Unexpected High Quality Performances by Bollywood Biggies

A brief about how this article came into the thought space. While having nothing to do on a fine weekend afternoon, I was trying to search for the old Jai soap ad commercial which featured Amisha Patel (and if someone can find it, please post it to Filmistani FB page) when it suddenly came to me to write about all Amisha Patels of the industry, you know, the ones whose existence on the silver screen will be remembered for spoiling, or diminishing a role or a movie, if remembered at all. So I ventured into names like Kimi Katkar (I really don't feel like Google-ing the spelling of her name), Mamta Kulkarni, Ayesha Zulka and then, I thought - but what good have big names like mister junior Bachchan done to any of the roles he has played, and Bingo! There was the What an Idea Sir Ji (no pun intended, really!).

So we will look back and wonder today on the performances from big (as well as not so big) names of Bollywood which hit us completely unprepared and left us surprised. The theme, really is the performance which was least expected of the actor at that time when it came.

The first big name I take up is the one and the only ESS AAR KAY (for the effect of it). He is good, and damn good at what he does, but there are a whole bunch of us who, lets just say, are not particularly fond of the kind of roles he plays and his acting. It was the time SRK was creating his legacy of stereotyped characters - Mohabbatein (2000), Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Ghum (2001), Devdas (2002), Kal Ho Na Ho (2003) and then in 2004, Swades happened. Gowarikar has shown his mettle to us alright, but the Mohan Bhargava we saw in SRK was as far away from the default SRK-acting as is Fardeen Khan from any kind of acting. There was not even the remotest trace of theatre-backed-loud-acting (read over-acting often) that we know the man for and hence, the one scene (the one with the poor water vendor boy at station) where Shah Rukh was required to do what he does best, he hits the perfect high. Looking at him now, I am assured Swades will remain his best performance ever.

Talking of big names, Aishwarya Rai is perhaps the most beautiful woman to be seen on the Silver Screen of our country but when was the last time she stunned you with a piece of acting? OK, I'll make it easier, when was the only time she did so? I know, its really hard. I can say many of you haven't seen the movie, but Raincoat was, to me, probably the only movie till its time which featured Aishwarya for entirely different reasons than her being the beauty queen. The Hindu pointed out that 'the former beauty queen appears to have shed her inhibitions about looking unglamorous'. Her portrayal of the passive housewife Neerja was brilliantly depressing and pathetic and at the same time, drives you to the point of wanting to discover more about the character and her story of how-it-all-went-so-bad with her life, of what this rusted, battered beauty would have been like in her sunshine days (which is what Rituparno would have had in mind while choosing Aish in the first place). Aishwarya has never been seen again in the non-glam avatar (Chokher Bali, if you are itching to point out, had her body covered alright but Binodini was meant to be the most attractive woman in the movie unlike Neerja who was made to look charred and corroded to the point of irreversible damage) probably because of brand-image issues but Raincoat, when it came, was the only time where Aishwarya surprised us with anything other than looks (she did with the looks too, but in the other-way-round meaning and that would be credited more to the director and makeup people i guess).

The next biggie (would you believe me if I say - no pun intended?) we look at is Ayesha Takia. Her performance in Dor was the first one that came to my mind when I thought of writing this post. Before this, I had noticed Ayesha (yes, you know why that would be) only in Tarzan, where she also bagged some awards for best debut performance. First time I watched Dor, it was in a college hostel room with very unusual companions in two of very unemotional, uninterested and bored batchmates of mine. By the time it ended, two of us literally clapped at Ayesha getting on to the train. She scored high on every shade of Meera that she presented - the tradition-wrapped doll, the childlike bride, the veiled-yet-sensuous wife, the walled-yet-happy daughter-in-law, the loss-struck lover, the blue-clad widow, the sadness-hardened woman, the angry-yet-compassionate friend and so many more. Be it the little moments with her husband Shankar, stolen away from the daily chores of her traditional married life, or the childish scenes at the temple with Leela, or the one where she dances to a tune and immediately feels guilty at being anything close to happy, being a widow; Ayesha just leaves the viewer speechless and wondering. No surprise that she won many a critics awards and others for this performance. Dor will be remembered, and more than Nagesh Kukunoor, Ayesha is to blame.

Langda Tyagi Baahubali ! Saif Ali Khan, with his curly hair and cute-boy looks was a waste from 1992 to 2001 till Dil Chahta Hai made him a man to look for. RHTDM (though dominated by the co-actor), Kal Ho Na Ho (again, same) and Hum Tum did little good to Saif as a solo performer. 2006. Vishal Bharadwaj. Omkara. What this man Saif could do with that little limp and the short-haired-bearded-face look was wondrous. Though Konkana (oh, I love her !!) bagged the National Award for her role, Saif Ali Khan unanimously clean swept all awards for negative role that year and rightly so. Besides his dialogs being good, he did lot of work with his face, eyes, smile and his forehead in Omkara which, hasn't really been something about this man. Langda's transformation from the loyal right-hand man to the angry-envious-revengeful evil is brilliantly done by both the director and the actor. Lets hope Saif will rise up from Agent Vinod and Cocktail (after you are done reading, please kill me for taking that last name).

