The New and Improved Leading Man (GQ)


“It’s hard to escape the logical conclusion: Movie stars just don’t matter anymore. Financially, sociologically, culturally, they’re either obsolete or doing a damn good job of pretending to be. Whether it’s because they stopped doing what movie stars are supposed to do or we stopped wanting them to do it, here we all are, apparently, in a post-movie-star universe in which the movies seem to be doing just fine without the presence of an entire category of people who have been, for the better part of the past century, the main reason a lot of people went to the movies. And we shouldn’t be surprised. If, in 2013, our primary allegiances are to genres and concepts and properties rather than to people, if our biggest modern movie stars are Batman and Bourne and Wolverine and James Bond, and if the most a flesh-and-blood actor can hope is to be chosen to serve as the temporary avatar for one of those characters, then what meaning can the term movie star possibly have?”


61 Responses to “The New and Improved Leading Man (GQ)”

  1. This article is quite relevant to a number of debates we’ve had on this blog…


  2. Thanks for the link, Q. Very interesting article. Some of the criteria can be applied to the Indian situation, but not all, and I think the difference has to do with the role of and the relationship to films that an Indian audience has versus an American audience.

    I wonder why he focused only on male stars; is there a part two in the offing focusing on female stars?


    • I think I’d add one more criterion. You’re a movie star when even people who don’t watch movies/your movies know who you are.


    • Re: “I wonder why he focused only on male stars; is there a part two in the offing focusing on female stars?”

      It’s interesting you should mention that. I first heard about this piece on a Slate podcast (the author was interviewed), and the host asked precisely this question. Harris’ response was that the Hollywood structure is so sexist, so “punitive” as far as women were concerned, there were so many restrictions on what women could or could not do, so many ways in which industry decisions were made by men and only keeping men in mind (i.e. “male taste” remains the default), and the audience’s relationship with female stars remained tied to youth and sexuality in a way it wasn’t for men; that he couldn’t just include women in his piece — female stardom meant something different, and would need a separate piece. Harris added that if he ever wrote that piece, it would be a “far grimmer” piece, that would make its readers “very angry” in a way this one wouldn’t.


      • Relevant discussions HERE (satyamshot) and HERE (on


        • Thanks for the links. I’ll have to check the NG discussion later, as the formatting and characters has gotten a bit messed up with time.


      • Yes, I am aware of all those factors (though I don’t think they apply universally to all female stars, which only makes the discussion more interesting). That’s why I wondered if there would be a companion piece on female stars. Despite the differences, there are also commonalities in what “makes” a star, whether male or female, and I would expect him to acknowledge that. But perhaps his own “male taste” is preventing him from realizing that? 🙂 Can anyone dispute that Meryl Streep and Sandra Bullock are stars, not to mention Helen Mirren and Judi Densch? And yet all are far from the flush of first youth.


      • The female lead in the true sense expired in Hollywood decades ago. Elizabeth Taylor probably marks this end in this industry’s history. otherwise it could be argued that for at least a few decades (the 30s and 40s) the female lead defined stardom in even more potent ways than any of the male figures, no matter how important, could.

        The aura of stars is certainly a thing of the past whether in Hollywood of in India. In this sense contemporary Southern masala attempts could be seen as trying to produce that which has vanished. Cinema is always minimally consumption but if it only becomes this there is no space for authentic aura left. Not that it is cinema itself that begins this suicide mission!

        Great read here. thanks for posting.


        • Completely agreed on Southern Masala. And notice how Bollywood completely fails to understand the meaning of ‘iconicity’ (and how iconicity is linked closely with its original cultural residence and loses its potency when you change the setting) when they make Salman do a Mahesh Babu remake (and even though both of them are pretty much non-actors Mahesh Babu seems irreplaceable in his films. And just to highlight the icon’s cultural link Mahesh dancing infront of Meenakshi temple in Arjun is not the same as say Salman doing it ). Or even worse when he does a Sethu. Not only is it a travesty otherwise but also the star-signature gets completely erased.


          • Hain ??????
            Satyam ( Mike Douglas) ..see what you have done to your Apprentice ( Sheen)………bilkul mirror copy bhai sahab…
            Vadde Vadde words, Vadde Vadde sentences, Vaddi Vaddi Theory and thoughts!!
            P.S.- the comment itself is kind of ironic, original original hota hai ….LOL
            P.P.S.- Bura na maano Holi Hai !


