Star marriage sparks the great Bollywood divide


MUMBAI - A raging rivalry between two of India's biggest screen stars has worsened after a marriage in one of their families obliged actors and producers in the world's largest film industry to begin taking sides.

For years, India has watched the popularity battle between the iconic Amitabh Bachchan and younger superstar Shah Rukh Khan -- the former, a veteran who ruled the Bollywood box office for decades and remains very popular, and the latter, the reigning hero with a massive fan following.

In recent years, the two stars have taken subtle digs at each other in public although the rivalry was seen to have remained healthy in an industry known for its cliques.

Apparently no more, industry analysts said, after the April wedding of Bachchan's son Abhishek to Aishwarya Rai -- big stars in their own right -- created the ultimate Bollywood power family.

"With the marriage, the Bachchans have become a formidable commercial package," said Bollywood commentator and author Derek Bose.

"Brand Bachchan is now a threat to others. It has worsened the Bachchan-Khan rivalry, sparking new power equations."

The Bachchans omitted to invite Khan and most of Bollywood to the wedding, leaving little doubt about who their friends were.

On the other hand, Khan is suddenly seen bonding more with Bollywood's two other stars -- Salman and Saif -- who also share his second name. A few other stars too like Hrithik Roshan, once close to the Bachchans, are seen to have fallen out with them.

"There seem to be two clear groups in Bollywood now -- the Bachchans and the Khans," said Bollywood analyst Taran Adarsh.

Bachchan, 64, and Khan, 41, say their so-called rivalry is a media creation, but those claims have often been contradicted when they've taken potshots at each other.

With the Bachchans getting bigger in brand equity, the Khan-Bachchan rivalry is not confined to the Bollywood popularity stakes but has taken on an economic dimension too, analysts said.

Prahlad Kakkar, an Indian advertising guru and friend of the two warring stars, said the formation of two big camps could limit producers' options and raise the cost of filmmaking.

"The polarization in Bollywood will cause casting problems for producers," he said.

The rivalry has not only split Bollywood -- with only a few big producers on good terms with both actors -- but also divided loyalties among influential industrialists and politicians.

While Bollywood is no stranger to cliques, analysts say the Bachchan-Khan spat has taken star rivalry to a new low. And this could change the complexion of Hindi cinema-making.

"It's a bit like the corporate war of two big brands," said Bose.