By: Subhash K. Jha, IndiaFM
Monday, October 30, 2006
Among my favourite performances of 2006, Sushmita Sen in Chingari would rank really high. As she discarded her femme-fatale's image to get completely into character as the down-to-earth rustic prostitute in Kalpana Lajmi's Chingari you know an actor is at work...And Sushmita gives all of herself to Chingari regardless of resources reach and reputation.
At the beginning of this year I saw another commercial actor at work. Dino Morea's elegant salsa steps in Holiday leave a deep dent in your psyche. Dino spent nearly six months getting his unusual steps right. The results are there for all to see. He doesn't dance, he glides across the polished frames with a style and elegance you thought you would never see after Kamal Haasan in K. Vishwanath's Sagara Sangamam.
It takes a lot for a male star to discard the traditional postures of machismo to play roles on screen that require him to do delicate things. Dino has carried off the delicate dancing with muted machismo.
Here's an actor craving for meaty opportunities. Pining to prove there's more to his personality than meets the sigh. Even the other pinned-up boy John Abraham is completely unrecognizable as the meditative Gandhian reformist in Deepa Mehta's stunning Water.
Even a relatively new actor Sammir Dattani flew down to Hyderabad last week to plunge into a highly volatile and violent religious congregation on the streets. The sequence was a part of Mani Shankar's Mukhbir. "Anything could have happened. If Sammir was recognized he could've been stabbed. Our actors talk of preparation, but never at the cost of endangering their lives," says Mani Shankar appreciatively.
Perhaps putting your life in danger for a role is slightly impractical. But actors in Bollywood are growing increasingly aware of the power of preparation. Before Vivek Oberoi (though he has changed the spelling of his name we shall stick to the original because he may change back before this column appears) plunged into playing the gangster in Company he wore dirty clothes, lived in a chawl and got a hang of life at the grassroots.
I remember how hard a female co-star had sniggered at Vivek. "I don't believe in all this preparation and method acting. I'm a switch-on-switch-off actress." This could be translated as, 'I am too lazy to do any homework'. Lekin Madame, yeh chalta-hai attitude nahin chalega. Getting ready for a role isn't just the Naseer-Shabana-Om brigade's prerogative any longer.
Mainstream has gone method. Face it. Or fall with a thud. Hardcore masala actors are going all out for roles. If Dino practiced his salsa steps for Holiday, John learnt to play the flute for Water. And for Farhan Akhtar's Don, Priyanka Chopra took karate lessons.
For Vishal Bharadwaj's Omkara, Saif Ali Khan shaved his hair to the bare minimum, lined his face with a scar, put on dirty clothes and a limp. "This kind of external preparation always helps you to get into character. I believe once you get the clothes speech and body language right, you've got it made," says Saif as he limps to his next shot. Hard to recognize him as the cool dude in Salaam Namaste. Or that funny superstar Saif played in Main Khiladi Tu Anari who trailed the cop Akshay Kumar to prepare for a khakee-man's role.
For Krissh, Hrithik Roshan went through rigorous stunt training in Bangkok. His first costume drama Jodha-Akbar would require this supremely methodical actor to ride horses and fight with swords. No doubt, there will be a period of intense fighting and fencing to face the role.
Mainstream actors have always been ready to stretch themselves for a role. Trouble is, no one wants them to be anything but stars. Audiences don't like seeing their favourite stars change their looks or personality. Salman's droopy hair in Tere Naam or Aamir's rising mouche in Mangal Pandey are fine. But when Anil Kapoor added 20 kilos to his girth in Badhai Ho Badhai they booed him out.
"I don't mind working on myself for a role if it's worth it. But what's the point of stretching yourself when finally you don't have an audience?" Reasons Madhavan who grew his hair long and worked on a beefy fighter's look for his new Tamil film Thambi.
This kind of rigorous training is possible today when actors work on one role at a time. Earlier when Rajesh Khanna had to grow a beard for his psychologically disturbed character in Ittefaq he sauntered into many sequences of Do Raaste with the facial hair that didn't suit the character.
Today's average mega-star is far more willing and able. They are clued in and understand the value of preparation. It all depends on what they are preparing for. For a role Kamal Haasan put his face in plastic bag and screamed for his dubbing. His voice was never the same again.