Bollywood needs to think beyond Khans

They are not the pedigree of Kapoors or Bachchans, neither do they have a famous surname nor a blind fan following which ensures them a hit every time their film releases. And yet, actors like Irrfan Khan, Manoj Bajpayee and Sharman Joshi shine each time they come on screen.<br/><br/>The year 2012 has been a good one for them so far. Directors have had the courage to think beyond formula films and the audiences have lapped up experimental, niche films with equal fervour like they have loved their usual commercial potboilers. ‘Pan Singh Tomar’, ‘Ferrari Ki Swaari’ and now the latest ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’ have all proved that in Bollywood, there is no set formula for success and it is okay to take a risk.<br/><br/>All these films were character driven and wouldn’t have been the same if an established actor had played the protagonist’s role. And that perhaps sets these actors apart from the rest of the ‘herd’. They take up roles in which they become that character and shed the added baggage of a star.<br/><br/>Manoj Bajpayee’s portrayal of a revenge seeking robber, Sardar Khan, in Anurag Kashyap’s latest offering ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’ re-establishes the fact that he knows his craft well. The portrayal could easily have been over the top or pretentious considering it had its usual trappings (main lead seeking revenge for his father’s death is a done to death topic in Indian cinema). But Manoj managed to make Sardar Khan almost a humorous character, whom I couldn’t help but love. He was ruthless, chopped people, double checked after stabbing a few by simply saying ‘mar gaya kya’, cheated his wife and yet you couldn’t help but love the colloquial dialect which Bajpayee delivered with such ease. Yes, being part of that state may have helped him adapt the character and his mannerisms well, but Bajpayee managed to make the quintessential <i>Bihari bhaiyya</i> charming! <br/><br/>Just like Bajpayee, Irrfan Khan gave an amazingly stellar performance as an athlete who turns a dacoit in Tigmanshu Dhulia’s ‘Paan Singh Tomar’. It’s not easy to play a character whose journey from a youthful army man to an old dacoit is narrated in three hours. But Irrfan Khan managed it beautifully. Like the way he had played a Bengali professor in Mira Nair’s ‘Namesake’ or the Lucknow’s student leader in ‘Haasil’. Irrfan Khan manages every time to become the character so much so that you forget his previous equally brilliant performances because you can’t help but gape at him on screen. Who can forget his light hearted portrayal of the perverted Monty in ‘Life in a Metro’ who is desperate to get hitched? Or his no nonsense cop act in ‘New York’?<br/><br/>While Khan and Bajpayee have been lauded for their work and been called the stars of parallel cinema in the past, Sharman Joshi has somewhat remained on the sidelines all this while. At least till ‘Ferrari Ki Sawari’ happened to him. The actor has been part of some huge blockbusters like ‘Rang de Basanti’, ‘3 Idiots’ and ‘Golmaal’ and yet has not been given his due credit. He has always been camouflaged by other actors who have basked in the film’s glory, but Sharman has made, in his own words, calculated moves. In an industry obsessed with numbers at Box Office than critical acclaim, it is somewhat ironic that Sharman isn’t seen in too many films and doesn’t command the star power that he can rightfully claim.<br/><br/>Which brings me to a very important point: is the film industry obsessed with brand value? I can understand why Irrfan Khan and Manoj Bajpayee do not enjoy a superstar status inspite of delivering some super performances in their career. They, after all, are stars of parallel cinema, but why does a Sharman Joshi have to wait so long for a ‘Ferrari Ki Sawari’ to prove that he can take charge of a film single handedly. <br/><br/>In most cases, we tend to decide ourselves which film would work and which won’t by looking at the trailers. So a ‘Ra.One’ or a ‘Bodyguard’ will be declared a super-hit just by looking at the trailers and will join the much talked about ‘100 crore’ in its first week of release inspite of a trashy story line, but a ‘Paan Singh Tomar’ or a ‘Ferrari Ki Sawari’ will have to depend on word of mouth publicity to become a hit. <br/><br/>Filmmakers themselves fall pray to this practice. A film with a Kumar or a Khan will have crores of rupees set aside just for its promotion while a film starring Irrfan Khan as the hero will have to wait to even get a distributor and be promoted in the shoddiest manner. It may win awards at reputed film festivals abroad, but on home turf, fizzle out due to the absence of a big star.<br/><br/>But while the Khans and Kumars and Bachchans enjoy the superstar status, they do not always guarantee a Box Office hit. And yet they are hailed as ‘superstars’. Agreed they have all the qualities of a typical Hindi film hero, but aren’t films becoming experimental? New genres are being explored and the lines between commercial cinema and art house films have blurred. Everyone at the end of the day wants to do an author backed role which can showcase his or her acting prowess. So why this prejudice? Why a preconceived notion about films and actors?<br/><br/>A brand SRK or brand Aamir is always bound to work, doesn’t matter what they have to offer. But a brand Irrfan is highly unlikely even though he is the only one to balance a career in Hollywood and Bollywood with equal aplomb. <br/><br/>The films are maturing, the story line is becoming experimental and even the audience is becoming more receptive to a new kind of cinema. This is a golden period for cinema where a ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’ is welcomed with open arms weeks after a ‘Rowdy Rathore’ is declared a blockbuster. So if the films are being lapped up, isn’t it high time that the stars of these films are given their due credit and offered a pedestal for being brave enough to entertain us in their own, unique way?<br/><br/>