Before year 2000, Karishma Kapoor (she has probably changed her name's spelling now) could be remembered for Raja Hindustani and Dil To Pagal Hai (probably her most acclaimed performance) and frankly, I was never a fan so I rarely noticed her beyond the Govinda movies. Director Khalid Mohammed's FIZA came in 2000 with Karishma in an avatar where she was the disillusioned, disturbed yet determined elder sister of Hrithik Roshan, and before I watched it, I made fun of Karishma saying - "heroine se ab didi banne ka time aa gaya hai, kuchh time me maa...". The scene where Karishma cries after Jaya (her mother) had died, hits you by surprise coming from the otherwise composed character of Fiza, and it is probably one of the best scenes I have ever witnessed of a lead actress crying on screen. Fiza's facial expressions, her anger, her mental strength presented by Lolo were flawless and Karishma Kapoor registered her best performance till that time (because later, Zubeidaa came in as another memorable one from her), proving her substance in acting. Karishma's latest film Dangerous Ishq or Pyar Dangerous or something has done what such comebacks generally do to the actor's name - defamation.

Now, since I started with a joke on Sir Ji, we shall talk of one of the tall guy's performances as well. If you are thinking of Guru, this article is about the first unexpected acting performances (or people not known for acting) and hence, we turn to Mani Ratnam's Yuva. As Wiki says - at the start of his career, "Abhishek went on to give a string of 17 poorly received films" which to be fair to him, were also because he was  being compared constantly to his father "The Bachchan". The 2004 multi starrer Yuva came with Abhishek in a negative role, with the right looks and attitude of the "angry young man" his father introduced Indian cinema to. Lallan Singh, with that beard, Kajal-lined eyes and the accent was the most appealing character in the movie, despite being negative. He received both critical acclaim and his first Filmfare award for Best Supporting Actor (which he won for 2 more consecutive years) for the performance which also established him as one of the known actors on the silver screen for years to come, and paved the path for his first commercial success Dhoom. To me, running away with more praise than Ajav Devgan while sharing a screen with him, for someone like junior AB, is just superb and nothing less. Abhishek went on to give some more performances like Guru and Sarkar (1 and 2); though, like most of the people under discussion here, his last film Bol Bachchan was a sheer waste.

Here we have someone who was always there but never really got the recognition as a frontline actress. Raveena Tandon (did you know that she was named using parts of her parents' names - Ravi and Veena), till the 1990s, featured in a handful of commercially successful movies like Mohra, Dilwale, Khiladiyon ka Khiladi and Ziddi, but the transformation to art-films and reality cinema that she went under in the 2000s showed us the side of this husky voiced punjabi beauty which was unprecedented, to say the least. With Shool, Bulandi and Aks (Filmfare award for Special Performance) already pitching her in the serious-cinema domain, she went on to bag the National Film Award for Best Actress for her performance in Daman. Unexpectedly, I watched this movie at home, alone and in the end, I felt - "Why Raveena? Why did you never tell anyone what you could do?" Her portrayal of the battered and crushed wife Durga to an abusive and almost paranoid husband Sayaji Shinde (another superb face on screen) was perfectly balanced between acceptance and anger, between hopefulness and hopelessness. She showed the character's strength to carry on between all torture and insult and injury, brilliantly and the climax to the movie, though on expected lines due to the name Durga, reaches a perfect high for the viewer.

To the man who holds the unparalleled record of starring in the highest grossing film of a year, for eight years in his career, quality in acting may not matter at all - Salman Khan also has 3 films among the top 5 of all time biggest earners (in India). Tere Naam, after Swades, is the second movie in this article which literally brought tears to me, and of course the first and last time Salman did so. A character that suited Salman brilliantly, Radhe Bhaiya became a cult with that hairstyle and bracelet but I was most shocked at what the fat old man Satish Kaushik had dug out of the Bad Boy of Indian Cinema. Salman was outstanding in presenting every facet of the character, from the rowdy college hunk, to the helpless, hopeless lover. Taran Adarsh (the critic) put it perfectly - "Salman breathes fire in the sequences that demand uneasiness". The second half where the film reveals the vulnerable side of the character, the emotional outbursts that Salman served on-screen and the final (emotionally heavy and yet mellow on the showing-it-outside part) scene where he returns to the asylum at finding out of the death of his love, were faces of Salman Khan that, I am convinced, we won't ever see again given that he has been able to lay his hands on the superhit -movie-making formula.