          • “P.S.- the comment itself is kind of ironic, original original hota hai ….LOL
            P.P.S.- Bura na maano Holi Hai !”-

            Haha! I wish I could copy Satyam though. That reminds me ki Holi ke samay Lucknow me kahawat kahi jaati hai (of course not directed at you, saying it in general)- “Miyaan bura mat maanana par aap khaase chu@#ye ho”-


          • Was talking about this dance number from Mahesh-Gunasekhar film


          • arrey – Awadh mein Tunne key kabob khaa kar bade bade tees mar khan Chutiya ban gaye..

            P.S.- had heard a lot about Surya..Rakht Charitra dekhi and was wondering – what was all the fuss about ?
            had heard a lot about Vikram- Raavan dekhi and was like WTF ?
            Chiranjeevi was a disaster in Gentleman…
            I do like Rajnee, Kamal, Naagaurjun, Maadhvan,The Rann Guy …etc.
            But thius constant South Masala is so much better than Hindi cinema is fucking getting on my nerves !!!


          • “But thius constant South Masala is so much better than Hindi cinema is fucking getting on my nerves !!!”-

            Not sure what made you think that I meant to say this.

            Anyway I am not going to carry on with this unnecessary piece of dialogue which then becomes a game of insulting each other (and I am not a gentleman like Satyam or GF so I kind of lose my cool a bit too easily). It’s more than evident that you don’t seem to think too highly of me to say the least (and it’s not just about the previous dialogue but there have been quite a few instances before as well). Not that I have a problem with this but I am not sure sure what is the purpose of interacting with those folks whom one doesn’t like. I think it’s best you ignore my comments (should be easy for you since according to you they are anyway attempts at imitation) in case you have a ‘personal’ issue with them (I for one have been doing the same for quite some time now). And if I did end up rubbing you the wrong way I apologise. That’s it from my side. You can carry on with it in case you wish to since you do enjoy a certain position of prestige here (again don’t have an issue, just pointing out what is amply clear). Cheers!

            P.S.- I am assuming you meant ‘tundey’ there. Would love to add a line there but would resist.


          • Saurabh, I suspect Rocky’s comment was directed at all those jo southern masala ke gun gaate hain (Satyam, me, others), not just you…


          • Q, quite frankly I am least bothered whether the comment was only directed at me or not. I am just not in a mood get into a discussion with a person who has such a low opinion of me (that’s fine by me. I continue to learn from those folks whom I do not usually interact with). To put it bluntly- tone for me is equal to content more often than not. And even otherwise I am trying to learn something from you and Munna Sir- how to avoid confrontations as much as possible. LOL.


          • Nahin baba, I have known rocky for years, and while it isn’t my place to interfere in yours and his discussion, he’s a great guy, our ideological disagreements not withstanding! Itna tension kaiku lene ka?


          • Saurabh sir aap toh bura maan gaye, sorry bhai….kaha tha na Holi hai !!!
            Q Bhai – aapney hamara Din bana diya….

            P.S.- Saurabh , Yes I did mean Tunday ke kaboob, I should know, My wife is from CDRI, and also I am planning a Sham E Avadh Party for which I have been collecting Pictures of famous places of Lucknow….


          • hahaha missed this one
            “But thius constant South Masala is so much better than Hindi cinema is fucking getting on my nerves !!!”
            🙂 good fun (and i agree partly)


  3. sanjana Says:

    Hollywood seems to have the same problems. They invented those weird characters and they have to live with them. While we have still flesh and blood normal if not somewhat stupid heroes and heroines. A fantasy world within a fantasy world.


  4. sanjana Says:

    Better to call them leading characters than leading men. Bond is different from Batman or Spiderman. Some are not supernatural but superheroes. Until they make Spiderwoman or female Bond, the discussion will concern only males.


    • There have already been Wonder Woman, Catwoman, and Lara Croft. 🙂


      • sanjana Says:

        But they are not as famous.


