Dilip Kumar was the tragedy king while Dev Anand was the debonair and Raj Kapoor came to be labelled as the romantic showman.
The image of a star was a big issue and consideration while casting for a film. Just about every male and female star had a particular image to fit into a role in which the viewer preferred to watch and accept them, so the makers cast his stars accordingly. The casting was all about the image of the star.
The trade, the media and the fans dubbed the stars accordingly. Dilip Kumar was the tragedy king while Dev Anand was the debonair and Raj Kapoor came to be labelled as the romantic showman. Rajendra Kumar was named Jubilee Kumar, Jeetendra was Jumping Jack while Rajesh Khanna was the heartthrob and Dharmendra was He-man or Garam Dharam.
Similar sobriquets were also awarded to the female artistes.
That was an era when these titles were awarded usually based on the liking of the fans of stars. And the fans appreciated their favourites playing similar roles film after film. Sadly, for the makers, when a hero was cast against his image, there was risk of rejection of the film. Hence, the makers and the stars tried to comply.
The stars did not really mind getting out of a set image but it involved big money and the filmmaker did not dare risk casting a star against his/her image. At times, he would do it with his female star but not the hero, for he was the draw.
There were two type of male stars: the romantic heroes and the action heroes. The romantic hero could also fit into a family social because a lot of love stories in those days were interwoven with family drama. However, most of these romantic heroes were not accepted in out-and-out action movies. Many stars remained trapped in their set image and could not break the barrier.
Along with Mumbai, the South Indian filmmakers made mainly such family dramas, and Rajendra Kumar was their favourite earlier. Later, Jeetendra took his place. South films helped revive his almost finished career. The other South favourite was Anil Kapoor. Such heroes were not readily accepted in the action movie except when action came in the climax, as a part of their being the male lead.
For romantic heroes, it was a one-way journey. They lasted for a while playing the same loverboy with no way to crossover. Rajesh Khanna fitted a sort of mature love story while Rishi Kapoor was launched as a teenage lover where the age factor came into play soon. He had to play the second fiddle and, after a break, start taking up character roles.
Presently, Shah Rukh Khan faces the same problem. Having played a loverboy all along, he tried to go for variety with films like “Ra.One”, “Fan”, “Zero” and so on without success, and looking at his recent films, his romantic films are also not doing well. Now, even if he takes a break, he does not possess the personality to play character roles.
Aamir Khan probably foresaw the aging problem and, from playing a romantic hero, he changed tracks with a nonconventional film in 2001 with “Lagaan”. He continues to come up with different themes, which may suit his age.
For action heroes like Dharmendra and Amitabh Bachchan, it was an easy transition into playing romantic roles. Basically because in their time, action films did not really depict violence in any form. For example, Dharmendra was dubbed He-man after his bare-bodied appearance in “Phool Aur Patthar” (1966), but the film hardly had any action. However, the image was set — that of a he-man. If one looks up his record, he did some action films but he is more loved for his romantic, comedy and social films.
The same applies for Amitabh Bachchan. For him it was easy to come out of action mode, or the Angry Young Man image after his initial forays, “Saat Hindustani”, “Namak Haraam”, “Zanjeer” and “Deewaar”. His more memorable films remain the ones where he plays a hero catering to the the family audience. The time to play the anti-establishment crusader was gone.
People loved Bachchan more and remember him for his romantic or comic roles in films like “Anand”, “Abhimaan”, “Chupke Chupke”, “Silsila”, “Kabhi Kabhie”, “Amar Akbar Anthony”, “Naseeb”, “Dostana”, “Muqaddar Ka Sikandar”, “Satte Pe Satta”, “Bade Miyan Chote Miyan” or even a family drama like “Baghban”! Now there are no image ties for him. He may do a “102 Not Out”, “Bhootnath” or even “Piku”.
Talking of image, it may sound strange but scandals and criminality never harmed any star’s image! They sort of elevated a star’s standing in the public! They earned a ‘Bechara’ tag. The two prime examples are Sanjay Dutt and Salman Khan. Sanjay Dutt was jailed while Salman Khan has cases running against him. Nowhere has that affected their films.
Also, Vinod Khanna and Shatrughan Sinha, both started off as villains but their transition to positive roles was welcomed by the viewers.
Nowadays, films are not defined according to genres and an actor doing a variety of roles is appreciated. Of the established actors, Akshay Kumar and Ajay Devgn have taken to doing this. Among the newer lot, almost all heroes like Ayushmann Khurrana, Ranveer Singh, Rajkummar Rao, and Vicky Kaushal try different kinds of roles.
Life is much easy for the new breed of actors. The image bindings are a thing of the past.