4 ACTORS WHO’RE NOT HEROES, BUT ARE STARS!
On a sunny summer afternoon in Mumbai, HT Brunch brings the best-known character actors of recent times together to discuss the inequalities of fame and the sweet smell of success
Not many actors can boast of four consecutive hits in one year. But playingmarkedly different characters in Gurgaon, B areilly Ki B arfi, Newton and Anaarkali of Aarah, Pankaj Tripathi won the critics’ nod and box office numbers.
Nor can one expect a three-filmold ‘supportingactor’ to hogthe limelight in a film boastingthree of Bollywood’s top stars. Sanja Leela Bhansali’s Padmaavat had Ranveer Singh, Shahid Kapoor and Deepika Padukone; but the next best thing to Ranveer’s powerhouse Khilji was Jim Sarbh’s brilliant portrayal as a homosexual slave-general and Khilji’s paramour, M alik Kafur.
Last year, Vikrant M assey, the quintessential ‘hero’s best friend’ got a sudden upgrade with Shutu, the unlikely hero of Konkana Sen Sharma’s A Death in the Gunj. And then M anav Kaul, possibly the most suave Bollywood villain after Vinod Khanna, turned all cute and lovable as he played the hero-husband to Vidya Balan in Tumhari Sulu.
Can it be that Bollywood is finally shiftingthe spotlight from ‘hero’ to ‘actor’?
WHAT’S CHANGED… “I know I’m not in a position to pick a nd choose” - Vikra nt Ma ssey
“Earlier the vegetable vendor in my neighbourhood would look down upon me, and now even he suggests that I wear better clothes and comb my hair as I’m a film star,” chuckles Pankaj.
After last year’s successes, Pankaj has the breathingroom to choose his roles, rather than accept anything that comes his way. “I’d seldom read scripts before signing; now I insist on one. The audience has put so much trust in me, I can’t fail them,” he says.
For Vikrant, who started off as a TV actor, the last year was huge. “I’d not expected things to change so fast,” he says. “But I am not delusional. I know I’m not in a position to pick and choose.”
For Jim, 2017 was less remarkable. He had a small role in Death in
the Gunj, and Raabta was a disaster. “I hope Padmaavat has changed my career,” he says. “I only got villain roles, and now I am really hopingI will get more interestingroles.”
For M anav, Tumhari Sulu was the kind of film Jim is waitingfor. “I was tryingnot to do another negative role,” he says. “I didn’t want to get boxed in. So, I sat at home for almost 18 months. Then I auditioned for Tumhari Sulu, and now I’m gettingall sorts of roles!”
BYE, BYE HERO? “When it comes to bea uty bia s, Bollywood needs to ca tch up with the rest of the world” - Jim Sa rbh
Despite astoundingsuccesses of character actors last year, Jim doesn’t believe Bollywood has changed. “Even now a B aaghi 2 does more business than a Mukkabaaz,” he rues. “We can’t deny that beauty bias is a huge thingin India. I think we need to catch up with the world there.”
But there is hope, says Pankaj. Scriptwriters today are creating more well-rounded characters. “In the Ramayana, Ram is the hero. But Lakshman can also become the hero if the scriptwriter wants,” he says.
M anav agrees and for Vikrant, this is just part of a cycle. While he believes it’s too premature to say that characters are the new heroes, he points out that Hindi films never had a dearth of good character actors. “There was always a Pran or a Balraj Sahni, or an Om Puri or a Naseer saab. They paved the way for us,” says Vikrant. “In between, the quality of our cinema had hit rock bottom. Today, we’re making good films again and digital platforms are helpingus get more visibility.”
On the flipside, says Pankaj, if your content isn’t good enough, the audience will switch to somethingelse.
HAIL THE SCRIPT… “Cha ra cter a ctors do justice to the roles a nd they a re a lso pocket friendly” - Pa nka j Tripa thi
“Today, writers come from smaller cities like Lucknow and Bareilly, and their stories portray these parts of India,” says M anav. “Films doing well today are dominated by the script. A good script requires a good actor to pull it off. We are in the right place at the right time.”
It helps that producers investingin smaller films want a good return and look for actors rather than stars, muses Pankaj. “At the end of the day, nobody wants to lose money. Actors will do justice to the roles and are also pocket friendly,” he explains.
THE MILLION DOLLAR QUESTION “Wha t I a m offering determines my price” - Ma na v Ka ul
Filmmakers doingsmall films are gettingbetter budgets than before, says Vikrant. Havingsaid that, adds M anav, actors are paid what they’re worth. “If they need me for a role, they’ll give the money I demand, but I need to create that need,” he says. “I love the brutality of this industry. What I am offering determines my price.”
Jim laughs. “You can squeeze them for more money, but only if you are worth it,” he says.
Everyone always wants more, grins Pankaj. “But If you are chasing money, you’ll be in trouble. I love to act and I am gettinggood roles. What else can I want?”
BULLISH AT THE BOX OFFICE… “Films a re not supposed to be lulla bies” - Pa nka j Tripa thi
M asala movies will never lose their charm, the four actors agree. “For most viewers, movies should provide an escape from mundane realities of life. We need to acknowledge that for the common man, cinema is entertainment,” muses Vikrant. But Jim points out that there need be no contradiction between good cinema and entertainingcinema. “In Hollywood most scommercial films are content driven,” he says.
M anav agrees. “Look at Dangal. It is an out-and-out commercial film, but what storytelling,” he says. “Aamir Khan has cracked that formula. M ake a ~ 100 crore film, but keep the heart and mind in the right place.”
Commercial Hindi films keep single-screen theatres running. “We all want to do mainstream commercial cinema, but it should have an interestingstory. Films are not supposed to be lullabies. Filmmakers don’t want the audience to doze off while watchingtheir films,” says Pankaj.
“In theRamayana, Ra m is thehero. But La kshma n ca n a lso becomethehero if thescriptwriter wa nts” - Pa nka j Tripa thi