Bollywood sets stage for theatre veterans

Published: April 22, 2012

Irrfan’s role of a national level athlete-turned-notorious gangster in the film Paan Singh Tomar impressed critics. PHOTO: FILE


For long they’ve played second fiddle to mainstream actors in films despite a strong theatre background. But the tables have turned for veterans like Naseeruddin Shah, Anupam Kher and Irrfan who graduated from stage to screen and are bagging prominent roles in Bollywood.

The change is more than welcome, says Kher, who recently played the key role of a blind man in Pramod Joshi’s Chhodo Kal Ki Baatein. “It is good to see that theatre actors are finally getting acceptance. This is happening because Indian film-makers today are looking forward to making meaningful cinema and they want actors who can add authenticity to the role,” Kher states.

The veteran actor, who also runs an acting school, admits his theatre experience helped him essay the role of a blind man with ease. This was also the case with his other memorable performances in Saaransh, Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara, Khosla Ka Ghosla and A Wednesday.

Another theatre graduate, Irrfan, is doing wonders in his career. His recent release Paan Singh Tomar, a small budget film, turned out to be a winner in the critics’ circle and also raked in moolah at the box office. For director Tigmanshu Dhulia, Irrfan was a natural choice as he knew no one could do a better job of essaying the national level athlete-turned-notorious gangster than him.

Yet another formidable name from the theatre world is Naseeruddin Shah. In showbiz for the past 35 years, he was most associated with off-beat and parallel cinema. But that has changed with time. He has proved his versatility with recent projects — be it as a cricket coach in Iqbal, a common man ready to change the system in A Wednesday, a conman in Ishqiya or a casanova in The Dirty Picture.

There are others like Boman Irani, Mohan Agashe, Manoj Bajpayee, Vikram Gokhale, Kiran Kher and Lilette Dubey, who made a successful shift from theatre to filmdom. Unlike earlier, when most producers would just run after top league stars, a lot of film-makers are now willing to take a chance with veterans as well as newcomers. And they do so with full confidence.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 23rd, 2012.

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