Ranbir Kapoor in Animal, Vidya Balan in The Dirty Picture, Big B in Paa & more: Stars beyond comfort zone

Toxic machismo isn’t a trait you normally associate with Ranbir Kapoor’s screen image, yet living out such a role has given the GenNow Bollywood star the defining blockbuster of his career. As Ranvijay Singh in his latest release, Animal, Kapoor revels in a sort of sexual aggression that many felt was outright misogynistic and violence that borders on gore. The role is a departure from the affable and happy-go-lucky, if flawed at times, romantic protagonist that has largely marked the actor’s career. The film’s global gross of Rs 737.98 crore (and counting) within 11 days of release shows stepping out of comfort zone has worked bigtime for the actor despite being politically incorrect, even as Animal enters the list of the top 10 highest-grossing Indian hits of all time.

Ranbir Kapoor is not an exception as a mainstream Bollywood star to risk a shift in image. Although showbiz in the new era is increasingly controlled by a PR-monitored consciousness to maintain a star’s image on and off the screen, one can recall several instances where actors have moved outside the safe zone in an effort to make an impact. As in the case of Kapoor’s Animal act, the ploy has worked for some but has also backfired for others.

We take a look at some of the most notable experimentations within the framework of commercial Bollywood in recent decades, where big money diktats often prevent stars from trying anything beyond the usual.

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AMITABH BACHCHAN in PAA & AGNEEPATH

Amitabh Bachchan’s climb to superstardom happened with a departure from trend in Bollywood. Zanjeer, his calling card as an Angry Young Man in 1973, marked a move away from Rajesh Khanna’s ongoing romantic wave of the time. Although he had impressed in social dramas such as Anand and Sanjog before Zanjeer, Big B’s act as Inspector Vijay Khanna in Prakash Mehra’s 1973 hit would establish the staple action image of his heydays.

Over the decades, Amitabh Bachchan has experimented with image in innumerable films. If one was to pick a couple of the most prominent efforts, it would have to be Agneepath (1990) and Paa (2009), films that won him two of his four National Awards. Of these, Paa is a natural pick for his sheer transformation while acting out a 12-year-old boy with a rare genetic condition called progeria.

The more interesting experiment, however, would be the underworld saga Agneepath. Although his role of the gangster Vijay Deenanath Chauhan had all the trappings to showcase Bachchan’s trademark gravitas, director Mukul S. Anand chose to experiment with the biggest asset traditionally associated with superstar’s intense image — his voice. Like Marlon Brando in The Godfather, Bachchan spoke in a low guttural tone. Agneepath underperformed, earning way below its high budget, although it would go on to become a cult film and spawn a remake starring Hrithik Roshan in 2012.

Amitabh Bachchan’s other interesting experiments as an actor in recent years include Piku, Black, Cheeni Kum and The Last Lear, besides negative or grey shades in Aankhen, Aks, Boom and RGV Ki Aag.

VIDYA BALAN in THE DIRTY PICTURE

Vidya Balan entered Bollywood with Parineeta in 2005 and established her status as contemporary Hindi cinema’s favourite ‘desi’ heroine over the next few years, with films such as Lage Raho Munna Bhai (2006), Guru (2007), Bhool Bhulaiyaa (2007), Halla Bol (2008), Paa (2009), even her seductive act laced with black humour in Ishqiya (2010). Then, after an understated performance in the sleeper hit No One Killed Jessica in early 2011, Balan unleashed her most unusual and biggest role yet in The Dirty Picture, in December the same year.

Milan Luthria’s The Dirty Picture was a semi-biographical, quasi-fictional account inspired by the life of Silk Smitha, an actress noted for her erotic roles in the eighties and the nineties. The film saw Vidya Balan win a National Award for her bold makeover while bringing alive with nuances a screen siren who was ambitious and angst-ridden at the same time as she was uninhibited and unapologetic about her nonconformist lifestyle.