The last, and again, like my previous post, I end with my favorite. Debut. Arjun Rampal. Moksha. I am afraid some of you may not read this further hearing this name, but to me, Moksha was the one movie which I want to watch any number of times, any given day or time (except for Kalpana Pandit). The movie, made up of a composition of some scenes, carefully made but loosely knit, looks more of a stage act. The rich idealist (misnomer really) Vikram Saigal, with his noblest intentions of extending free legal benefits to the poor, and his disillusioning encounters with his own father and others in the business was shown very well through Arjun Rampal. His voice, probably his greatest asset, played a crucial role in expressing the rage and disappointment of a young, talented, idealist but helpless man. Some scenes shot with only Arjun on the screen, the ones inside the car with his dog, the one in the open field where sitting under a tree, he sips tea from the glass held in shivering hands, given to him by a local girl and water droplets from his wet hair, pour into the tea - were, as I said, very theatrical and show the inner conflicts of the character very well. The movie ends with a loose sequence of Arjun intentionally getting killed while robbing a bank, but Rampal's performance in all the solo scenes, battling with his own mind, trying to align ideals to reality, trying to break free from the constraints of practicality towards idealism, was commendable and memorable to me. And, well, lets just hope he gets movies, if not quality ones in the future.

Bollywood has had numerous names who rode fame and wealth, far before receiving a morsel of critical acclaim. So many of the faces we witnessed on the screen have never had even an ounce of commercial success or public following, but yet are arguably some of the greatest acting talents served to this country by the Mayanagri. In the years to come, lets hope Bollywood is able to justify the parallel, serious line of cinema with some commercial success to them as an onus for actors to take up such roles.

And yes, in case someone follows Arjun Rampal more than I do (don't you dare laugh), Pyar Ishq aur Mohabbat was his first movie to be released but Moksha really was his debut. Rock kar rahe ho na sab log? Karte raho !!

15 comments:

{ arizrebellion } at: August 10, 2012 at 12:30 AM said...

what about shahrukh's performance in my name is khan. that was superb.

{ the sixth string... } at: August 10, 2012 at 1:05 AM said...

as I said, this is about "unexpected performances". My Name is Khan was not even remotely unexpected from SRK. On those lines, we may fall into Devdas (SRK) and Koi Mil Gaya (Hrithik), but again, I wanted to talk of performances that were unexpected from the actor at the time when the movie came :)

{ Manuj } at: August 10, 2012 at 1:21 AM said...

SR in My Name is Khan ?
i shall make one joke on that some day

{ Vaibhav Srivastav } at: August 10, 2012 at 1:25 AM said...

As Geoff Boycott would have said

'Me Granmum could'a acted better than SR in My Name is Khan!'

{ life's horizon } at: August 10, 2012 at 1:48 AM said...

Was playing Rauf Lala expected from Rishi Kapoor?

{ Kanishk } at: August 10, 2012 at 1:59 AM said...

john abraham in no smoking
jackie shroff in mission kashmir
ajay devgn in hum dil de chuke sanam
amitabh bachhan in black...a typical naseeruddin shah genre role that Big B pulled off...and brilliantly so!
rishi kapoor in do dooni chaar
kareena kapoor in chameli

{ Pradyumndev Jodha } at: August 10, 2012 at 2:25 AM said...

nice article and as you feared.. I stopped reading Rampal halfway, and I'd watched Moksha taking ample breaks of days :p

{ Joydeep } at: August 10, 2012 at 3:40 AM said...

Moksha was amazing and a great movie..one of my early day favourites. Another addition to this list would have been Shiney Ahuja in Hazaron Khwahishein Aisi. Although the lead roles were of KK Menon and Chitrangda, Shiney probably played one of the greatest roles in Hindi Cinema by portraying a self centered guy.

{ the sixth string... } at: August 10, 2012 at 3:41 AM said...

ha ha ha ha sahi hai

{ amit } at: August 10, 2012 at 6:46 AM said...

I think SRK's best performsnce was in kabhi haan kabhi na (which he himelf considers his best)..never mind but he is damm good actor when he wants to be .I really liked this article keep up the good work.

{ eternalOPTIMIST } at: August 10, 2012 at 9:36 AM said...

wat abt the chocolate boy Aamir Khan's portrayal of Ajay Rathore in Sarfarosh?

{ DDR } at: August 10, 2012 at 11:02 AM said...

how about SRK as Kabir khan in Chak de india.No one expected him to don a coach's role..and that to in a No heroine for him movie.
I would say CHAK De and Swades remain his best performances till date.

{ DDR } at: August 10, 2012 at 11:09 AM said...

Oops.. Since you said 1st unexpected performance so CHak de wont be there. Ignore the previous comment.

{ Aman } at: August 16, 2012 at 1:44 AM said...

Ajay Rathore should have been part of this list... Moksha, seriously??

{ Rohan Chakravarty } at: September 7, 2012 at 1:58 AM said...

I almost clapped when I saw Arjun Rampal, Moksha at the bottom. Shows that you are a very comprehensive and unbiased viewer. Well written article! Fun read!

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