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Casting doubts

Besides talent and luck and everything else in between rejection is one factor that helped Shah Rukh Khan unlike anyone else. For the superstar that he is today, Shah Rukh made a career of accepting roles that were rejected by other two Khans. Gautam Chintamani writes...

brunch Updated: Mar 30, 2012 20:08 IST
Gautam Chintamani
SRK-was-one-of-the-first-actors-to-make-the-term-villain-sexy-Here-s-a-still-from-Darr
SRK-was-one-of-the-first-actors-to-make-the-term-villain-sexy-Here-s-a-still-from-Darr

Besides talent and luck and everything else in between rejection is one factor that helped Shah Rukh Khan unlike anyone else. For the superstar that he is today, Shah Rukh made a career of accepting roles that were rejected by other two Khans. The two films that clearly announced his arrival Darr (1993) and Baazigar (1993) were supposed to feature Aamir and Salman Khans respective. Ever wondered how things would turned out if these films continued with the originally desired casting?

Casting makes all the difference. It's impossible to imagine anyone else but Prithviraj Kapoor as Akbar in Mughl-e-Azam (1960). Better still, close your eyes and concoct Danny Denzongpa as Gabbar in Sholay (1975). It isn't the same, right? One of things about exceptional casting is that it makes everything else easier. The patriarch of the first family of films whom everybody addressed as papaji in real life, Prithviraj Kapoor became Akbar to such an extent that he refused to appear on the sets till he felt like the emperor. Of course, no one had any issue with that. Also you needed someone as larger than life as Prithviraj Kapoor to infuse life into Abkar when you have Dilip Kumar as Salim.

So what makes a filmmaker zero in on an actor? There are people who say that they waited years for a particular actor, some say the casting was a no brainer and many a times it's sheer laziness but mostly it's the trend that decides. Even when Sanjeev Kumar and Dharmendra both tried their best to convince Ramesh Sippy that it's Gabbar they were interested in playing, Sippy decided not stretch his imagination and stuck with Danny, the busiest villain of the season. Had fate and Feroz Khan's Dharmatma (1975) not intervened who knows what would have become of Sholay. One of the big reasons why the character of Gabbar Singh worked the way it worked would undoubtedly be Amjad Khan's relative obscurity when the film released. Danny's familiarity would have helped in telling the audience that Gabbar was a one mean fellow but it'd have simply spelt out everything.

The argument that a good actor can make any role work has often been used against the brilliance of casting. Would Lawrence of Arabia (1962) be half the film had Peter O'Toole not replaced Albert Finney? Would Qurbani (1980) be some other film had Amitabh Bachchan not refused Vinod Khanna's role? This can be argued till kingdom come but the fact of the matter remains that casting does make a huge difference. No one doubts that Aamir Khan wouldn't have been able to go 'I Love You….KKKK Kiran' as convincingly as SRK but it would have been different. I looked forward to Darr for the kick of seeing good boy Aamir go bad, which could have been the real reason why Yash Chopra cast him, but seeing SRK play the same role made Darr better for me as the character wasn't burdened by the past. It's not easy to stop the actor's persona from seeping into a role. I believe that SRK bought a lot of himself to Mohan Bhargava in Swades (2004) but that side of his is usually overshadowed by everything else and hence worked for the character.

While in their hearts most actors believe that they were best suited to play the roles they played, they often publically maintain that anyone else could have been as convincing. For the longest time Amitabh Bachchan has maintained that actors like Ajay Devgn could have been as credible as he was in Deewar (1975) or Trishul (1978) but if that were truly the case would he consider his Babban from the ludicrous Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag (2007) at par with Amjad Khan's Gabbar from the original. My guess is he won't.

In an industry fraught with a complete lack of imagination when it comes to casting, it's good casting that is responsible for a lot of changes. SRK's antihero in Darr and Baazigar changed the definition of villains in commercial Hindi cinema; Amitabh Bachchan's Narayan Shankar in Mohabattein (2000) altered the way character or support actors were cast. It's the casting that turned out to be the bigger star than SRK in Chak De India (2007). With its ability to not only change that course of a film but other things as well, thankfully casting has come a long way from being seen as a happy accident in Hindi cinema.

Gautam Chintamani is an award-winning writer/filmmaker with over a decade of experience across print and electronic mediums.

(The views expressed by the author are personal)

From HT Brunch, March 18

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