In Bollywood, it's enter the loser
Two decades ago, in "Ghazab", Dharmendra had played a bucktoothed buffoon who gets pummelled and pushed around by all and sundry.
By Subhash K. Jha, IANS
The film, in spite Dharmendra's superb simpleton act, failed.
There have been other instances of heroes abandoning the suave-and-savvy avatar to play weaklings, losers and other fringe people.
There was Sunil Dutt with an impaired limb in "Khandaan" - a hit - in the 1960s and Amol Palekar as a lisping, limping, sorry lump of a loser in "Solva Saavan" - a flop - in the 1970s.
Anil Kapoor, always open to challenges, played a mentally challenged man in K. Vishwanath's "Eeshwar". Though the film was a massive hit in the original Tamil with Kamal Haasan in the lead, it bombed badly in Hindi.
Let's face it. Hindi audiences don't want to watch nerds and losers as 'heroes'...Or so everyone believed until Hrithik Roshan played a stammering kid in "Koi...Mil Gaya", and got a raving reception.
The film single-handedly changed widespread perceptions of heroism in Bollywood.
Today if "Gayab" dares to cross over into a territory once occupied by the likes of Kamal Haasan, it's only because "Hrithik has gone there, done it", says the film's loser-hero Tusshar Kapoor.
His father Jeetendra, in fact, played a physically challenged man 20 years ago in Pramod Chakrvarty's "Jyoti".
Tusshar smiles at the memory. "Yes I've seen it, of course. But in 'Gayab', I'm not mentally or physically challenged. I'm just a loser! As simple as that."
In fact "Gayab" pokes fun at the conventionally good-looking hero (Ramman Trikha) and saves all the sympathy for the loser.
Is Hindi cinema shedding its fear about fringe people? Could "Gayab" be another step in the direction taken by "Koi...Mil Gaya", whereby heroism needn't mean beefcake, muscles, swagger and machismo?
It could also be about being dull and lost in a big bad world and finding one's way out of the worldly maze.
"I played one such character in 'Sooryavansham'," recalls Amitabh Bachchan. "I was so out of step, wasn't just simple but also uneducated. The audience didn't like it."
Perhaps the days of all-savvy heroes are drawing to an end. Maybe, just maybe, it's okay to come last in the race.
Years ago, in Hrishikesh Mukherjee's "Satyakam", Dharmendra during a job interview was asked why he stood second in his class. "Because the guy who came first was better," he answered.
Maybe Dharmendra was ahead of his times - but maybe Tusshar's time has come.