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Talent Finds A Way

Friday, September 01, 2017
By Deepa Gahlot

After the recent 'Gurgaon' and 'Bareilly Ki Barfi', Pankaj Tripathi seems to be the flavor of the season. Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Rajkummar Rao are too, but they have graduated to leading men roles; Tripathi is what Bollywood calls a character actor. In both films, he played the female protagonist’s father, but was noticed for his nuanced performances, even when the roles were not too big.

Tripathi and other interesting faces that are dotting the current indie cinema circuit are from the National School of Drama, or have some kind of theatre background. They have not come into the industry the nepotism way, but have had to struggle. And the casting director (in his case Mukesh Chhabra) is an important part of a film crew now. Otherwise actors from the hinterland with no connections in Mumbai would hardly get a toe into the commercial film industry.

In the old days, there were generic actors playing certain parts – poor dad Nazir Hussain, rich dad Tarun Bose; poor mom Leela Chitnis, rich mom Achala Sachdev; kind aunt Leela Mishra, moneylender Kanhaiyalal, Gandhian schoolmaster AK Hangal and so on. These actors were recognisable faces, but not stars. The media didn’t interview them. Very little, if anything is known about many of them; talented actors who made for a formidable support team for the leads.

Later there were waves of trained actors coming in from the Film and Television Institute and the National School of Drama. Some made it, many didn’t. Back then failed film actors did not have television or web series to fall back on. They either hung around the fringes of moviedom or vanished.

A few like Amrish Puri, Anupam Kher, Paresh Rawal, Sushma Seth, Reema Lagoo and Boman Irani elevated the character role by giving noteworthy performances.

The next rung of supporting actors – the one-scene, bit-part, or crowd-fillers – came from that vast pool called the junior artist or ‘extra.’ Nobody even used the word audition.

These days, audiences would have noticed, even for walk on parts, trained theatre actors are cast. Auditions are held regularly and casting calls sent out on social media as casting has become a serious business. This has allowed for good actors, who would otherwise be left out in the cold, to get roles in movies. If they are noticed, or they are lucky, they move up to more significant parts. Pankaj Tripathi (in 2004) and, for that matter, Nawazuddin Siddiqui (1999), stared their careers with really tiny, almost walk-on parts. They really had to claw their way up the ladder. And now, when they walk the streets, people recognize them and demand selfies with them. They have come a long way from the farms of north India, and have given hope to many more. There is nepotism, and then there is real talent.

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