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Up next: Character actors as Bollywood stars!

By Priyanka Khanna, IANS

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King Of BollywoodBollywood has a new king and this one is not a Shah Rukh Khan or a towering Amitabh Bachchan but a not-so-great-looking bundle of talent.

Alas, character actor Om Puri is a king not in a mainstream pot boiler but in a spoof called "King of Bollywood", based on the madcap ways of the Hindi film industry where, strangely, acting prowess is not a prerequisite for becoming a celluloid star.

This is his second jeering film on Bollywood after Nagesh Kukunoor's "Bollywood Calling".

But given the winds of change sweeping Mumbai-based studios that churn out the highest number of films in the world, character actors seem poised to get their due. Trade observers are hopeful that in the near future they will sing, dance and romance in exotic locales.

Till some years ago, a film with Om Puri in the lead getting screened in mainstream theatres would have been unthinkable. But "King of Bollywood" not only got released like any other Bollywood flick, complete with TV promos and promotional contests, it even got widely noticed and reviewed by critics.

Says trade observer Deepa Gahlot: "Our industry tends to kowtow to lead stars and ignores more talented actors, dismissing them as character or supporting or side actors. A non-actor like Fardeen Khan keeps getting films, and if a sexy actress like Urmila Matondkar does one scene well in a film, she gets a best actress nomination."

The changing point could well have been when Paresh Rawal made an insipid film like "Awara Pagaal Deewana" run. His act made "Aankhen" watchable and "Hera Pheri" a hit, as a result of which films that are built around him are being made.

"But he (Om Puri) is still not considered a hero and will not get a Best Actor award," says Deepa.

King Of BollywoodIn Hollywood, Johnny Depp in "What's Eating Gilbert Grape", "Ed Wood", "Donnie Brasco" and "From Hell" were overlooked for the Oscars till he did a comic turn in "Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" and bagged a nomination.

In Hindi films, the most regular performance by an actor seems to get hyped as award-worthy. And when actor Hrithik Roshan does not get a National Award for "Koi Mil Gaya", the industry alleges bias.

The artificial divide between "star" and "actor" that existed in the industry is breaking down with directors finding access to clean easy finance and good production facilities. Also blurring is the myth that actors who have done serious cinema or "art" films are a no-no for commercial movies.

Perhaps, the days of Naseeruddin Shah doing roles completely unworthy of his talent in films like "Mujhe Meri Biwi Se Bachao" are numbered. And the likes of Seema Biswas, Nirmal Pandey, Ashish Vidyarthi, Manoj Bajpai, Vijay Raaz, Mita Vashisht, Rajpal Yadav, Ashrad Warsi and Raghuvir Yadav will get their due.

Om Puri's worth was recognised when he looked West and got challenging roles in films like "My Son The Fanatic" and "East Is East". While he was a star in Britain, in Mumbai he played the evil politician in "Kurukshetra" or a conventional character part here and there.

Once he gained financial stability, he decided to be seen only in low-paying good Hindi films like N. Chandra's "Kagaar", Ashwini Chaudhary's "Dhoop", Vishal Bhardwaj's "Maqbool" and Govind Nihalani's "Dev".

However, with the British honouring him with the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his contribution to cinema, his brand equity in India has shot up and the audience curiosity surrounding his films might mean that he could be Hindi cinema's first character actor-cum-star.


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