        • Yeah and the latter two have been recently adapted into downright awful movies…


          • The only comic book (or graphic novel) adaptation I can currently think of where females did not get a raw deal was Sin City. And compare it with something like an Elektra which was pathetic. Elektra is actually a very interesting character (atleast in the Kevin Smith written comics).


      • sanjana Says:

        If I am not wrong, it is always the males who lead and females follow to enact such roles. And thus the discussion is centred around males and somehow that also includes the female counterparts.


      • “There have already been Wonder Woman, Catwoman, and Lara Croft”–well pointed out sm–btw which of these is your favorite…


        • btw this reminds me sm–liked your piece on vishwaroopam–not sure where that is now though….
          couldnt see that film
          but –u did make some v pertinent points on ‘hey raam’—would be really good to read a proper piece on u on that film-since u seem to have ‘got’ that film (the way it was intended) imo—thanx


  5. This was a very engaging read, thanks Q.


  6. paapaas Says:

    What Shashi Tharoor or Anurag Kashyap do in their professional life is one thing- what they do on twitter is another thing. The whole point of movie stars in India or other wise is driven on the actions of an individual outside their professional sphere (films). Its about time the world got smarter and more realistic and stopped caring about an individual beyond his domain. The world doesn’t run on Bathing habits of Hindi film heriones or the tantrums famous people throw and media publishes. Star is surrounded by its planets. Its high time peole stopped being planets,comets,asteroids and the remaining debris.


  7. sanjana Says:

    Fortunately the movie star concept has not died in India. Atleast in Bollywood as I am not familiar with others as of now.. Except perhaps a Salman Khan doing the same routine with some differences in each of his movies. That maybe the reason that an Aamir Khan movie is most awaited and most bashed though in strictly business terms it may not bring boxoffice returns like a Salman movie. And that maybe the reason why a Vidya Balan’s movie is the most discussed one. This position was enjoyed by the female stars like Madhuri, Rani and even a Kareena Kapoor. And SRK springs surprises sometimes though his movies dont. And the mystery of the movie stars have lost the magic due to their accessibility through modern media tools. We know more about them than they know about themselves. And familiarity breeds contempt or less awe.


    • How is that fortunate?


      • You want me to say unfortunately??
        We still have no equivalent of all those batman, superman,spiderman to replace our very weak and normal heroes who sing and dance to hit numbers and we still have oldworld cinema in new formats. Movie stars are still treated like demi gods by many and the stars also condescend by behaving like one.


        • A masala hero can do everything what a Batman does and more so I am not sure if we really need a Batman.


        • Am I missing something or were you being sarcastic in the first comment and now taking that sarcasm forward?

          Is a Demi-god stature + mediocre guys being hailed for mediocrity is actually something you think is fortunate?


          • All are not mediocre. Some have proven their worth.


          • True, but at the end of the day, they are doing their jobs and we are paying for it. Apart from the deserved praise there’s no need of special attention or ridiculous hailing.

            I have never seen temples being built or paeans being read for Heart surgeons or Soldiers or even mothers..How is a guy getting millions of dollars for a less important work worthy of that.

            The whole stardom thing is as plastic and unwarranted as they come. Some people are beginning to realize that and in the time to come more will.


          • Those who worship plastic stars are as plastic in themselves. No sensible person will worship stars. They may admire. I want an equal relationship between the star and the admirer. But the stars have big egoes.


          • That’s not the point- Plastic or not, what they get for their work (money , awards, recognition etc) is a more than good deal.

            The stardom just escalates a person’s significance many folds to a level that they don’t deserve.


          • That is the magic of movie stardom. One cannot force a fan to not go overboard because the stars dont deserve it. It is such a voluntary thing that we have to shrug and move on.


          • Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.


