Reflections – Does the face matter? Of course yes!

This article was last updated on June 18, 2022

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Last one heard, Karan Johar was still scouting for that face who would go perfectly well for 21st century’s Vijay Deenanath Chauhan. Hrithik Roshan and Abhishek Bachchan were being spoken about in the same breath but the mystery continues to surround the man who would play the iconic role that immortalised Amitabh Bachchan post Agneepath. While there could be many reasons behind the lead actor yet waiting to be finalised for the remake of the cult classic, the fact remains that anything missing at any corner and the ruthless audience won’t take more than a minute to reject an attempt that would have been spread over years. It has happened in the past. It could well happen even tomorrow if the casting isn’t just right. No wonder, casting has time and again played such an important role in films, especially the ones that have boasted of an ensemble. We saw that decades back in Gandhi, we saw that not too far ago in Slumdog Millionaire, and now we have seen it yet again in Peepli [Live] . In this week’s ‘Reflections’, let’s look at how casting has time and again played a major role in deciding the fate of a film even before it has gone on floors. Predictable v/s not-so-predictable If a filmmaker decides to make a satire on rural India and has to cast an actor who is in his 30s, has a frail physical condition, doesn’t carry much self esteem and comes with a willingness to laugh at himself, which Bollywood actor comes to mind immediately? Yeah, you are right, the name which is coming to your mind is indeed the first choice of many out there. And for those who are still thinking, spend a couple of extra seconds. Yup, you cracked it. Rajpal Yadav. The man who already has near 100 films to his credit, Rajpal is clearly the obvious choice to play an oppressed villager.  However, the very fact that he is the most obvious choice would have prompted the team of Peepli Live to think out of the box. It was a matter of doing something which was not so predictable, something that made them go for a nation wide hunt and zero in on Omkar Das Manikpuri. It was a risk for sure to do something which involved a great deal of risk. However, they wanted their Natha to be away from Bollywood trappings and the gamble paid off with the name becoming a household name. Well, Rajpal Yadav may well have competition here after all. The genre matters Still, one can’t deny the fact that it is hard to neglect an image that a star carries. When a Dabangg is being conceptualised, it is hard to imagine anyone other than Salman Khan playing ‘Chulbul Pandey’. Yes, this is what on screen as well as off screen image – that of being totally ‘bindaas’ – does to you as audiences are happy to get totally sold by a star’s image. Now imagine a Hrithik Roshan trying to do a Chulbul Pandey here. Naah, it is difficult to draw even a first look here, let alone expect him to play to the gallery here. He is too sophisticated, suave, controlled and polished in his overall personality, something that disallows him to even attempt something like Dabangg which aims at the gallery. In the same manner, when it comes to playing street smart with a language that could well have been improvised even as the camera is rolling, there is no better bet than Akshay Kumar that comes in handy. No wonder, there were not many fingers raised when he was roped in for Tees Maar Khan. Of course there were usual talks of him replacing Shah Rukh Khan but that was more to do with the controversies due to Farah Khan’s proximity to her friend than the nature of the role. Most would agree that for a film that has a ‘dhinchaak’ quotient attached to it, Akshay Kumar would anyways have been the first choice.  As for Shah Rukh Khan, he knows that there won’t be anyone even dreaming to come close by when it comes to his own version of Don. Style, dialogue delivery, a strong sense of one up-man ship, a hint of arrogance, ton loads of attitude, an ability to make the fairer sex swoon – Shah Rukh Khan has done it, seen all, excelled and still has it in him to ensure that the show continues to go on. Really, whether it is Don 2, Don 3, Don 4 or beyond, there isn’t anyone else that one would want to see other than Shah Rukh. Not many have always followed suit While most makers do keep in mind to rope in an actor as per his on screen as well as off screen image, there have been instances when an attempt to do something different has backfired. At times, the actors have been earnest but audience hasn’t really obliged and not even given the film a fair chance. In certain instances the star himself has lost interest in the proceedings after finding himself a total misfit in the scheme of things. On the other hand, there also have been instances when a film has turned out to be a ‘project’ more than anything else with the actor (whoever is available with dates to spare) being roped in just to get the numbers right. This has resulted in a double edged issue. While the right face is missing by itself, lack of time in flushing out the character on paper has further spelt doom for a film. No wonder, audience has been heard complaining – ‘Iski jagah koyi aur actor hota toh maza aa jaata’.  