The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, April 29, 2001

Much more than masala
By Aradhika Sekhon

THROUGH the history of Indian Cinema, though there have been instances of mainstream performers stepping into experimental domains, but largely hero- heroines have been content to be mass-produced from the same cookie- cutter. For decades the hero has been the truly good man embodying qualities of bravery, kindness, tolerance, love, duty; the heroine has been the deified goddess or glamour doll, resolutely virginal, faithful, feminine, and the villain who without justifiable reason practices evil until he is defeated But not anymore.

Rani Mukherjee’s role in Bichoo was off-beatA new generation of directors, sassy, educated women who demand better roles (and get them) and leading men who’d rather be interesting than good are shattering the archaic stereotypes of Hindi Cinema as also blurring the definitions of good and evil. No more pure blacks or whites but shades of grey and brown too. To quote Preity Zinta, "I’m comfortable playing white, black, grey, orange, magenta. So long as the role excites me!" Perhaps the transition is possible because the audience is getting increasingly satellite savvy, thus accepting a hero with negative shades, a heroine who steps out of her sati-savitri role and a villain who isn’t a comic-book psycho operating out of dens of vice. Also, today the new generation of filmwallas are looking at films as a career option. This, says Benegal, has had a "liberating effect! Today’s young people are much less inhibited and trapped by baggage than we were. They are able to separate their persona from their person". Critic Maithili Rao calls it "the new careerism", saying, "the sense of adventurism, of wanting high visibility and quick results which is the trend in society, is being reflected in the film industry as well". Variety is the flavour of the day and if a performer wants to endure in the industry, he’d better adapt himself to the times.


Such a person who has survived in a cut-throat industry for two decades because of his ability to take on any character is Anil Kapur. Kapur has never been the typical chocolate-box hero, nor a muscle-bound bimbo. He, however, has the ability to become anyone- the simple simon in Eshwar, the city slicker turned traditionalist in Viraasat, the philandering rake in Janbaaz, the reluctant lover in Lamhe, the boy next door in Saheb. Where Kapur’s contemporaries from the 80’s have lost steam, he endures because he is willing to step out and take on strong parallel roles as he did in Mann and Taal.

Heroines too are taking risks and treading new grounds, encouraged by urban audiences and refocused grounds, even the new entrants to filmdom want roles that are real. Of course, they continue to sing songs on the Alps but in addition actresses like Rani Mukherjee can execute with elan, the role of the foul mouthed, coarse daughter of a drug dealer in Bichoo. " I am now looking for distinctive characters. I don’t have any image I want to preserve. Actually I don’t want to be categorised at all", says she. Newcomer, Kareena Kapur who opted out of Kaho Na Pyar Hai and chose the difficult role of Naaz in Refugee instead says, "I want to be known as an actress and not as a star". The career choices of the newcomers are thus, both brave and smart because roles that showcase a heroine’s talent further their careers whereas Barbie-doll clones are soon replaced.

In fact all the best actresses seem to be making a conscious effort to escape branding whereas actresses like Juhi Chawla, Sri Devi and Madhuri Dixit steered clear of non-mainstream cinema but Karisma Kapur did a difficult and challenging role in Fiza and grabbed Zubeida when Benegal offered it to her. Raveena Tandon, known for her glam-doll image, changed her look in Ghulam-e-Mustafa,de-glamourised herself to play the harassed wife of an honest cop in Shool and is now playing the victim of marital rape in Daman directed by Kalpana Lajmi. Says Lajmi, "it isn’t easy to shed off mainstream acting styles. But Raveena made the transition beautifully and rose well above the script."For her role , she won the National Award.

The most unconventional roles have been played by Tabu. The National Award winning actress is seen dancing with Govinda in Shikari, but her more memorable roles are those in Maachis, Kalapani, Viraasat, Hu Tu Tu. Now she’s receiving accolades for Astitva where she plays a middle class housewife in search for an identity. In the pipeline is Chandni Bar where she plays a bar-girl in a hard core bar, which she says is "in a realistic format". "There has been a change in the definitions of roles and characters for women", she continues.

If this is the case with women’s’ roles in films where politics are regressive enough to try to confine them to pretty show-pieces, think of the change in men’ roles. Shah Rukh Khan’s trilogy of negative roles in Baazigar, Darr and Anjaam and his success therein made negative a positive possibility. Thereafter, even mainstream heroes have gone grey. Bobby Deol as the selfish, spoilt neurotic lover in Dillagi, Aamir Khan as the religious fanatic in Earth, Jackie Shroff as the scheming, murdering husband in Aar Ya Paar and terrorist in Mission Kashmir and even Govinda going negative in Shikari.

Characterisation itself has taken on multi-dimensional proportions. There isn’t any one kind of cinema being made but it is a period where mainstream cinema has incorporated many themes of parallel cinema and created a "post parallel cinema". Films like Fiza and Satya defy categorization. Along with liberal doses of glamour, the characters are far more believable than ever before. Bajpai, playing Bhiku Mhatre in Satya is both hero and villain. Hrithtik Roshan as Aaman in Fiza is the terrorist, who comes back to routine life but finds himself a mis-fit and finally opts out.

Naturally, the face of the villain has undergone a radical change too. A new realism is being brought to villainy as black takes on several interesting shades. The un-natural and unbelievable villainy of Doctor Dang in Karma or Shakaal in Shaan or Baapji in Narsimha is out. Older villains like Amrish Puri, Anupam Kher, Paresh Rawal, Sadashiv Amarapurkar have started taking on strong supporting character roles, handing over the mantle of villainy to actors like Ashutosh Rana, Sayaji Shinde and Sushant Singh, who’ve increased the range of villainy tremendously.

Ashutosh Rana played the psychotic rapist in Dushman and the tantrik who sacrifices children in quest of immortality in Sangharsh, Sayaji Shinde plays a sexual sadist in Daman after bringing a new realism to villainy as Bachoo Yadav in Shool. Sushant Singh played a Veerappan-type, trigger- happy bandit in Jungle. Nasiruddin Shah was the graceful and cultured ghazal singer who was an ISI pawn in Sarfarosh. Even actresses like Kajol in Gupt and Urmila in Kaun are experimenting with outright evil. After decades of being caricatures, fresh dimensions of bad behaviour are being created which are all the more frightening because they are so very real and convincing.

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