Meena and sacrifices his love for her. Later Meena has to choose between Azad and Dhiren. A few years after Awaargi, Ram Gopal Varma’s Rangeela (1995), too, followed the same structure, but instead of a singer made the female lead an actress.

While talking about the enduring appeal of A Star is Born, Barbra Streisand said that the hook “seems to work every 20 years.” The 2018 version has been in the reckoning for a while with stars such as Will Smith and Whitney Houston being approached in 1998. Later Houston was dropped in favor of Jenifer Lopez post-Out of Sight. Then Smith briefly made way for Jamie Foxx, and by end of 2010s Russell Crowe and Beyoncé became frontrunners. Finally when Clint Eastwood was attached to direct, Leonardo DiCaprio entered the picture, and after a while Tom Cruise showed interest.

It wouldn’t be incorrect to say that Hollywood is always thinking of A Star is Born! Another reason for the appeal could be the prospect of an Oscar for either of the roles, and in that aspect both Crowe and Cruise seem to be the perfect options to play the immensely challenging chauvinistic male superstar desperate enough to try and control his ticket back to glory days. It’s also a film that becomes about the leading lady with each passing moment, and in an industry where parts for young women were rarely so well etched, A Star is Born is also a dream role for younger actresses. The industry is abuzz with Lady Gaga packing in an Oscar-worthy performance and the studio shifting its release to May 2018 reveals that Hollywood is more than confident that “one of the grandest heartbreak dramas that has drenched the screen in years” is now ready for the millennials.

Updated Date: Feb 04, 2018 11:58 AM