I would like to thank all the hugely knowledgeable (and entertaining) people who stop by the Drift and embellish it with their wisdom and wit. A lot of the names came from them and some generous Bollywood insiders although I take ownership of the order (in other words gaalis need to come to me)
When determining who would be on the list, I used several criteria. Those who made the list are successful and popular. They have influence over many, especially those in positions of power as well (think of how Google's PageRank works). They have the inside track on happenings via well placed moles, they can get even the most ludicrous vanity projects green lighted, they hold the upper hand in most negotiations, they can challenge and restructure well known practices that have withstood the test of time. And above all, they are ambitious people who know how to possess and wield power.
Some quick level sets: this list is a current one - past standing is offset by recent achievements. If you feel I've missed or misplaced anyone, leave me a comment.
Forget Hrithik Roshan being the star son who vaulted past his father's kamyaabi - Aditya Chopra has done way more as an uber-producer. If you asked Bappi Lahiri about it, he would say: "Yeh India ka Jerry Bruckheimer hey!" He's directed a few famous movies (DDLJ), but his filmography as producer is indicative of the power he commands in Bollywood. He's had a mixed year - four of his five releases have gone belly up. But he scored with Chak De! India, is rumored to be half of a new power couple in Bollywood and is sitting pretty on Bollywood's most profitable franchise (Dhoom).
Chinks in armor: Family feuds tend to be terribly distracting. Aditya's known reticence from the media makes him vulnerable to more flashy and visible competition.
2 Shahrukh Khan
No one in Bollywood is more ambitious than SRK. He guarantees a huge box office opening regardless of the rest of the names signed to a film - the sign of monetary worth in any film industry. After the relative failure of his first production shingle - Dreamz Unlimited - his new venture Red Chillies is off to a roaring start. His camp is as diverse as it is talented - he has a virtual ecosystem of chamchaas who can put together a movie for him (costumes, fashion, direction, you name it).
There are two ways SRK is lining his pockets these days. First, he's deftly side-stepped mob money throughout his career. And he is bringing the back end deal model to Bollywood aggressively. Thus, by working for scale or close, he allows strong pictures to get financed (Chak De! India) and given his stature at the box office, reaps a huge windfall from the profits.
With his recent play in Sports Entertainment via ownership of the Kolkatta Knight Riders he's establishing a sizable content empire.
Chinks in armor: IPL is a highly risky venture. SRK's need to play the joker in the pack is probably pissing off huge forces in the industry kept at bay only by his success. His camp is becoming professionally incestuous. And he doesn't play well with #3 on this list.
3 The Bachchans
There are two prongs to this power parivaar: one is the biggest female draw in Bollywood and easily its one true international star. By virtue of being a newly minted Bachchan bahu, Aishwarya has multipled her connections and vested them deep into Bollywood and the circling industries that give it power. The second, Amitabh, survived tremendous loss of prestige due to some dud projects this year (see Ram Gopal Varma, later on this list) but still has an impressive list of Bollywood Big Wigs in Gratitude (What? You thought he did all those Hajmola ads because he had indigestion?) Abhishek, long considered to be the liability in the family, has come off two confidence building projects: Guru and Dhoom 2.
Chinks in armor: Aishwarya won't work with #2 on this list. With each passing day Amitabh loses out on that most precious Bollywood commodity - age. Abhishek is still an unconventional box office draw and needs help from Dad.
4 Aamir Khan
Its not easy to take on so many bigwigs at the same time and carry on as if nothing has changed. Aamir has (for whatever reasons - they aren't important here) taken on sections of the media and industry politics and delivered huge hits. He can afford to shrug his shoulders at the Filmfare Awards year after year and they still trip over themselves to bury him with statuettes. He is now the first actor that producers dream of signing - even ahead of SRK.
Aamir draws a lot of his power from creating a new model of quality control in Bollywood. He signs projects after deliberation, he retains a high degree of control over them and he is fully engaged in all aspects of the film he commits to. With his debut directorial effort - Taare Zameen Par - declared a huge trade success, he now belongs to the most widely influential category of hyphenates in films: actor-director (see: Mel Gibson).
Chinks in armor: There is only so much isolation you can get away with before it starts hurting you. Aamir's getting old by lead actor standards - which reduces the principal aspect of his mojo.