No wonder, the moment London Dreams was announced with Salman Khan and Ajay Devgn, many were left wondering if this was the best casting coup after all. As long as Ajay had to come across quite intense on screen, audience were not going to mind that. However, hand him over a guitar and the collective reaction was – ‘What? Rock star?’ To add insult to the injury, Salman had to come on screen as a total ‘dehaati’, something which wasn’t expected to go down well with his fan base. Result? While there would be continued debates around whether the film was made well or not, the fact remains that audience had made up their mind to give it a skip since the casting didn’t quite seem appealing. On the other hand, announce a Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai or Dabangg with the respective actors and you get an immediate nod of approval. This why Akshay Kumar himself agrees that doing 8X10 Tasveer was perhaps one of his last experiments for a long time. Even though his ‘khiladi’ image has been left behind long time back, audience still expects him to entertain in whatever possible way. It could be through comedy, songs or dances but the topmost bullet point in his job description has been – ‘Entertain’. However, the moment he tries doing an 8X10 Tasveer, no one bothers to turn up. Also, Himesh Reshammiya tried doing a Karzzzz and despite all his right earnest, audience were just not willing to imagine any other actor to even come close to Rishi Kapoor, let alone allow any comparisons to be drawn. Same held good very recently in case of Lamhaa as well. Known for the sensual image that she carries, Bipasha Basu was perhaps the most unusual choice of a protagonist in a Hindi film for a long time. The moment it was announced that she would be playing the role of a Kashmiri woman, the question was ‘Why’ rather than ‘Why not?’ Half the time in her interviews, Bipasha had to do an explanation of why her director thought of her. This pretty much reaffirmed that most were surprised at this casting decision that just didn’t go with Bipasha’s image. That she did well in the film is a different story but the fact remains that on the face value, there were not many takers for her presence in the film.  Some experiments that worked Not that unusual casting hasn’t paid off in the past. There have been a few instances where the makers have been courageous enough to take an unusual route and still get the right results. Rajkumar Hirani and Aamir Khan tried it with 3 Idiots and went on to make history. Being 40 plus in real life and still playing a 20 year old college student could well have been a wet dream for majority of actors. However, once convinced, Aamir Khan did that and results were there to be seen. Same holds good for Shah Rukh Khan too who did something totally different from his image so far. In Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, he consented to playing a bespectacled 30 something man who wore kurtas-pyajamas in his evenings. No one, just no one, could have ever imagined him to be doing something like this which was so unlike Raj or Rahul. No wonder, even though he did play quintessential Raj for half the film, it was Suri who was remembered most. Not many moons back, even Amitabh Bachchan did something dramatically different by playing a 12 year old boy in Paa. Yes, the character was something radically different from what the legendary actor has done in the past. However, no other actor, whether from past and present, can be expected to play the role with such finesse. This is where one gets the sense that in a way, it was again the case of an apt casting paying off all over again. The future attempts There is no shame in playing safe, something which is reaffirmed in the way filmmakers are going about casting for their films. For a woman centric film like No One Killed Jessica, you do look forward to actresses of substance and this is where Rani Mukherjee and Vidya Balan come into picture.  For a film like Yamla Pagla Deewana which is the story of father and his two grown up sons, what better way to match reel life with real life than to bring the entire Deol family together. It had worked in Apne and there is no reason why it shouldn’t work once again in this fun film starring Dharmendra, Sunny Deol and Bobby Deol. When it comes to Saat Khoon Maaf, there are hardly 2-3 actresses (who are not just gorgeous but also seasoned, saleable and also terrific performers) who could have been thought of. As audience, the only choices that come to mind are Priyanka Chopra, Kareena Kapoor or Aishwarya Rai. Hence, the reason why not many fingers were raised when Priyanka turned out to be the chosen one. These are the reasons why one doesn’t quite mind when Karan Johar takes his own sweet time to put together the cast of Agneepath. Rest assured, we can be convinced with the fact that the wait would indeed be worth it!
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