Over the past few years, a lot has been said about the big Bollywood debut. Alongside discussions of nepotism, there is a wide-ranging belief that the big Bollywood debut is reserved for a star kid. And the fact is that most of them are. There’s news that has cropped up regarding Suhana Khan and Khushi Kapoor making their debuts in a Zoya Akhtar movie. Suniel Shetty’s son, Ahan Shetty is getting a star-studded debut with Tadap opposite Gen Z favourite Tara Sutaria. There are even rumours that Shanaya Kapoor is getting a Dharma debut while the golden path has been laid out for Ibrahim Ali Khan to work as an Assistant Director in a Dharma movie. And these debut movies may not go on to make money but they ensure a straight path towards A-lister status. Janhvi Kapoor’s debut in Dhadak was panned by critics universally but she went ahead to get big films like Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl and Roohi. Sara Ali Khan made a moderately better debut with Kedarnath and followed it up with two back-to-back terrible performances in Simmba and Love Aaj Kal. At least Simmba made money so there’s that.
Ananya Panday’s debut film, Student of the Year 2 was trolled by almost everybody but she is still a sought-after actress who gets to act besides the likes of Deepika Padukone. The men have fared better in that regard. Actors like Ishaan Khatter, Siddhant Chaturvedi, Abhimanyu Dassani and Harsh Varrdhan Kapoor have made remarkable debuts. Ishaan Khatter made his debut with Majid Majidi’s Beyond The Clouds which earned him high praise. Abhimany Dassani made a fantastic debut with Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota which also sent out an important message. Harsh Varrdhan Kapoor’s debut film, Mirzya was a bomb but he made a strong comeback with performances in the critically acclaimed Bhavesh Joshi Superhero and Ak vs Ak. And, of course, Siddhant Chaturvedi had the debut of the decade in Gully Boy. Not since Student of the Year has anyone made such a brilliant debut and captured the imagination of an entire nation like he has. His position in Bollywood is well earned.
Then, there was the Salman Khan approved debut – Sooraj Pancholi and Aayush Sharma. Do we need to talk about how that has fared? Sooraj Pancholi hasn’t been seen in a film for donkey’s years and Aayush Sharma’s debut film is only known for the Dandiya hit, Chogada Tara. There were a few other debuts in the past few years that mostly went unnoticed. Meezaan, son of Javed Jafferi had a Sanjay Leela Bhansali approved debut with Malaal. He earned critical praise for his role but didn’t garner the mainstream popularity like his peers. Poonam Dhillon’s son, Anmol Thakeria Dhillon made his debut in yet another SLB project called Tuesdays & Fridays. It barely made news. Of course, before Siddhant Chaturvedi arrived, the biggest debuts of the previous generation were led by Sidharth Malhotra, Varun Dhawan and Alia Bhatt. These three actors became household names overnight. Alia and Varun went on to become big stars with Alia garnering praise for her acting prowess and Varun having a 100% success rate at the box office. Not until 2021’s Shershaah has Sidharth Malhotra been able to gain the kind of success he did with SOTY.
What does this prove? That while a flashy Dharma debut may earn you millions of Instagram followers and subsequent brand deals, they don’t guarantee respect. After a while, they also don’t guarantee movie roles unless you really prove yourself. A Varun Dhawan may not be an award-winning actor but he remains booked for his ability to act in the kind of inane comedies that people enjoy. Aditya Roy Kapur made a superb debut in Aashiqui and vanished completely. He enjoys mass attention due to his stunning good looks and delicious physique but nothing more than that. Sidharth Malhotra was facing a similar fate before Shershaah revived his career. Tiger Shroff doesn’t enjoy the massive fan attention that his rumoured partner and peer, Disha Patani enjoys but he has managed to deliver back-to-back box office hits barring the disaster that was SOTY 2. Take Ayushmann Khurrana and Ranveer Singh – the both of them had successful debuts in Vicky Donor and Band Baaja Baraat respectively. The lesson to take away, 11 years after their debuts is that one should play to their strengths. Both enjoy major Box Office success even though Ayushmann Khurrana has ushered in a new kind of content-based cinema. He remains the more respected actor out of the two.
A good debut and remarkable acting skills also don’t guarantee a successful career. And a bad debut doesn’t guarantee a swift death, either. When Imran Khan and Ranbir Kapoor made their Bollywood debuts, it was assumed that Ranbir would eat Imran alive. When Friday dawned, everyone realised that that wasn’t the case. Imran Khan was widely praised for Jaane Tu…Ya Jaane Na while Sawaariyan was a dud. For a while, the two of them enjoyed equal success. While Ranbir played it safe with quintessential chocolate boy roles, Imran was more experimental. Today, Imran Khan has quit acting altogether after multiple failed experiments while Ranbir Kapoor is one of the most sought-after actors in the industry.
The debut of the millennium, of course, belongs to Hrithik Roshan. Hrithik’s debut with Kaho Na Pyaar Hai caused a frenzy. The media even had a term for it – Hrithik Mania. He won all the awards that year and 20 years later, is still one of the biggest stars in the Hindi cinema circuit.
While things weren’t remarkably different before the 2000s, they weren’t as flashy and skin-deep either. Out of Bollywood’s top Khans, only Aamir Khan had the quintessential big Bollywood debut in 1988 with Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak. But that was a genuinely good film and a massive cultural reset. Salman Khan had a non-descript debut with Biwi Ho Toh Aisi but followed it up with the super successful Maine Pyaar Kiya in 1989. Bollywood’s biggest success story, Shah Rukh Khan, rose to fame after successful TV ventures like Circus and Fauji. King Khan never had a big Bollywood debut but look at him now.
In the age of social media, producers and directors are more comfortable with star-kid debuts simply because of the massive social media following they command. Hence, while the directors and producers know that they are setting themselves up for trolling by launching a star kid, they also know that’s a less risky venture because that star kid will guarantee a decent release. Does this destroy cinema as we know it? The only correct answer is ‘yes, it does’. But if the audience wants better movies, they need to support talented aspiring actors with as much josh as they troll star kids. Only then will we see a change in the big Bollywood debut.