The greater danger for most of us lie not in setting our aim too high and falling short, but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark” – This Michelangelo quote seems to have been internalised by several Bravehearts among the Hindi film industry’s youthful brigade.
Last year, Varun Dhawan delivered two thumping, dyed-in-commerce 100-crore-plus hits – his father David Dhawan’s ‘Judwaa 2’ and ‘Badrinath Ki Dulhania’ from the Karan Johar stable. For years, the Hindi film industry has sworn by the don’t-mess-with-success maxim and no one would have been surprised if Varun had continued headlining safe comedies or glossy romances, which he must have been offered aplenty. Instead, in 2018, the young star has made a volte-face and dared to do two films which have a decidedly experimental vibe – the austere October and the down-to-earth ‘Sui Dhaaga’.
This defiance of conventional wisdom could well be seen as flirting with danger professionally; but fortunately for Varun, it seems to be paying dividends. ‘Badlapur’ (2015) set him on the right path and Varun was a revelation in the broodingly melancholic ‘October’ for which he was adjudged Best Actor at a recent mid-year awards function. He will win a new set of fans with ‘Sui Dhaaga’ in which he is daringly shorn of commercial crutches such as heroics, dance numbers and fancy clothes. He plays a put-upon, financially disadvantaged employee who is humiliated by one boss, and cheated by another, till he is egged on by his wife, Anushka Sharma, to start his own cottage industry, aptly named ‘Sui Dhaaga’. The sequence where Varun races after a public transport bus, boards it and then silently conveys to Anushka that she need not be anxious, showcases a rapidly maturing actor whose future trajectory is worth following.
Varun’s deglamorised ‘Sui Dhaaga’ co-star Anushka Sharma has made her own share of counter-intuitive moves. She has been so choosy she has done only 18 films in her 11-year-long career so far. When she became that rare actress to turn producer in her 20s, it was not because big banner roles had dried up. It was soon after her blockbuster, ‘PK’. Her choice of subject as a producer is telling — ‘NH 10’ was a gritty and gory saga about a road trip gone awry. Subsequent productions like ‘Phillauri’ (she played a spirit) and ‘Pari’ (a thriller based on a satanic cult) vindicate her willingness to put her money where her unconventional beliefs lie. In commercial films too, Anushka is not just the arm candy to the hero; she often plays a woman with a mind of her own whether in a cameo (‘Dil Dhadakne Do’) or in a full-fledged role as a wrestler in ‘Sultan’.
My favourite actors at the moment are Ranbir Kapoor and Alia Bhatt. And, by a strange co-incidence, these two are each other’s favourite and also the favourite choice for roles others wouldn’t touch with a barge pole.
This predilection for the quirky over the play-safe has not always worked for Ranbir at the box office but has undoubtedly been the bedrock of a creatively fecund career. Look at the range of his roles: a serial womaniser (‘Bachna Ae Haseeno’), a spoilt rich brat who grapples with adulting (‘Wake Up Sid’), a ruthless politician (‘Raajneeti’), a musician experiencing the angst of creating art (‘Rockstar’), a commitment-phobe who runs from the girl he loves (‘Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani’) and a deaf and mute boy in love with an autistic girl (‘Barfi’). Despite major missteps with experimental fare like ‘Bombay Velvet’ (a jazz flavoured valentine to the sixties) and ‘Jagga Jasoos’ (a detective story narrated as a musical), Ranbir gratifyingly continues to be unafraid.
In this brigade of Bravehearts, Alia Bhatt is the youngest but that doesn’t deter her from putting her head on the chopping block in her quest for the novel. She began with the unabashedly commercial Student Of The Year, but was her very next film a song-and-dance big budget extravaganza with an A-list hero? No! In Imtiaz Ali’s ‘Highway’, she played a hostage who finds she shares a bond with her abductor. More recently she played an Indian spy who marries a Pakistani army officer as a part of her plan in the Meghna Gulzar-directed Raazi. In the interim, she didn’t pursue a 200-crore hero dominated film but played a sexually abused Bihari migrant in Udta Punjab and a spirited girl from a dysfunctional family who is enamoured by her much-older psychiatrist in ‘Dear Zindagi’.
It may be that these actors could have achieved megastardom faster if they had stuck to the tried and tested. They may stumble and it may take them longer to shift age-old power centres … but I say, more power to these four great gamblers!