Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Character Artist

"Mere Karan Arjun aayenge"

"Yaar ke liye jaan bhi chali jaaye, toh koi ghum nahin"

 One of the major supports to the medium of Hindi Cinema has been the supporting cast. In retrospection when we look at the early days, we see our movies much inspired  by the west in terms of style, but later relying on the grounded Indian values of love, friendship, blood-ties, which come into foray in so many ways, thereby getting to exploit the target audience's emotions correctly. Here, a mere leading man or a leading lady cannot do the trick alone. Hence, the need for supporting cast. 

 And what excellent support they gave ! From getting their friend's love letter passed to the correct girl in class, to taking the bullet meant for the hero from the villain's gun, from making the ever so tasty gajar ka halwa or aloo ke parathey till getting raped by the brother's enemy, the support has been untiringly endless.

I wonder though. how the term "Character Artist" came to be associated with these characters. Certainly on a conscientious call, differentiating between black and white, the hero has a good character and the villain has a bad character. Maybe everybody else supporting the film, just has "character". 

Unclear pondering aside, the irony was, the term "character artist" got associated to you, after you did a few of the supporting cast roles. This tag, many artists were rather afraid of to get associated with, many still are. This tag actually ruined promising careers of so many good actors. On the contrary there were also a few who, after having seen it all on the Good or the Bad side, decided to move on to "character artist" roles. Sample Ashok Kumar, who after having been a leading man for quite some time moved into the character artist mode and delivered quite a few smaller gems. There was Pran, who, after decades of terrorizing Indians with his menace on the silver screen, took to supporting roles, as a fish to water and showed brilliance in "Upkaar", "Zanzeer" etc. Sometimes the actors had such great screen presence, their role stood out parallel to the lead performers. A good case in point would be Sanjeev Kumar's "Thakur" in "Sholay", which is one of the best portrayals of a non-lead role. You may say, the role was quite meaty, but it's all the actor's credit, to have left an indelible mark in our minds.

 There were many actors though who lost out after showing decent promise early on. Aruna Irani, once a leading lady, succumbed to being good support later on. Danny Denzongpa, started well early on, but kept shuttling between negative and side artist roles. Deepak Tijori, bollywood's most remembered "side actor" gave company to leading men through the 90's. Chunkey Pandey, having failed as a solo star, did great in 2nd leads in "Aankhen" and "Tezaab". Then, there were also those who turned the theory upside down and made their foray into stardom, the other way round, such as NanaPatekar and even Mithun Chakraborty.

However apart from chance and debacles, we also had those who were regular features as supporting cast. The golden moms, Nirupa Roy, Durga Khote, the lovable funny sidekicks like Asrani ( who IMO did splendid in "Abhimaan" ), the late arriving Police Inspector - Iftekhar, the ever old man - Hangal Saab and Om Prakash. One of the best directors to have made use of the supporting cast in his movies were Basu Chatterjee and Hrishikesh Mukherjee. Be it "Khatta Meetha" "Chhoti si baat" "Golmaal" or "Chupke Chupke", a lot of us viewers would still remember and adore the endearing cast. 
As bollywood moved on to changing times, we saw the role of a "character artist" being re-defined. Lot of promising faces over the years have come in and created an impression in roles, which aren't exactly black or white. Last weekend saw the release of two movies - "Paan Singh Tomar" and "London, Paris, New York". PST has Irrfan Khan, one of the best talents India has now, as the leading man. Yet it saw the light at the box office after two years of it's completion. The other, "London Paris New York" featured Aditi Rao Hydari, as the leading lady. Aditi previously essayed small but note worthy "character artist" roles in Delhi 6, Rockstar and a bit of footage in "Yeh Saali Zindagi".

The above cases in point show that the line differentiating "character artists" from "The Leading Artists" is definitely blurring. Awaiting more of these in the near future to end the taboo and bring the glass ceilings down. More power to Cinema..