Young bloods vie to be Bollywood's next leading men

India's Hindi-language film industry is on the hunt for new male superstars as its current crop matures into middle age, sparking a battle among well-connected young bloods to be their successors.
Bollywood has a reputation as a star-driven industry, with studios relying on big names like the three unrelated Khans -- Shah Rukh, Aamir and Salman -- or Akshay Kumar to pack theatres.

But with all four now into their 40s, hearthrob actor Hrithik Roshan, 35, easing back and the industry's elder statesman Amitabh Bachchan well into his 60s, a vacuum has been left for credible action heroes and romantic leads.
Neil Nitin Mukesh, 27, is one actor aiming for the top. His first film, "Johnny Gaddaar," did poorly at the box office last year but was well-received by critics and did well in the increasingly-lucrative DVD market.
His next film "Aa Dekhen Zara" (Come, Let's See) is out at the end of March and sees him star alongside Bollywood beauty Bipasha Basu. He already has two other films in the pipeline.
Mukesh, whose grandfather sang Bollywood soundtracks, is one of a number of well-connected actors now vying for pole position in the 2.1-billion-dollar Indian film industry.
Among those making waves are Ranbir Kapoor -- the 26-year-old grandson of Bollywood legend Raj Kapoor and cousin of actress Kareena -- and his namesake Shahid, 28, whose parents were also actors.
Also in the frame are Emraan Hashmi, 29, nephew of leading film director Mahesh Bhatt, and Abhay Deol, 32, recently seen in "Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!" and whose uncle was Indian film strongman Dharmendra.
But despite their impeccable connections, Mukesh still says it is only hard work that takes you to the top, while others say it is now a lot tougher to become a megastar.
"One cannot become a superstar overnight here. Nobody in the industry was born a superstar. They came here and worked hard to become one," he said.
"Take Shah Rukh Khan. He came here 18 years ago and worked hard, besides being a good actor. He deserves to be a superstar. For me or any of my contemporaries we have all just started. It will take time to reach his level."
Director Karan Johar agrees. "We have many heroes in their 20s who still have the potential to reach the top but they have to be supported with the right kind of films and that has still not come yet.
"But I am hopeful it will come soon. The good thing that is happening to the industry is this recession phase at the moment. This will lead to young talent coming into the industry, not just with actors but writers and directors too."
For actor Kunal Khemu -- a Bollywood child star who appeared with Aamir Khan in the 1993 film "Hum Hain Rahin Pyaar Ke" (On The Path Of Love) -- becoming the next big thing is increasingly difficult.
Even in the 1990s movies were one of the few forms of entertainment for Indians, said Khemu, who has recently starred in films like "Traffic Signal" and "Dhol" (Drum).
But the landscape has changed with the expansion of satellite and cable television, the Internet and other leisure activities, making it harder to get noticed, the 25-year-old said.
"Moreover there are too many actors in the market so it takes time for people to register and realise the good work and choose their favourite actor to make him a superstar," he added.
"It is just like a product. It takes time for any brand to get people accustomed. The same is the case with actors."
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Saturday, March 14th 2009
Shail Kumar Singh

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