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The Influencers

Friday, August 05, 2016
By Deepa Gahlot

Last week, the India Today group started Unforgettables, which will be a series of conversations between two masters in their field from different generations. The first session was between Naseeruddin Shah and Irrfan Khan, both ‘outsiders’ (that is not from film families or from Mumbai), both from the National School of Drama (NSD) and theatre backgrounds, both unconventional looking and easily straddling mainstream, parallel and international cinema, television and in the case of  Naseer, the stage too.

Naseer said, as he has many times before, that he came in at the right time, when the art cinema movement and directors like Shyam Benegal, Govind Nihalani, Ketan Mehta, and others were making offbeat films. Interestingly, Irrfan said that he was inspired to become an actor by watching Naseer’s films.

In fact, actors like Naseer, Om Puri, Amol Palekar, Mithun Chakraborty gave hope to many actors who did not have the looks expected of a hero - tall, fair, chocolate-box. If these actors could be successful in films, so could they.  That these actors are trained and supremely talented is a major point in their favour not every aspiring actor has the gift.

If Naseeruddin Shah is the inspiration for actors, Jaya Bhadhuri (now Bachchan) should be given credit for opening doors for actresses who are not conventionally beautiful or glamourous. The petite Film and Television Institute (FTII) graduate made a place for herself with contemporaries like Hema Malini, Zeenat Aman and Rakhee, and she was so good on screen that nobody noticed the colour of her skin or the vital statistics of her figure. She made it possible for talented but non-glam actresses like Shabana Azmi, Smita Patil, Rameshwari, Zarina Wahab and others to make it to mainstream cinema, via the art cinema that brought in such a rush of talent from all over the country. The FTII and NSD provided the talent and the industry accepted them whole heartedly. The richly varied phase of cinema in the early 1970s made sure that all kinds of actors, filmmakers and technicians found a way to do satisfactory work.

Bollywood returned to its escapism soon enough, though its superstars like Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan were not chocolate-box handsome either. Not just Irrfan Khan, but if an actor like Nawazuddin Siddiqui is doing lead roles in mainstream Bollywood today, some of the credit does go to filmmakers and actors who broke though the fair and lovely/handsome glass ceiling of Bollywood.

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