Can models be good actors?

Monojit Lahiri<i> </i>investigates this tricky question,putting together views of purists and pro-model camp

Photo courtesy: Instagram
Photo courtesy: Instagram
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Monojit Lahiri

Two things triggered this subject. One, my seeing a recent re-run on TV of Ashutosh Gowarikar’s Mohenjo-Daro; the other, a conversation I had with the beautiful and gifted veteran Waheeda Rehman a while ago. The first relates to Pooja Hegde, the debutant heroine of Gowarikar’s big budget opus paired off with Greek God Hrithik Roshan. Hegde, a runner-up in the recent Miss Universe contest, joins a long list of beauty queens and models (Ash Rai, Sushmita Sen, Dia Mirza, Lara Dutta, Priyanka Chopra, Bipasha Basu, Katrina Kaif, Freida Pinto, Mugdha Godse among others) who have moved from ramp/modelling to screen.

Waheeda-ji’s observation was interesting. While she admitted that today’s heroines were truly hardworking, focussed and ambitious, she noticed an exaggerated emphasis on looks, glamour & sex appeal. This, she felt, distracted from the main intent because it threatened to devalue the importance of emoting and histrionics and largely to schools and film institutes.

It was indeed a very revealing comment and offered much food for thought. Coming to think of it, from 1970-71 when the sexy Zeenat Aman sashayed into the screen inviting everyone to dum maro dum (Hare Rama Hare Krishna) till today, when the svelte Hegde hotted it up with Hrithik, models and Bollywood have always gravitated towards each other, but hang on – isn’t cinema an artistic platform demanding a special skill-set in terms of histrionics, screen presence & role-compatibility? Shouldn’t therefore screen actresses be selected from Theatre or Film Schools which are legitimate nurseries grooming the required talent? Why are these basic facts forever ignored by the Bollywood badshahs who continue to salivate over young, new and hot models mandated to promote dazzling artifice & loud exhibitionism?

As always, there are polarised views. The pro-model camp dismisses these allegations with a flamboyant retort. They insist yesterday is history, times have changed along with the rules of the game and Zeenat Aman mirroring the mood of the times and swinging to the beat of a restless and directionless generation, pioneered in this movement, with sensational style and success.

“Film is a visual medium that is meant to connect with the masses in an engaging, exciting and entertaining way – and boy, do these models rock? They are a feast for the eyes and that’s half the job done, boss! Who cares about intense method acting from realism-driven actresses? Dump them in those grim, dark, realism-driven movies where looking hot n’ happening is a sin!” Bangalore-based, high-profile model trainer and grooming expert, Prasad Bidappa joins the party. He insists that this issue of dismissing models has been trivialised by one section of the media, industry and society and is totally unfair.

The man who was reportedly behind discovering and promoting A-listers like Lara Dutta, Anushka Sharma and Deepika Padukone says, “From ramp to screen in these fiercely competitive times is no cakewalk. There are plenty of models but there are only the special and chosen few who successfully make the switch. They slog hard and long to learn this new and tricky discipline of movie acting, a planet away from modelling and their dedicated hard work, focus, energy and talent to adapt, make them fly to new heights! Lara, Anushka, Deepika … beyond glamour, looks, style & poise …have brilliantly fitted into the Bollywood frame and look at where they went … To illustrate this point, haven’t Deepika – (Piku, Finding Fanny & Chapaak), Priyanka – (Mary Kom & Barfii) & Anushka (Jab Tak Hain Jaan & Sultan) challenged this belief?” Besides, others add, in most of today’s Bollywood films, the kind of acting demanded from heroines [eye-candy, love-interest] is no big deal and can be easily picked up through observation, practise, intelligence and focus.

The purists are neither amused nor convinced. They lament that in today’s consumerist world where appearance is reality and glamour, sex appeal & looks rule, where does true talent have a hope in hell? “Brilliantly gifted actors (Konkona Sen Sharma, Richa Chadda, Nimrit Kaur, Swara Bhaskar & Shahana Goswami among others) rich in the critical requirements of real acting – emotional intelligence, ability to understand and play out the graph of the role to perfection, decode and absorb its essence & claim total ownership – are never even considered by the B-town biggies obsessed with catering to the lowest common denominator. Ditto mass-audiences, pampered and dazzled by the Bollywood template of glamour & gloss.” Any wonder, add critics with a smirk, that not hospitals and schools but beauty parlours and gyms mushroom across Tier 2 & 3 cities with alarming speed … who knows, the next Peecee could well arrive from a small town like Bareilly and Baywatch the world with her deadly moves?!

Touche…

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