Define Bollywood hero and heroine. In a regular sense he is a strapping cool male, not one muscle out of place. She is a pretty hot diva oozing oomph, impeccably turned out no matter what the scene’s mood is.
Now imagine Aamir Khan, heaving the 90-kilo beef he has piled on to play a wrestler in his upcoming film Dangal. Or, think Kalki Koechlin in her next release Margarita With A Straw – wheelchair-bound cerebral palsy victim struggling with her desires.
If ever there was a keyword describing how Bollywood has imagined its characters all along, it is perfection. By way of look and disposition on screen, our heroes and heroines play out roles in sync with Hindi cinema’s scheme of flawlessness.
The rise of the multiplex movie ushered realism in our films and the trait has been catching on. In turn, filmmakers are recognising the power of imperfection while imagining roles. Flawed character traits leave scope for adding a different dimension while exploring a personality, as in Kalki’s unusual role.
Marketed smartly it also works as a wonderful publicity tool, as in Aamir’s new look (note the frequency with which he has lately been making public appearances in tight shirts to highlight his beefed-up hulk).
Bollywood fans are in the mood to accept unconventional stuff. It is a trend that prompts Shoojit Sircar to draw up Amitabh Bachchan’s retired protagonist as a stubborn, potbellied old man bogged down by indigestion in Piku rather than a picture of flawless goodness, as the elderly are often imagined in our films.
Another recent notable move away from set notions has to be Dibakar Banerjee’s Detective Byomkesh Bakshy, which reimagines the sharp dhoti-clad sleuth of pre-Independence Kolkata in a humane avatar, as a person who pukes at the sight of a corpse.
In a sea of six-pack action stars, Dibakar’s Byomkesh would be considered ‘uncool’ till not long ago. In his most commercial film yet, Dibakar has not lost connect with realism while drawing up his crimebusting hero.
AAMIR KHAN in DANGAL
THE ROLE: The rustic Haryanvi wrestler Mahavir Singh Phogat
THE DEAL: Bollywood’s chameleon superstar Aamir, known to reinvent himself with every new role, perhaps took the biggest risk of his life by adding nearly 20 kilos in a very short time. Medical experts have pointed at health hazards that such short-notice weight gain might bring in its wake, while film trade experts are relying entirely on Aamir’s stardom for the Nitish Tiwari biopic to be a superhit, considering the actor plays a 55-year-old exwrestler and not a traditionally goodlooking commercial cinema hero.
BHUMI PEDNEKAR in DUM LAGA KE HAISHA
THE ROLE: An overweight plain Jane in a smalltown
THE DEAL: Not many budding actresses are asked to gain 15 kilos for their debut role, so Bhumi’s first bow was indeed a unique one. She played an overweight wife to a goodlooking young man in a smalltown of the nineties. It was a launchpad most girls her age would consider risky to kickstart their Bollywood careers with.Bhumi’s character Sandhya would be seen as ‘bhabhi material’ for supporting actresses till even a couple of years ago. In every way, Bhumi’s Sandhya has been the most unusual female protagonist in mainstream Bollywood in recent times.
AMITABH BACHCHAN in PIKU
THE ROLE: A quirky retired old man
THE DEAL: A retired and stubborn old man battling indigestion woes and flaunting a potbelly is not normally an image one associates with Big B. The veteran is all set to portray what looks like the quirkiest role of his career in Shoojit Sircar’s comedy Piku. The film explores a fatherdaughter relationship with Deepika Padukone playing the daughter. Big B plays a Bengali nd his knowledge of the language from beforehand was perfect for his role of Bhaskar Banerjee. Scenes shot in Kolkata reveal his character also has a floppy dress sense.
SUSHANT SINGH RAJPUT in DETECTIVE BYOMKESH BAKSHY!
THE ROLE: A dhoti-clad Bengali detective in pre-Independence Kolkata
THE DEAL: Not many would imagine reinventing the traditional Bollywood crimefighter hero as a dhoti-clad Bhadralok sleuth flaunting a lean frame, amid a sea of six-pack hunks who are normally known to get on with such business. Dibakar Banerjee, however, is a director known to surprise. His Byomkesh is a wild experiment in Bollywood commercial cinema, meant to tweak the iconic detective from the pages of Saradindu Bandopadhyay’s Bengali bestsellers into a new-age hero -something like what Guy Ritchie did to Sherlock Holmes with the Robert Downey Jr. films.
KALKI KOECHLIN in MARGARITA WITH A STRAW
THE ROLE: A wheelchair-bound victim of cerebral palsy
THE DEAL: Sexuality of any kind is avoidable area for most Bollywood filmmakers – mainstream as well as arthouse. Shonali Bose has taken a double risk imagining Kalki’s character Laila in her new film. Laila is a young girl suffering from cerebral palsy and she harbours attraction for another woman. The film won the prestigious NETPAC Award at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2014 and is a rare effort that dares to imagine a female protagonist who is not just far from physical perfection, but is also a rebel in her mindset.
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