  8. utkal Mohanty Says:

    The celebrities to be present at the masterclass are:

    Film personalities atending interaction session with Spielberg:

    1. Abhay Chopra

    2. Abhishek Kapoor

    3. Anurag Kashyap

    4. AR Murgadoss

    5. Ashutosh Gowarikar

    6. Ayaan Mukherjee

    7. R.Balki

    8. Bejoy Nambiar

    9. David Dhawan

    10. Farah Khan

    11. Gauri Shinde

    12. Habib Faisal

    13. Homi Adajania

    14. Indra Kumar

    15. Javed Akhtar

    16. Kabir Khan

    17. Kapil Chopra

    18. Karan Bhutani

    19. Karan Johar

    20. Karan Shah

    21. Kiran Rao

    22. Kunal Deshmukh

    23. Kunal Kohli

    24. Madhur Bhandarkar

    25. Mahesh Bhatt

    26. Milan Luthria

    27. Nagesh Kukunoor

    28. Nishikant Kamath

    29. Onir

    30. Priyadarshan

    31. Prabhudheva

    32. Prasoon Joshi

    33. Rahul Bhatt

    34. Rajkumar Gupta

    35. Rajshree Ohja

    36. Rajkumar Hirani

    37. Rakesh Roshan

    38. Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra

    39. Ramesh Sippy

    40. Ram Gopal Varma

    41. Reema Kagti

    42. Renzil D’Silva

    43. Rohan Sippy

    44. Rohit Dhawan

    45. Rohit Shetty

    46. Sajid Khan

    47. Sanjay Leela Bhansali

    48. Shimit Amin

    49. Shoojit Sircar

    50. Shyam Benegal

    51. Sriram Raghavan

    52. Subhash Ghai

    53. Sudhir Mishra

    54. Sujoy Ghosh

    55. Tigmanshu Dhulia

    56. Vikas Bahl

    57. Vikram Bhatt

    58. Zoya Akhtar

    59. Vikramaditya Motwane

    60. Vipul Shah

    61. Vishal Bhardwaj


  9. Rajeev Masand in conversation with Reema Kagti, Kalki Koechlin, Parineeti Chopra, Kiran Rao and Guneet Monga.


    • Reema Kagti made the most sense…. baaki sab hawai ghode par baithe hain…..


      • Rocky saahib, mujhe laga aap gadhon ki baat karenge…


      • i think all of them were 10 times more articulate than most of the 100 cr leading men. and i think they all made sense.
        and i have no problem with constant beating of bollywood the way it is today. if most people are happy with it’s shittiness, so be it. but i have every right to say i am not. i think kiran made a good point that there is no plan, which is a problem. lots of horribleness in hw too, but as she said, they support all kinds of films because cinema is their biggest cultural export.


        • ahaa…so Hollywood has a plan, that is why every one in Hollywood goes to Canada to shoot to get the tax breaks ?


        • Completely agreed Antya. Having said that Bollywood, from the beginning of the past decade or so, has started to make worthwhile films (the 90’s was the worst period in this sense). The thing is this- if we are complaining that Bollywood is not doing any thing good, it’s our moral responsibility to patronize a good Bollywood film when it comes. So a GoW should get as much support as possible even if people find flaws in it. Same goes for something like Kai Po Che. I am not trying to attack you but if you are ready to see a Stoker remake you should also try and give a chance to Kai Po Che (now I am not saying that you have to like the film as much as I do but I assure that it’s not a bad film either).


          • of course small films need to be patronized. but i’d never patronize a film just because it’s small, either a bw or a hw one. i didn’t bother going for slp even after the oscar brouhaha, simply because i am not interested. same goes for kai po che, i might catch both on netflix if and when available. that’s why small films need to explore these avenues more – youtube, netflix. audience is going to watch things they find exciting (django) or are simply intrigued by for other reasons (in case of stoker – park). and if the biggest bw audience is interested in himmatwala and we have no blueprint to promote other films they way they do here, then status quo will continue. the problem is, there is no ‘cinema’ culture in india as such, there is just ‘star’ culture. and i am not sure that’s going to change. not in the short term anyway.


          • Will catch up later–but agree that ‘smallness’ or ‘bigness’ or ‘lengthiness’ isn’t /shouldn’t be a reason to do things eg watch films ..
            “i didn’t bother going for slp even after the oscar brouhaha, simply because i am not interested”– suggest u do catch it-relevant to your ‘job’ also hehe –also wud prefer my ‘mental coach’ stays ‘abreast’ with the latest on bipolar/ OCD etc
            Anyhow mr anya may just find Jen law hott (tho I didn’t find her hott but tastes are different) 🙂


          • I never mentioned the word ‘small’. GoW for one is not actually a small film. Even Kai Po Che isn’t one (not if one considers Udaan as small)


    • This constant beating of bollywood by everyone reminds me of two lines
      1 -ooch vichar sirf baantey nahee, aatmsaat bhee karen !!!
      2.Koshishen Zor kya keren kisi aur ko sudharney kee..
      Khud hee sudhren rahen, yahee kaafi hai Zamane key liye !!
      P.S.- I like to use them on people who spam FB with Gyaans!!


