Rise of character actors: Democratisation of Bollywood

New roles being written for character actors are not only giving a new lease of life to veterans but also sucking in talent from theatre from small towns which was only waiting to be noticed

Rise of character actors: Democratisation of Bollywood
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Amitabh Srivastava

Indian cinema seems to have reached a stage where producers and directors are willing to invest in character roles as much as the heroes and heroines, sometimes even more.

This is a drastic change from the time when there was a set formula for a Bollywood film — a larger than life hero, a heroine and a villain. Not that there were no films with large families.

But even though there were multiple characters in Hum aapke hain kaun or Hum dil de chuke sanam, the story revolved around the hero and heroine who had to be there in every frame.

But things have started changing with heroes and heroines being brought down from their pedestals. In Shubh mangal zyada savdhaan for instance, the focus for the most of the time is on Gajarj Rao, the eccentric scientist who is fond of growing black cauliflowers and his wife Neena Gupta, ever ready to take off her saree when he is tense.

This elderly pair seems to be carrying on their endearing and shocking affair from Badhai Ho where Ayushmaan got a solid support from their presence in the film and reportedly he had some say in their being cast again in his latest venture.

They are not the only ones who are getting the thumbs up by audiences in a welcome democratisation of Bollywood cinema where roles are being written for them by directors.

Even a super hit film worth a watch again and again like Tanu Weds Manu Again with a powerful heroine like Kangana Ranaut had a lot of characters who have been given very important slots.

Besides old veterans of theatre and TV like Seema Pahwa and Pankaj Tripathi (the latter is becoming a huge pull even in advertising and digital productions) there are characters like the irresistible Jimmy Shergill and Mohammad Zeeshan Ayub as Chintu, the lawyer who would not give up either the house that he lives in or the heroine till the last scene of the film.

This new trend has started with cinema going back to the small towns where there are joint families. These small towns are as full of scoundrels as the big cities. But no one put the spotlight on them like now.

The new writers and directors don’t have to take viewers to Switzerland or France to hold their interests. They could easily do the same in Kanpur or Bareilly. These small towns are as mod as the bigger metropolitan cities though they try to hide their realty under a cloak of secrecy.

Now a girl in Bareilly ki barfi has no hesitation in asking a prospective groom coming to interview her if he is a virgin even as the boy cringes in embarrassment.

Had it not been for the Tanu weds Manu series where would we find a delightful character like Deepak Dobhriyal? With neither the looks or the glamour of a hero of even an Ayushmaan Khuranna, Dobhriyal has been vowing viewers with his performances in films after film.

A student of theatre under Arvind Gaur for seven years, Dobhriyal has been seen in Omkara, Delhi 6, Maqbool and the Hindi Medium of 2007. Yet another character who is becoming an indispensable part of the new cinema is a very ordinary looking Aparshakti Khurana who is being given roles as big as and sometimes even more important than the hero. In films like Luka Chuppi or the recent Pati Patni or Woh, he provides a very important foil to the hero and one can’t imagine the film without him.

I somehow feel the resurgence of this new trend is like the IPL of Indian cinema.

Till the IPL came into its own, some very gutsy cricketers were playing very strong roles in their towns but never got noticed by the national selectors.

Similarly, these new roles being written for character actors are not only giving a new lease of life to veterans like Neena Gupta and Gajraj Rao or Seema Pahwa but also sucking in talent from theatre from small towns which was only waiting to be noticed.

It’s a double whammy for viewers as well as the actors and this trend would prompt more parents to allow their children to plan their dreams of entering theatres/cinema rather than wasting their energy, time and money becoming mediocre engineers and doctors.

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