Rakesh Roshan's long standing production company Filmkraft started delivering mind-boggling hits only after his son Hrithik got in the game as an actor. He now has pratham dibs on the new superpower in Bollywood, long standing relationships with incumbent Bollywood powers and a reputation for being a clean, professional and rewarding banner to work with.
Chinks in armor: Home productions have an emphasis on home, thus cutting out others. Filmkraft needs to expand and deliver hits that don't star Hrithik.
Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna dinged Johar's celebrity considerably. But his continued balancing act between the powerful camps of SRK and Bachchans endows him with considerable power. Plus a tendency to control all aspects of his films allows him unprecedented quality control.
He's skillfully created a small screen bitch-camp (Koffee with Karan) where guests entertain audiences with juicy tidbits yet leave without feeling exploited. He willingly works hard to enable the success of others - which makes him a precious commodity in the BackStab Ranch known as Bollywood.
Chinks in armor: He needs a steady stream of hits to stay in the big league, otherwise he can get marginalized quickly.
Screwvala is building a global empire - publicly held and above board. In that he is an innovator. And his production house UTV has been delivering a steady stream of hit films (Rang De Basanti, Jodhaa Akbar) and successful TV shows. Add to that his involvement in several high profile projects (M. Night Shyamalan's next) and deal-cutting with phoren studios which critically (in this business) extends his distribution.
UTV is now valued at $435 million and has a 14% stake held by Disney.
Chinks in armor: One word - competition. Ok four - competition with deep pockets. Plus, UTV's flop to hit ratio is still largely unfavorable.
Most often called out as the actor who delivers hits but doesn't get any respect (hey, he should form a club with Himesh Reshammiya), Akshay has gone from being the primary challenge to the Khan hegemony to becoming a genuine box office force in his own right. Recently, sensing the falling potential of action movies, Akshay has branched out - rather heavily - into comedy.
Chinks in armor: Lack of respect affects power more than hit films enhance it.
Before Akshay's recent feats at the box office, Salman was Bollywood's Mr. Reliable. And being born in a family with deep rooted filmi connections has allowed him to become a power player. Yes, he's had jhagdas with a number of important people, but he's been able to patch them up. Most industry poweristas will tell you he's a really nice person. And he's still wildly popular, especially among Indians across the diaspora - which allows him to retain his hit making power.
Of late Salman has given us glimpses of the artist behind the star, developed a nice comic timing and along the way indulged in some delicious tweaking of his bad boy, pattha image.
Chinks in armor: So many its a miracle Salman has survived at all. A penchant for breaking the law and a reputation for being hindered by ego. He won't work with Aishwarya. His roles are becoming mired in cliché.
10 Sajid Nadiadwala
Very successful via his production company, the curiously named Nadiadwala Grandson Entertainment, Sajid negated a high profile failure (Jaan-e-Mann) with one of 2007's blockbusters - Heyy Babyy, kicking off a partnership with up and coming director Sajid Khan. Aligned with both Salman and Akshay, he is remaking his 1997 hit Judwa.
Chinks in armor: Can he make a hit without Sallu or Akki?
11 Vidhu Vinod Chopra
Vidhu's Eklavya last year split audiences and failed to win an Oscar nomination in what has now become Bollywood's annual phoren-envy carnival. Still he has a stellar reputation for balancing art and commerce. His Munnabhai franchise is universally loved and he's already working on Part III.
Chinks in armor: A tendency to deliver overwrought Bollywood movies might fail to connect with audiences looking for fresh, new scripts.
12 Mahesh and Pooja Bhatt
The Bhatts have a tested established model for making films. Take some successful niche Hollywood thriller and translate it for Indian audiences. Then find some becoming actors, sign them cheap to a multi-film deal, catch some music directors at in a career ebb to snag some bargain music and make quick cash. The Bhatts don't deviate from this model - but it also makes them them the go-to people for all actors who don't have industry godfathers. And all of their protégés (John Abraham, Bipasha Basu, Shiny Ahuja, Kangana Raut) who go on to bigger things are fall backs to call in a favor from.
Chinks in armor: Lack of respect from fellow industrywallahs. The Bhatts need to deliver a legitimate mass-market hit to play with the big banners.
Successfully negotiating often conflicting friendships across multiple camps, Preity has leveraged her recent alliance with Ness Wadia to launch herself into the business of entertainment. Although she's engaged in risky ventures, she's smart enough to understand her limited appeal as an actress to branch out while she is in the top bracket. Can her business acumen keep up with her ambition? That is the question that determines if Preity becomes a major Bollywood power player in the near future.
