There's been a lot of hype about this new movie that's come out, called 'A Star Is Born.' Initially, I didn't pay much attention to the movie, because we've seen way too many renditions of the same story. But that was before I realized that this is actually the fourth remake of an evolving movie franchise. The first one came out in the 1930s, and there were remakes in the 50s and 70s, and now, our generation got its own version. Perhaps the story of the transient nature of fame ring true as a fundamental reality of life, and the student surpassing the teacher is something that never stops being complicated. The timeless story is getting enough buzz. Maybe there's going to be an acting Oscar for Gaga. Maybe a directing Oscar for Bradley Cooper. All that typical buzz, which seem well-deserved for the people involved in the making of this movie, but today I would like to talk about something outside of the universe of this franchise.
A video essay I saw on Youtube makes a point about how the character of the male star (played by Bradley Cooper in the most recent version) pointed out that when you put all movies together, it's the evolution of the male lead and female leads in relation to each other that shows how the same story would play out with the passage of time. The first female lead was a headstrong ingenue dreaming of making it big in Hollywood, the second an exceptionally talented young woman to whom fame just happens to by chance, the third a feminist rockstar, and the fourth, played by Lady Gaga, a woman insecure about her ability to 'sell' because of her unconventional looks in a world of Photoshop and 'Most Beautiful' lists and women being open about their imperfections and subsequent insecurities. All timely portrayals of women, but all somewhat politically incorrect for their times. When women were supposed to be subservient, we got the stubborn woman who got to dream. The 70s gave us girl power and Barbara Streisand's rebellious heroine. The 2010s gave us a fragile woman in a time when it's all about 'strong female character' and 'Miss Strong and Independent,' when acknowledging the role of a man in your life is almost taboo.
But it's the male protagonist's development which is the more politically correct one, and it's surprising how that development is what I found more compelling and thought provoking. Over the years, the male lead's ego seems to have grown less of a factor in his journey. Their growing irrelevance in the entertainment world in contrast to their partner's growing popularity has slowly become less of a factor in their eventual downfall and (spoiler alert) death. The 1930s hero just couldn't bear to be someone's husband and offed himself. The 1950s one was slowly broken by how the world that made him abandoned him in favor of new talent, showing a vulnerability that can't be tied only to masculine pride. The 1970s version was the self-destructive rockstar, and it is in this period when we see that how maybe its not external factors but internal demons that consume him, and his partner is the mere collateral damage in that process. Then we have Bradley Cooper, with his history of mental illness and his inherent goodness and weakness and efforts to fight the monster growing inside him but constantly failing. We now have a man who is not afraid to cry, unreluctant to share his darkest and most vulnerable self, and it is somewhat ironic that he is portrayed by a man that is the stuff of dreams of many women, something that would have been unimaginable in previous decades. This is no rebel without a cause. It is a human being with issues, and to humanize him further, there is an honest effort to heal and overcome, even if in the end, the efforts are in vain.
So we have the evolving characters, but there is one thing that remains unchanged. It is the bond shared between the man and a woman, and yes, its portrayal evolves with the passage of time, but does it really? You see, when we evaluate interpersonal relationships, we are bound to put them in the cultural context that we live in, but it is our naivety and not our intelligence that tells us that something that is politically incorrect is not real love. In previous generations, parents were not informed by parenting books and just went with the flow. They sometimes hit their kids, more usually boys. They didn't give special thought to the development of their children's self esteem. They may have been less acceepting of their gay kids. Does that necessarily mean they loved their children any less? Similarly, in older times, a lot of men were troubled if their wives had more professional success or power than them. Now, we think of those men as such losers, don't we? They're just the old-fashioned caricatures with their 'toxic masculinity' and 'male ego,' men who would scoff and spit at any talk of mansplaiing and manspreading. But do we stop to think that maybe they loved their partners too, maybe as much as men today? Do we consider that they too, like women, had pressures to be 'the man,' pressures that could be just as crippling as pressures to be 'the woman'?
Unfortunately, what doesn't evolve in this movie franchise is the ending. The male lead always dies in the end, emblematic of setting the woman free. And yes, Aashiqui 2 was a remake of the original A Star is Born, which is why this ending might feel familiar to you even if you haven't seen any of the movie. I am unsatisfied by this lack of evolution. In fact, I hate it. You see, if mankind in general evolves over time, so do people over the course of one lifetime, and if we weren't okay with a suicide in '13 Reasons Why' we shouldn't be okay with it here. It sounds cheesy when I say this, but I think for this franchise to grow, the next version actually needs a happy ending. You see, we may try to deny it, but a final death, a great sacrifice, these are dramatic gestures romanticized to the point where they don't convey the unfairness of life as much as a mythical dramatic end. But this is a talk about stars being born, and I think the ending needs to reflect the theme of 'life goes on' a little better. Maybe we see more fights, more relapses, more compromises towards the end, but I think this movie should end with the two characters committing to to give their relationship another chance. That is a messy story without a neat ending, and that is what the audience needs to see.
It's strange, but I think a Bollywood movie, Abhimaan, starring Amitach Bhachchan and Jaya Bachchan did this. It had the same story as A Star Is Born, but it's a lot messier. Amitabh's character is flawed to the point of being hard to like at points, and he goes so far as to have an sort-of affair in the movie. Even in the 21st century, a relationship challenged by an affair is hard to portray because it's ugly, it's messy, it's so goddamn human, and we, people who claim to be practical and sympathizing viewers, can sometimes not digest the inherent betrayal of such a gesture. There is some talk about how this may have been the real life story of the Bachchan couple, who at that point of time, may have struggled with Jaya Bachchan's respect and popularity when Amitabh was still growing as an artist, a gender role reversal difficult to digest at the time, and the alleged infidelties of one of the most respected artists in the industry. Or maybe that's just Bollywood gossip fed to me by my parents. Whatever it is, the movie ends with both Amitabh weakening one last time and in a moment of true humility, in a momoent completely unlike his 'angry young man' persona, genuinely apologizing to his wife and asking for a second chance. And no, his wife isn't the 'strong, independent female' here, refusing to take him back and walking away in slow motion. Instead, she gathers the strength to forgive somebody who loves her but has made mistakes. There's very little that takes the kind of courage that this kind of forgiveness takes, and this is what we need to see on screen the next time we see an ingenue and a megastar and how their roles shift.