It was young, glam and hot rising actress Kriti Sanon’s recent statement that triggered this piece. The Luka Chhupi star candidly confessed that despite her other earlier starrers, it took a Bareilly ki Barfi for her peers, production houses and audiences to take her seriously as an actor. “I find there is a popular perception among most that those, who embrace de-glam, rooted and stark realism-specific roles, are recognised as actors. Sure, the glam stars are admired and appreciated – as glossy, glitzy distractions and eye candy – but seldom taken seriously or respected as actors. Once you’ve done your stuff as a de-glam player, then you are free to juggle with the other stuff which can often prompt people to even label you as a versatile actress, but for that, you’ve got to do time; stay miles away from anything glitzy or filmy!” This is re-enforced by a classic retort unleashed by the late character actor AK Hangal decades ago when Sanjeev Kumar persistently lamented on his misfortune of forever being cast in supporting roles, never a Hero: “Ek dafe Hero banjayga, Hero hi rahega, actor kabhi nahin banogay!”
The fact is, from time immemorial there has always been a silent, unspoken conflict raging between the glam, hot, successful star and the gifted, popular actor. While the much-fantasised dazzlers have never ever publicly condescended to recognise the talent and contribution of a modestly popular but consummate actor, the actor, in turn has always — in private — sneered and ridiculed the stars’ “attempts at acting” and attributed their success to “good luck” and networking skills. Supernova female dazzlers somewhere within, seem to recognise, realise, understand and know the source of their fan-appeal. Glamour, sex appeal, beauty, dazzling screen presence, great pairing chemistry with a top-hero? Sure! However, seldom — if ever — does the term “great acting” feature and the top stars, at some point, begin to yearn for that elusive praise.
So what do they do in an environment where “branding” and “image” call the shots, where audience perception is reality and where a shift in screen persona could be suicidal, unless pulled off with great care? Fall back on the oldest trick in the book — go de-glam! Back in the seventies it was Jeetendra-Hema Malini going seedha-saadha in Gulzar (Khushboo, Kinara) movies; Vinod Khanna following suit in Achanak; Amitabh Bachchan and Rekha did their turn (Bemisaal, Jurmana, Chupke Chupke, Khubsoorat) as also garam Dharam (Chupke Chupke, Satyakam) and of course the biggest of ’em all, Rajesh Khanna with Anand, Namak Haram and Bawarchi soon joined the party. Even the Evening in Paris and Kashmir Ki Kali sizzler, Sharmila Tagore, frequently went “plain” in such projects as Anupama, Satyakaam, and Aavishkar as did Mumtaz in Tere Mere Sapne, among others. Did it work for them? One has to admit that mostly it did and largely because the director’s intent was focussed, pure and not corrupted by commercial considerations. It was a genuine desire to convert challenge into opportunities for the glam-dolls and cardboard studs, with the helping hand of a caring, sensitive, inspirational, encouraging and gifted director.
What’s the scene today? Same, as it was yesterday, my friend. Hotties like Priyanka Chopra, Kat Kaif, Deepika Padukone, Ash Rai Bachchan and Bipasha Basu have all been driven by the same compulsions and attempted to switch lanes and embrace the elusive art and craft of true-to-life acting as against, hi-decibel, populist, posturing, dramabazi and performing! Ash went heavy-duty, de-glam in Rituparno Ghosh‘s Raincoat and later Mani Ratnam’s Guru and Raavan. Gorgeous Piggy Chops, aged from age 21 to 65 on her mission to murder seven husbands in Vishal Bharadwaj’s Saat Khoon Maaf and boxed her way up in Mary Kom! Stunning, tall Deepika played a blind girl in Lafangey Parindey and also went low-key in Karthik Calling Karthik, Ashutosh Gowarikar’s Khelenge Hum Jee Jaan Sey and Finding Fanny. Who can forget the delectable and glamorous Katrina Kaif’s de-glam look in Prakash Jha’s huge hit Raajneeti and more recent Fitoor? And of course, not to miss out on the Bong-shell Bipash Basu’s Kashmiri girl act in the here today–gone today film, Lamha and Rituparno Ghosh’s Bangla movie Shob Choritro Kalpanik? Kareena too did Chameli.
While the reasons of these stars for accepting roles against their grain is interesting … “It was a challenge to play a role you can’t identify in real life” (Priyanka Chopra); “I am still new and change is good and the right time to experiment” (Deepika Padukone); “I signed the film for the credibility of the role” (Bipasha Basu), ultimately, it’s the audience that decides whether the transition worked or not. While Priyanka was amazing in Kaminey and Katrina quite credible and fetching in Raajneeti, Deepika didn’t seem to quite fit in either Lafangey, Karthik or Jee Jaan Sey despite very spirited efforts. As for Bips, it was a total flop, if only because of her overwhelming image as a sexy, hot babe!
So, at the end of the day, going de-glam can be a blessing or a curse. So, look before you leap.