      • LOL, I beat up on Bollywood from two different perspectives. The Southern one (though I always qualify this.. I am generally not pushing Telugu cinema!) but also the ‘classic’ Bombay one, i.e. from within the same history. I have a very simple proposition here — one cannot truly be a lover of everything that happened for instance in the 70s and then not mind very much what’s been happening over the past two decades (though there has been lots of interesting stuff over the last decade or more these are still exceptions to my mind)! So as opposed to watching every other Hindi release I think one can more usefully visit or revisit older stuff or for more contemporary orientations go elsewhere to Tamil cinema or something. Now having said that I do find it perfectly understandable that for cultural reasons people remain invested in Bollywood. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with this. But it’s still junk for the most part! Much as I watch a lot of poor Hollywood fare. I don’t watch mediocre French films in the same sense. But I realize that what I’m watching from Hollywood is poor! On privileging the Southern I do find it amusing that people find this objectionable but are otherwise willing to lap up the worst brands of masala from the South the moment they’re ‘translated’ into Hindi!


        • Telugu quite frankly makes the most shitty unwatchable kind of cinema most of the time. Apart from the fact that most Telugu films are plotless (I am actually being kind when I say this) the amount of crudeness and vulgarity (the kind of objectification of women these films show is incomparable to any other film industry in India apart from Bhojpuri which is even worse) at display here is intolerable most of the time. HIndi cinema, at whatever level it s, is zillion times better than Telugu. The watchability of these films most of the times depends on the star who is starring in the film- I can tolerate most films starring Nagarjuna (he anyway does the most diverse kind of roles possible in the industry. For every Mass he also does a Rajanna and a Gaganam/Payanam), Mahesh and Prabhas. Also sometimes enjoy Jr. NTR’s dances though comparing him to Hrithik is frankly an insult to the latter. And I say this as someone who enjoys Nijam more than a much better Bollywood romcom.

          Tamil of course is a different deal altogether.


          • “On privileging the Southern I do find it amusing that people find this objectionable but are otherwise willing to lap up the worst brands of masala from the South the moment they’re ‘translated’ into Hindi!”-

            Actually this happens because somehow sometimes the ‘translated’ film turns out to be better than original. The best example here is Rowdy Rathore which is far better than the Ravi Teja film- the former IMO cannot be watched in a single sitting


      • I love Indian movies. I’ve grown up on them. And I’m regularly reading about them or watching them. So I think as a ‘consumer/customer’ I have a right to be disappointed and to criticise the kind of trash that gets made these days. I hardly watch any new films because the majority are shit. As someone born in the 80’s I feel highly resentful that those born 50 years earlier were able to go to the cinema and watch Nutan one week, Meena Kumari the next and Waheeda Rahman the week after. Or when asked to select their favourite current director could argue between Guru Dutt and Bimal Roy and Hrishikesh Mukherjee. And don’t even get me started on the depths to which music has plunged…

        I’ve recently been reading dustedoff’s blog on wordpress, and it’s reinforced my belief that even though lots of bad films were made in the 50’s and 60’s, they still had great music and awesome stars, making the films watchable at the very least.

        So when I complain about current Hindi cinema, its not in comparison to the South (I’ve barely watched any), or to Hollywood, but to the movies of the past from the same industry.


  10. On privileging the Southern I do find it amusing that people find this objectionable but are otherwise willing to lap up the worst brands of masala from the South the moment they’re ‘translated’ into Hindi!

    But most people do not find Southern Masala objectionable for the simple reson they have not seen them….
    as for remakes , it happens both ways. Both Industries have their plus and minus,
    Aside- when I suggested to my wife to see Vishwswroopma in Tamil, she was so surprised- Tumhare paas bahut waqt hai, ab tum Tamil picturen bhee dekhego !!!! LOL


  11. Don’t know where to post this: so doing it here..

    Aamir turns a year older..rare pics


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