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For the Love of Good Films: When Stars Take Up Character Roles, Everyone Shines

By: Sneha Bengani


Last Updated: February 15, 2019, 09:15 IST

For the Love of Good Films: When Stars Take Up Character Roles, Everyone Shines

Stars taking up character roles is a win-win for everyone—actors, filmmakers, audiences and the craft. Because after all, a role is defined by its impact and not screen time.

Around the turn of the 21st century, Amitabh Bachchan was struggling. He was too old to play the roles that had got him his fabled stardom and too rigid to understand that he needed to go beyond. He was still stuck with the hero he was so used to playing that he kept delivering duds like Mrityudata and Lal Baadshah.


But failure is as democratic as it is unforgiving. Even Bachchan knew he had to shift gears and soon. It took a series of box-office disasters for his hero—that was so masterfully nurtured and lovingly celebrated through the 70s and 80s—to realise that he had to step down and let the actor take over. But when it finally happened, what rose from the ashes was a phoenix that’s invincible even after 20 years.


Bachchan’s second innings is unarguably far more impressive than his first. His roles are more diverse, his hunger more palpable, his craft more nuanced and his legend all the more legitimate. When actors let go of the baggage of being a star, they soar.


Bachchan is flying and how! At an age when most people are deep in their retirement, he is rearing with enviable energy and is doing films most actors would give their right arm for. However, it is not just him. With the audience increasingly rejecting 50-year-old stars playing college students and romancing women half their age, Hindi film stars are constantly being forced to look beyond.

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Take Anil Kapoor for instance. He had a breakthrough of sorts in 2008 when he decided to play a small character role—that of a TV game-show host—in Danny Boyle’s Academy Award-winning Slumdog Millionaire. His part was small but the film and what it did for him certainly wasn’t. It revived Kapoor’s career in a way few films do, catapulting him to international recognition and willing him to continue treading the path unafraid. Eleven years on, he continues to choose varied characters and is consistently standing out—be it as the capitalist patriarch of a dysfunctional family in Dil Dhadakne Do or as a father trying to come to terms with the sexual orientation of his daughter in Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga.


Rishi Kapoor and Juhi Chawla also make for wonderful examples of stars who eventually became actors—sans the sheen—and are giving their filmographies delightful diversity. Gulaab Gang may have Madhuri Dixit in the lead but it is Chawla’s cold, unapologetically evil politician that you will remember the film by.


Though it is plain unfair to pick just one of the several memorable performances that Rishi Kapoor has given in the last few years, but his Rauf Lala in 2012’s Agneepath is haunting. From playing lover boy and dancing in picturesque locales in countless films to transforming into a cold-blooded human trafficker or a man accused of being a terrorist just because he’s a Muslim (in Mulk), Rishi Kapoor has come a long, long way, courtesy his timely metamorphosis.


At a time when theatrical films are facing a serious competition from other entertainment platforms which are growing at dizzying speed, stars not sticking to a template and wanting to experiment works not just for them but also for filmmakers and audiences. It mixes things up—filmmakers now have more to choose from, projects are no longer billed on one star’s name but on everyone’s performances, character artists are getting recognised more than ever and cine-goers don’t really know what to expect.


Who would you call the hero when a film has both Ayushmann Khurrana and Rajkummar Rao in lead roles? We no longer care, for they are both terrific actors and that’s all that matters.

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first published:February 15, 2019, 09:10 IST
last updated:February 15, 2019, 09:15 IST
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