Superstars vs ensemble cast: How a group of good actors is winning against the biggies | bollywood

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This year is probably the one Indian movie lovers were waiting for. Small-budget and content-driven films are winning against highly publicised films with superstars. What used to be a one-sided battle between stars and well-made small films is slowly tilting in favour of the latter.

The first eight months of 2017 has seen surprise hits like Bareilly Ki Barfi, Shubh Mangal Saavdhan and Hindi Medium. The same period has seen unexpected flops like Salman Khan’s Tubelight, Shah Rukh’s Jab Harry Met Sejal and Ranbir Kapoor’s Jagga Jasoos.

A parallel group of actors is emerging who are talented and charge much less than the superstars, but are highly effective. These actors have got their hands on the pulse of the nation and deliver every time, well almost. From Pankaj Tripathi to Deepak Dobriyal, from Seema Pahwa to Mohd Zeeshan Ayyub, from Rajesh Sharma to Sanjai Mishra, these are the actors you know as well as your family members and who quietly add depth and familiarity to the films.

But how do they explain this shift in the audience’s mood and mindset? Pankaj Tripathi, the unsung hero of Nil Battey Sannata, Anaarkali Of Aarah and Bareilly Ki Barfi, says, “A thought came to my mind just before our conversation about how our perspective changes. If a person can’t be bought with money, he is considered good, but if an actor isn’t saleable then it’s bad (Laughs). So, it’s all about economics. Those who were considered not good enough to fetch money are doing better now.”

He elaborates his point, “The youth and others are watching Netflix and they form a big part of the movie-goers. The films which made me cry during my college days in the ‘90s look funny now. Even now, the cinema is changing at a rapid pace. If your content is not good then even superstars can’t save a film.”

A star-driven film industry like Bollywood is under intense scrutiny. Tripathi says, “Single screens might not have changed much, but multiplexes have entirely changed. Everybody with a social media profile is a critic and they judge really fast. So, if you’re not good at holding attention then you’re not likely to sustain.”

Recognition by the audience leads to a better face value. Who can define it better than Pappi ji of Tanu Weds Manu fraqnchise, Deepak Dobriyal. He has come a long way since Omkara. Now, his presence in a film strengthens its pull at the ticket window.

Deepak Dobriyal says, “It’s mostly about the internet revolution. People are introduced to Netflix, Amazon and other channels. The phone bill used to be about calls, but it’s now about the internet and access to the information. Everybody watches videos, download films. It has changed the way we used to be entertained. Earlier, only stars were able to reach the masses and small budget films were totally dependent on the word of mouth publicity.”

He adds, “Many filmmakers used to copy from world cinema, which isn’t tenable anymore. The shift in viewing pattern of a common movie buff prompts the filmmakers to go for better content. The mass that stars used to control has been divided into many parts now.”

There’s another aspect to it. Filmmakers like Mahesh Bhatt and Ekta Kapoor invested in small budget films with sensational content, but that didn’t give these films validation at a larger level despite satisfactory box office numbers.

These films mostly appeared a ploy to earn quick money with less production cost. Occasional good films couldn’t change the general perspective. But Dum Laga Ke Haisha, Bareilly Ki Barfi and Shubh Mangal Saavdhan look more ‘consumable’ and have a pan-India appeal.

Seema Pahwa, the new go-to mother of Bollywood, explains, “Most of the Indian families are middle class, so whenever we get closer to these people, we get a winner. Whenever we show the story of an imaginary don, a high flying businessman or foreign locations, it feels slightly alien. Yash Raj ji has shown us enough exotic locations, so the charm has faded. The concept of shooting abroad is losing the sheen. Going foreign isn’t an unfulfilled dream anymore.”

The focus, feels Pahwa, is on getting real. “After all, we belong to a house. If you don’t show the people we are surrounded with then it’s not going to look authentic. You need to show real-looking people and they can help the lead actors as well in getting their act right. For example, Kriti Sanon never gave a performance like Bareilly Ki Barfi before, because she got it right with the supporting cast,” adds Pahwa.

Pahwa, who will turn 50 soon, further says, “Naturally the viewers will shift to indigenous stories. I did Hum Log (1984) long ago, but people still watch it. There must be some kind of connect.”

She echoes the same sentiments like Tripathi and Dobriyal about content, “See, you can take stars in rustic stories and they’ll still make money. Or, you can put them in a film without a good story, they’ll still not work. I don’t understand where they spend Rs 40 cr-50 cr because you’re still showing the same old story. Only lead actors get money and the character actors go without money.”

It’s also about the behind-the-scene economics. Even a B-lister charges close to Rs 4-5 crore while their films don’t fetch business of profitable proportions. This makes the producers tempted to bring in a motley bunch of actors who can add value to the film, even on the posters. Plus, they all have their separate fan groups and together they can entice the audience to shed some money at the theatres. In this era of ever-rising ticket prices, audiences aren’t happy with just leads. They want a better deal, more recognisable faces, a bouquet of actors.

Pahwa concludes with the demand of a better paycheck for the supporting cast, “New actors come after a few auditions, but supporting actors are there since a while. They should be paid better. The producers probably think that we don’t have to run a house. Once I worked in a big director’s film and was appreciated also, so he cast me in another film, but when it came to payment I was told ‘Arre ye to ghar ki hai.’ Main ghar ki hoon to mujhe zyada paise do na! Supporting actors do need support.”

Interact with Rohit Vats at Twitter @nawabjha
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