Scaling his talent from TV production to music direction to acting and producing, Himesh is one of Bollywood's most ambitious mavericks. His shrewd acumen for the business of entertainment has allowed him to overcome industry stereotypes and deliver the goods whether he's on the small screen (Sa Re Ga Ma Pa), cutting a CD or emoting on the big purdah (Aap Ka Suroor). Big name actresses won't work with him and industry big wigs still scoff at him - but he draws considerable power from his massive fan following - which is also a demographic sweet spot for advertisers.
The arrival of Rishi's son Ranbir as a hot commodity on the scene allows the Kapoor brothers to start rebuilding the largely squatting, beloved studio: RK Films. They are well respected in the industry albeit generally acknowledged to be somewhat undependable and self-destructive. But RK carries more cachet with the aam junta than any other studio does.
This was the year Kareena translated her influential upbringing into true industry power by delivering a highly visible performance in a movie that was not only a big hit but likely to become an industry classic for this generation. Her alliance with Saif makes her one half of a Bollywood power couple.
The only female director to play with the big boys with resounding commercial success, Farah has established herself in the masala movie genre as a name to reckon with via two movies: Main Hoon Na and Om Shanti Om. She has excellent attention to detail which means she can deliver quality hits to audiences over time.
He's quickly building successes both in front of and behind the camera with his work on TV's Boogie Woogie and the 2007 hit Heyy Babyy. Plus by virtue of being the brother of Farah Khan, he's got access to some big names in the industry.
Ajay Devgan and Kajol
Individually they are a B-list, A-list partnership. But together they have the potential to become an influential power couple - something they've recently started exploring via their first joint home production: U, Me and Hum. A dicey TV concept show is being watched carefully to gauge their combined star power.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali
Armed with shepherding the careers of two high profile star kids - Ranbir (Rishi, Neetu Kapoor) and Sonam (Anil Kapoor), Bhansali went blue delivering a melodramatic opera that crashed and burned spectacularly with his audience. Despite dealing with failures in a rather egocentric way, he remains one of the few names that can sell a movie with the masses as a director.
You would think a family with a legendary actor and two successful progenies would make for one powerful equation. But the cooling sitaares of both Sunny and Bobby and a weak home production - Apne - has resulted in a significant erosion of the Deol charisma.
Ram Gopal Varma
A director who can almost bring down a colossus like Amitabh has got to have had a bad year. RGV did it twice: with Nishabd and then a misguided remake of Sholay called RGV's Aag - and in the process took a terrible pasting from the junta and the industry.
Saif Ali Khan
Having firmly established himself as a Shashi Kapoor like support actor of some repute, Saif built leading man credibility (Parineeta, Being Cyrus) and box office momentum (Hum Tum) to add to his family connections. But just when it seemed he was set to establish himself as someone who could carry a film, some high profile flops ensued (Nehle Pe Dehla, Ta Ra Rum Pum) sending our man plummeting. Plus there was that high risk Filmfare Awards gig - who knows what the fallout is going to be?
Dutt still wields enough power that the film industry's collective blood pressure soars whenever he ends up in court (or jail lately). And he is still key to the lucrative Munnabhai franchise - which has given him the biggest hits of his career. But you get the feeling that he's squandered his position as Bollywood's power player. Somehow he's failed to recognize that he's developed of late into an actor of some shrewdness and instead allowed myriad social, marital and legal issues to drain him of his celebrity. Plus that Mumbai Ka Don stereotype really hurts when it comes to bagging roles.
- Amrita adds John and Bips to falling and delves into the secret of KJo's power
- No Rani? muses anu g
- Deepika? Already? asks meena
- Joules disagrees with Saif falling and thinks Akshay likes being non-powerful
- girlie girl would like to see Shahid on the list
- Greatbong nominates Rakhi Sawant
- Mind Rush is boggled that Aditya Chopra topped the list
- sidekick agrees with Meena: Deepika rising? No way!
- No Mani Ratnam? asks Bitterlemons
- And no AR? asks Megarajan
- Megan is glad Aish got to where she is without piggybacking
- Anon thinks AR should be there, Saif should be rising and Sajid just shows up on Boogie Woogie
- Cinderella on why AR and Mani Ratnam are popular but not powerful
- headmistress anticipates AR's next big one but doesn't think he's that powerful