AKSHAY KUMAR in HERA PHERI

Akshay Kumar’s act in Priyadarshan’s brilliant comedy of 2000, Hera Pheri, may not have yielded blockbuster box office returns but the film, considered a comedy classic today, went on to be a moderate success. Importantly, it kickstarted the actor’s stint as a comic superstar almost a decade after his entry in Bollywood as an action hero who was also a fine dancer.

From his debut as a hero in Raj Sippy’s 1991 release Saugandh to Suneel Darshan’s 1999 film Jaanwar, his last release before Hera Pheri, Akshay Kumar had mostly banked on stunts, dance numbers and larger-than-life drama to garner a steady fan base through the nineties. Comedy in his roles served merely as an additional trait to his machoman persona in films such as Khiladi, Main Khiladi Tu Anari and Sabse Bada Khiladi. With the out-and-out humour caper Hera Pheri, Kumar proved his intermittent experiments as a funnyman were no flukes.

SUNNY DEOL in DILLAGI

In 1999, at the height of his popularity as an action hero, Sunny Deol tried an image makeover with the self-directed rom-com, Dillagi. The actor had by then already delivered powerful action roles through the eighties and the nineties in films such as Arjun, Dacait, Yateem, Vardi, Tridev, Ghayal, Damini, Ghatak, Ziddi and Border among other hits.

Sunny Deol incidentally had an early brush with mush, with his debut act in Rahul Rawail’s Betaab (1983) besides Umesh Mehra’s Sohni Mahiwal the next year. While these films were hits, his next romantic outings, Manzil Manzil and Sunny, flopped. Around a decade and a half later, after establishing himself as an action superstar, the actor chose to attempt a return to romance alongside younger brother Bobby Deol, in a comic love triangle about two brothers falling in love with the same girl. The film was originally titled London, with Gurinder Chadha as director and Karisma Kapoor as heroine. However, London was shelved and Sunny Deol took over direction with Urmila Matondkar replacing Kapoor. Dillagi failed to impress most of Deol’s fans and the actor would soon return to tested action mould.

KAJOL in GUPT

It is rare for a commercial heroine in Bollywood to play a murderer even today, and it certainly was far from the norm back in the nineties when Kajol wowed all with her killer act in Gupt.

Rajiv Rai’s 1997 release was structured as a mainstream love triangle about two girls, played by Kajol and Manisha Koirala, falling in love with the same guy (Bobby Deol). When the hero’s father, a Governor, is murdered, circumstances seem to link him to the death. The plot offers several red herrings and twists before revealing Kajol’s obsessed lover as the killer. The psychological thriller showcased Kajol’s range in an unconventional way, after she had established herself among the most promising newcomers of the nineties with traditional roles in films such as Baazigar, Udhaar Ki Zindagi, Yeh Dillagi, Karan Arjun and Dulhania Le Jayenge.

GOVINDA in SHIKARI

Chandra’s 2000 release Shikari marked Govinda’s attempt at portraying darker shades, as a revenge-obsessed antihero. The actor, widely regarded among Bollywood funniest stars ever, had enjoyed immense popularity through the nineties with his played-to-gallery brand of humour in David Dhawan hits such as Aankhen (1993), Raja Babu (1994), Coolie No. 1 (1995), Saajan Chale Sasural (1996), Hero No. 1 (1997), Deewana Mastana (1997), Dulhe Raja (1998), Bade Miyan Chote Miyan (1998) and Haseena Maan Jaayegi (1999).

By the turn of the century, typecast as a comic hero, Govinda attempted a revenge thriller with Shikari, a film that bore shades of the Shah Rukh Khan superhit, Baazigar. Although Govinda had done a few drama and thriller roles in the early phase of his career including Ilzaam, Duty, Hatya, Izzatdar, Maha-Sangram, Do Qaidi, Swarg and Marte Dum Tak, his attempt at playing evil in Shikari came a cropper. By 2001, the actor was collaborating with David Dhawan once again to score a hit with Jodi No. 1.

 

Vinayak Chakravorty is a critic, columnist and journalist who loves to write on popular culture.

 

 

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