Let us therefore have a look at their individual cases, each of which is quite unique.
Rishi Kapoor – Ranbir Kapoor:
When Ranbir Kapoor started his career with Saawariya (2007), there was a piquant twist by destiny. While Ranbir paid tribute to his father with a recitation of Rishi's debut song 'Main Shaayar To Nahin' (from Bobby) in a sequence, the film lost at the b-o race to the week's other release Om Shanti Om (OSO), a title derived from Rishi's hit song from Karz! What's more, OSO opened with a sequence from Karz, starred Rishi Kapoor himself in a cameo, and had a plot loosely based on it too!
However, Ranbir has always concentrated on one film at a time, daring the fates to take away his stardom if that single film flopped, which happened quite often, right from Wake Up Sid! (except in Mumbai) to Rocket Singh – Salesman Of The Year to Rockstar, despite the critical acclaim for all and the rave reviews for his performances!
Proud father Rishi Kapoor raves, "Ranbir has never followed the expected path for a Hindi film hero. He worked in the kind of cinema he believed in right from the beginning, like Barfi! in which he played a deaf mute. It's not that he did not believe in commercial cinema, but he balanced both so beautifully, with entertainers like Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani, Raajneeti and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani."
Rishi adds, "He's already made his mark as an actor and now Ranbir is creating his brand equity among the masses too – Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani has almost made 200 crore without any help like a festival release! People thought that my son was crazy to take such risks right from the beginning, I myself was apprehensive, but Ranbir proved all his detractors wrong. Now all the young actors all want to follow him, just like so many newer actors followed me in my time!" He quips, "We are trendsetters, man!"
Analytically, he however emphasizes that the reason for his success is that he was always an actor first, and then a star. "Actors will always survive, irrespective of where trends go," he insists. "If you are good at your craft, and understand how to swim in the water, you will never drown. That is the lesson to be learnt from my success. Though I thank God for this delightful situation too, I have also worked at gaining this status."
He goes on, "When I stopped doing hero roles finally in the late '90s – and all heroes then did the expected things – I started doing 'father' roles. But though some films were hits, I found those roles boring and devoid of meat and finally began to refuse them. With Do Dooni Chaar in 2010, the tide turned."
Today, Rishi can boasts of essaying a wide array of characters, beginning with the humble teacher's role in the above film, as also the vicious Rauf Lala (Agneepath), the gay principal (Student Of The Year), the grumpy NRI (Housefull 2), the jolly Goan pub owner (Chashme Baddoor), the ruthless cop (Aurangzeb) and the ace don (D-Day).
With key roles like a cop (with Ranbir, though not cast as his son) in Besharam, a lawyer in Mehrunissa, a caterer in Shuddh Desi Romance and more, Rishi is finally getting to show his world-class talent that was always submerged under the successful star that he was for over 20 years with huge solo hits (Bobby, Khel Khel Mein, Sargam, Karz, Prem Rog, Tawaif, Henna, Bol Radha Bol) as well as multi-hero blockbusters.
"We actors are puppets of the directors! It's the way I am viewed today, though I am the same person and the same actor," he quips. As Ranbir Kapoor said before the release of Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, "I am proud of dad and very happy for him! He had four releases to my one last year, and all were successful!"
A second innings for an actor is probably a must to compete with one's progeny. With Bachchan Sr., inundated by political failure, health problems and the financial crisis spawned by the failure of his pioneering corporate production house at that phase in time, the beginning of the millennium was a godsend with the success of both his maiden television show Kaun Banega Crorepati and his 'comeback' film, Yash Raj Films' Mohabbatein.
Oddly enough, the year 2000 also marked the debut of his son Abhishek Bachchan with Refugee, which however crashed at the b-o.
Though technically his struggle lasted only as long as his father's similar phase (less than four years), Abhishek had a more difficult time due to the fact that he had more flops in that period than his dad, and not a single success or hit in that period as a counter, like his father's Anand, Pyar Ki Kahani and Bombay To Goa. And it was only with Hum Tum (in a cameo) and Dhoom (as the iconic cop Jai Dixit) in 2004 that Bachchan Jr. finally broke the 'jinx'.
And this was the phase when Bachchan, in his new avatar as a character artiste, was at his strongest, doing films like Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham…, Kaante, Aankhen (both as a hardcore criminal), Khakee and also his memorable role of the father in Baghban among others. When Abhishek hit his winning streak, Bachchan Sr. was also working on Black, his tour de force as an artiste then, and Waqt – A Race Against Time.
From here began the race between father and son, which also led the producers to cash in on casting them together with mixed results. Among their hits together were Bunty Aur Babli, Sarkar and Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (overseas only). Two unusual cases came in their home productions: Abhishek played his father's dad in the acclaimed Paa, in which Amitabh was shown as a child affected by the aging disease Progeria, and Bbuddha Hoga Terra Baap, in which Abhishek was also a playback singer for his dad, though he never starred in the film!
Today, Amitabh Bachchan has settled into routine character roles, like Aarakshan and Department, while Abhishek Bachchan has few solo takers despite good performances throughout his career. On the way are films in his two popular franchises: Dhoom 3 and Dostana 2, and a T-Series film that has Rishi Kapoor as his father!
Dharmendra – Sunny Deol
Dharmendra, unlike the two senior actors mentioned above, did not need a second innings to compete with son Sunny Deol – his first innings was still on when Sunny made his debut in 1983 with Betaab!
Though prone more to multi-hero films since the trend began in the mid-'70s, the original hunk of Indian cinema was usually the best selling-point of such movies, come Sholay (when Amitabh Bachchan was not as big as he was), Dharam-Veer or, later, Ghulami, Aag Hi Aag and Watan Ke Rakhwale in the '80s.
It was also very interesting to realize that when Dharmendra's films failed, he still got work, even from the same producer, but when the same thing happened with Sunny Deol, there was trouble. It was all about distributor and financier perception!
Nevertheless, both father and son were in the race in the '80s and till the mid-'90s, for romantic leads in solo or multi-star action dramas! They did co-star then in some indifferent films, and the significant part was that they shared a lot of heroines! Dimple Kapadia, Amrita Singh (Sunny's first heroine!), Poonam Dhillon, Farha, Sridevi and Jaya Prada co-starred – romantically – with both father and son in the first decade of Sunny's career!
The amusing aspect of this was that most of these leading ladies worked with Dharmendra after they had worked with Sunny! And the son also shared composers and filmmakers of Dharmendra's generation despite the 23-year gap in their debuts, like multiple films with composers Laxmikant-Pyarelal and R.D. Burman and with producer-directors like Nasir Husain, Raj Khosla, F.C. Mehra, Arjun Hingorani, Rajkumar Kohli and Harmesh Malhotra.