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'Paper heroes to reel characters'

Dibakar Banerjee takes us through the metamorphosis of Bollywood’s most versatile stars, Abhay Deol and Emraan Hashmi, into unrecognisable characters, reports Roshmila Bhattacharya.

bollywood Updated: Mar 26, 2012 15:36 IST
Roshmila Bhattacharya

When he was scripting, Shanghai, writer-director Dibakar Banerjee admits it was Abhay Deol’s face he saw as Krishnan, and he couldn’t imagine anyone else as this character in his political thriller. But who was he going to take Jogi to? “Then I remembered Emraan (Hashmi) from Footpath (2003). In his first film, he’d shown a talent of being completely approachable and capable of living the character on screen. But he was a star now, would he do something so different? It took just five minutes for Emraan to say he was on,” reminisces Dibakar.

What followed was a two-month process of bringing Dibakar’s sketches to life… Moustaches tried and discarded… Ear pierced… Dark circles lightly shaded… Teeth paan-stained and yellowed… Tattoos painted on brown, sunburnt arms… Then, the ribbed body turned slack with a protruding paunch as Emraan went on a binge, and Jogi slowly emerged from one of Dibakar’s many sketches!

“Jogi was a street-smart nobody from Jodhpur. Once a stud who landed small-time modelling assignments, he had slowly gone to seed, but there’s still a trace of the stud in him,” explains Dibakar. “It’s there in the jeans, worn well below the bulging belly he still can’t believe is his, it’s there in the skin-tight shirts he wore and it’s there in his strut. Jogi is still sexy in a dirty, grimy kind of way, with stale, dry sweat patches under his arms. I’d holler for the sweat patches to be attached every time Emraan stepped on the sets.”

The metamorphosis was startling. Dibakar recalls silent looks passing amongst the unit every time Emraan sauntered onto the sets, even the walk so different. “This was the Jogi I’d dreamed, it gave me gooseflesh to see him for real!”

He exclaims. “I remember Emraan coming for some patchwork shots six months after we had wrapped up Shanghai, his face lean, his body taunt, his gait his own.

Looking at him, it was impossible to relate him to the Jogi from my film.”

Abhay was just as amazing. Towards the climax, Krishnan has a long interaction with a key character. Abhay had been rehearsing for the scene since 6 pm. “When we started rolling at 1 am, sitting at the monitor with my production designer, I had tears in my eyes,” admits Dibakar. “The ‘yay’ guy I knew was gone. In his place was my IAS officer, with a stooped-shoulder walk, moustache, glasses and a ‘butter-won’t-melt’ expression on his face.”

The buttoned-up shirts, ties and trousers came from costume, but the slight Tamil accent was all Abhay’s. Before every shot, he would sit in his make-up van for 30 minutes with his diction coach and rehearse his lines. And Dibakar had to be there too, that was the condition agreed to. “The efforts have paid off,” says the director. “The North Indian Jat boy makes for a convincing Tam-Brahm bureaucrat!”

Emraan Hashmi on Jogi
I was up for this challenge, even if it meant losing the body I’d worked a year for.

I looked into the mirror and wondered, ‘Couldn’t you have made me look worse?’ and Dibakar retorted, ‘Do one more film and I will!’ We got a local to record the lingo and fill us in on Jogi’s background. What would a small-town wheeler-dealer who shoots marriage videos and porn movies do in the evening? Eat chicken and fish maybe? This kind of research and 10-odd workshops
demolished me as an actor and brought Jogi to life.

Abhay Deol on Krishnan
I play a Tamil Brahmin in the film, and being an IAS officer posted in Maharashtra, I needed to perfect a lingo that was largely clean Hindi with more Marathi than Tamil words, but spoken with a subtle South Indian accent. I worked with a diction coach for 10 days. He also accompanied me on the sets. I even learnt the Tamil alphabets.

The look was that of a beauracrat… Buttoned up shirts and ties, glasses and a moustache that wasn’t like the one I’d worn in Manorama—Six Feet Under. The end result: unrecognisable!

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