Two actors – Aparshakti Khurana and Abhishek Banerjee – who made their entry into Bollywood by playing small roles, instead of having conventional big-ticket launches, are breaking the stereotypical image of ‘hero ka dost’.
The two actors said that though earlier the term carried a negative connotation, with the changing language of storytelling, which is more character- than image-driven, such norms are broken.
Earlier, an actor who wished to make it big as a protagonist of a commercial feature film would refrain from playing the lead character’s friend, fearing to get typecast. Abhishek made his debut with ‘Phillauri’, where he shared screen space with Diljit Dosanjh. Aparshakti bagged ‘Best Actor in a Comic Role’ for the film ‘Stree’.
Abhishek said: “I believe the change that we get to see is happening because of the writers and casting directors. Earlier, when we used to say ‘hero ka dost’, it was a stereotype in which the character was either not well-written, or even irrelevant to the main narrative. That was the main reason why any actor who wanted to make it big in Bollywood as a protagonist of a film used to fear getting stereotyped by playing such a character.
“Our cinema has changed and the stories are more character-driven. So, every actor gets his moment in the narrative. Also, how can anyone pigeonhole an actor into a particular role, even though he/she has a lot more to offer as a performer?”
In recent times, Abhishek has appeared in films such as ‘Stree’, ‘Dream Girl’, ‘Bhonsle’, ‘Unpaused’, ‘Ajeeb Daastaans’ and web series like ‘Mirzapur’, ‘Paatal Lok’ and ‘Kaali 2’.
Aparshakti believes that instead of focusing on his image as an actor, his main interest is on the impact his character has on the story. He said in a conversation with IANS : “The image of a Bollywood hero has changed. It has now everything to do with the character, so yes, the stereotype attached to the ‘hero ka dost’ has also changed.”
He continued: “From the beginning, my aim was to play a character who impacts the main narrative. So, in my mind, it was not taking risks but taking one step at a time to find my space in the film industry. The more I collaborate with the right kind of people, I grow, and the substance of the character gives me the right mileage. I never had a rigid plan in my life ever, from ‘Dangal’ to ‘Helmet’, in which I played the protagonist, so every opportunity means growth for me.”
Aparshakti made his Bollywood debut with ‘Dangal’ in 2016, after a career that saw him captain the Haryana under-19 cricket team and be a radio jockey. His performances in films such as ‘Stree’, ‘Luka Chuppi’, ‘Pati, Patni Aur Woh’ and ‘Street Dancer 3D’ have been much acclaimed.
Abhishek, who has worked as a casting director, pointed out that the notion that one hero can lead a film and the other characters don’t really matter became popular in Bollywood only in the 1990s.
“Look at the iconic film ‘Sholay’. Who is ‘hero ka dost’ here? We loved each character in the film. I think most of the important Hindi films have always been character-driven. Having said that, I think that in the recent past, the audience has become way more educated and used to viewing good content. That is surely helping writers, casting directors and producers to invest in every character, instead of putting them into irrelevant boxes,” Abhishek said.
–By Arundhuti Banerjee