The last five years have been game-changing for Indian cinema in more than one way. There has been a discernible shift in audience’s taste, sensibilities and the way they consume entertainment which has forced the filmmakers to learn, unlearn and then learn some more.
Boundaries are blurring, and how! Actors today are focusing more on projects than the platform on which they are shown. Stars like Saif Ali Khan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui have forayed into the web, redefining what film actors can or cannot do. Meanwhile, there has been an explosion of television actors on the 70mm screen in a way unthinkable 10 years ago.
Sushant Singh Rajput, who started his acting career with TV shows like Kis Desh Mein Hai Meraa Dil and Pavitra Rishta, is now a Bollywood biggie, awaiting the release of his seventh film. Mouni Roy, who has done it all on television from Kyuki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi to Jhalak Dikhla Jaa and Naagin, made her big Bollywood debut earlier this year opposite Akshay Kumar in Gold. In 2019, she will be seen in two films alongside stars like Amitabh Bachchan, Alia Bhatt, Ranbir Kapoor and Rajkummar Rao.
Rajput and Roy aren’t the only ones. There’s a long list of actors who began their careers on TV but have since moved to the big screen. Has acting now finally become a level-playing field in India then? Is it easier now for actors from television to crossover to films than it used to be, say, 10 years ago?
Rajeev Khandelwal, who was a television heartthrob (Kahiin To Hoga, Left Right Left) before he made his film debut in 2008 with Aamir, says producers are more acceptable of actors from TV today than they were a decade ago.
“Producers haven’t been very intelligent in the past in thinking that TV actors wouldn’t work in films. Why not? We already have a fan base. People already know us. So half the battle is already won,” he says.
“Back in the day, they were waiting for this one person to take the chance, break the myth and open the door for everyone else. That door is now wide open,” he adds.
Vikrant Massey, who has received praise for his work both on television and films (Balika Vadhu, Lootera, A Death in the Gunj), says it has become easier for actors now because filmmakers are now focusing on the quality of content more than anything else.
“We now sort of prioritise quality in films. The last five years have been phenomenal for smaller films and outsiders. Slowly but steadily, we are focusing more on content and not artist’s acting histories,” he says.
“The lines are blurring because now people are working on all mediums, including the web. It’s now becoming more of a fair game but biases still exist,” says Kritika Kamra, who has been on TV for 10 years now (Kitani Mohabbat Hai, Kuch Toh Log Kahenge). Her first film Mitron released in September.
“Logistically, if you look at the number of people who have transitioned from TV to films recently, you’ll say it’s become better but it’s not easy,” says Kamra.
“People have a preconceived notion about TV actors, especially for those who have been on television for years. Sometimes they think you’re too overexposed or that you don’t subscribe to the construct of ‘realistic cinema.’”
“I was offered this one film where the director called me because of my TV persona and then didn’t cast me because they felt they wanted a film face,” she adds.
Massey says he had to suffer a lot of biases too. “When I was starting out, I was this ‘TV actor’ who wanted to venture into films. There were several people who’d say, ‘TV actors ko acting nahi aati’ or ‘TV waale toh aise hote hai’.”
Forget level-playing field, Kamra feels actors from TV have it worse than even newcomers. “TV comes with its own baggage. I have had to face that a lot of times. We don’t get the same platform that newcomers do. A lot of times, they are looking for a fresh face,” she says.
“I want an even entry point. Test me on merit. Don’t take me if you don’t like me. But if I don’t get a role because of my television history, that kind of bothers me,” says Kamra.
“And it happens. It’s better now than what it used to be but you still have to constantly prove yourself. Just being a good actor is not enough. You have to prove that you’re cool and you are not what people see you on TV,” she adds.
Khandwelwal agrees. He says people are quick to judge actors from television. “When a TV actor’s film doesn’t work, we say he/she failed on the big screen. But a film’s success or failure cannot be shouldered by one person. A lot of people are involved,” he says, adding that TV actors are constantly pigeonholed.
“We talk about TV actors not working in films. But do we ever talk about the film actors who have not worked on television? If you look at it, they are more in number,” he says.
Film vs TV
Khandelwal says he doesn’t consider films to be bigger than television. “The kind of talent and commitment you need on TV is far, far more than what’s required in films. I didn’t venture into films because I wanted to become bigger. For me they are all projects—be it films, TV or now web. As an actor, you act in a similar way,” he says.
Kamra agrees, “I don’t like it when people say ‘Oh this is TV wali acting and that is film wali acting’ because for me performance is performance. As an actor, I know that I don’t approach the two things differently. For an artist, it’s not different. But the perception is such.”
Though a lot of Indian television is loud and massy but to think that all of it is, and that TV actors can do nothing else, is short-sighted, feels Massey. “I am very proud of all the television I have done and I still stand by it. All of my shows—be it Balika Vadhu or Baba Aiso Var Dhoondho—had great content, and as long as that’s there I don’t much care about the medium they air on,” he says.
“In the West, actors are actors, whether they do Broadways, musicals, films or TV shows. And that’s how it should be,” says Khandelwal.
“It could be a TV show, a theatrical release or an online show, what is paramount to me is playing diverse, interesting characters where I get to portray things that I am capable of and do stories which I want to be proud doing,” says Massey.
“We need to reach a place where we are identified for our body of work and not the medium we’re known for or are working on. I hope there comes a day when you are not a TV actor or a film actor. You’re just an actor,” says Kamra.
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