With Rishi Kapoor's Mulk, Bollywood recognises value of veteran actors' experience in content-driven films

Archita Kashyap

August 05, 2018 08:56:16 IST

Rishi Kapoor is 65. His son Ranbir Kapoor is the toast of cinema with an unforgettable performance and a monster hit, Sanju. This week, Kapoor senior shares poster space in multiplexes with sonny boy for Mulk. The 65-year-old helms this socio-political drama, reportedly based on a real life incident from Lucknow. Taapsee Pannu, a promising young star and Prateik Babbar also join Rishi Kapoor in Mulk but the pivotal leading man is the veteran actor.

Kapoor’s Mulk is amongst those Hindi films that count on sheer performance and loyal fan followings of veteran actors. A select few have risen above playing dad and brother roles, and are now playing key characters or lead roles in commercial films. The credit for this change goes to writers of Hindi cinema, who have managed to make films closer to life as we know it, rather than feed fantastical existences on repeat mode.

Rishi Kapoor in a still from Mulk. Image via Twitter

Rishi Kapoor in a still from Mulk. Image via Twitter

Alternately cantankerous and comical on Twitter, Rishi Kapoor is candid about his film career as hero. Always romancing heroines wearing sweaters in picturesque locations like Ooty, or Switzerland, he never played characters with substance.  The backgrounds of his sweater clad romantic films could be switched even if the character remains the same. To be fair to Kapoor, he did try to go beyond this trap. In Barood, Doosra Aadmi, Damini, or Ek Chadar Maili Si, Kapoor played out confused, non lily-white leading men with refined performances ahead of his time. But his acting range never got filmmakers of worth interested.

As he got older, Kapoor started to be signed up for varied older characters. He plays a human trafficker with his own set of principles in the new Agneepath, the octogenarian with an appetite for dirty pictures in Kapoor & Sons, a wronged father in 102 Not Out and a romantic advisor of sorts in Shuddh Desi Romance. He has his share of forgettable films too, but like he often mentions, he is paid too well to refuse these parts. And the actor in him is visible and growing.

This progression in Hindi film story telling has audiences interested. Previously, Dilip Kumar is the only star that could play a leading man or a significant character in films like Shakti and Karma. But the shift in perspective, where an older character is relevant to a film, began with Amitabh Bachchan in the early 2000s. Consequently, we get to see inclusive stories and engaging plots in mainstream films.

Rishi Kapoor and Amitabh Bachchan in a still from 102 Not Out. YouTube

Rishi Kapoor and Amitabh Bachchan in a still from 102 Not Out. YouTube

102 Not Out, with Amitabh Bachchan and Rishi Kapoor, is a good example of this. Made on a budget of less than Rs 11 crore, the film has gone on to make more than Rs 75 crore in India alone. It stayed in theatres and it grew based on word of mouth. The film tackles a very relevant and resonant social issue — treatment of ageing parents, and it counts on sheer performance that both these veteran stars bring effortlessly. Its success proves that people like to watch these actors in action — Kapoor  has Mulk and Rajma Chawal, and Mr Bachchan has Badla by Sujay Ghosh, examples that the film business now recognizes the value of story driven cinema that features veteran performers and brings on board their experience, a solid counter to the wham and bam of uninspiring glamour or formula films. One can’t quite imagine the success of Piku or Pink without Amitabh Bachchan’s presence in both films.

Rishi Kapoor has often pointed out that this change Amitabh Bachchan ushered where older actors get key and star parts in content driven films in. Given that he is the lead in the big ticket Thugs of Hindostan and Brahmaastra, along with a host of other films, proves that. While he opened the door for fresh thinking, better actors with consistency continue to find films worth their merit and experience. Anil Kapoor plays the lead in Fanney Khan along with Aishwarya Bachchan, and will play a pivotal part in Ek Ladki Ko Dekha To Aisa Laga (co-starring Sonam Kapoor Ahuja and Rajkummar Rao). Kapoor reinvented himself with Slumdog Millionaire and 24, proving his versatility and natural born talent. Ever since, he has acted in films that cast him in significant parts, not relegating him to clichéd father roles. Shefali Shah and Anil were the soul of Dil Dhadhakne Do, which co-starred younger, stars Ranveer Singh, Priyanka Chopra, Anushka Sharma and Farhan Akhtar.

Soon, one will get to see Anupam Kher helming The Accidental Prime Minister as former PM Manmohan Singh. A veteran performer, Kher has been relegated to playing the goofy relative or comical-menacing villain in masala films for nearly two decades. With more films drawn from Indian history, politics, or real life, scope for veteran and senior stars to act as leads has grown sizeably. The Hindi film hero is no longer a Mr Nice Guy, with little flaws, fair skin and unrealistic abilities to romance or fight. Heroes are flawed now, right from having erectile dysfunction, to a regular guy who falls in love with a comatose woman, to a son who hides his homosexuality from his mother. This element of the real has made scripts malleable to accepting and adapting older actors that bring honed performances with them.

Amitabh Bachchan in Piku. Image via Twitter

Amitabh Bachchan in Piku. Image via Twitter

Displaying a permanent shift from the typical, this is also a phase when heroines, always hungering for meatier parts and quality work, now get to feature in decent films despite marrying or having children. Kajol didn’t make positive impact in Dilwale, which had little to offer her as an actor. But she seems to have an interesting project in Helicopter Eela. Tabu is flourishing now as actor as her unconventional but powerful histrionics find justice in films like Haider and Drishyam.  A change that Vidya Balan drove single handedly, it has benefited the likes of Kareena Kapoor Khan, whose return in Veerey Di Wedding after maternity break worked. Kareena played a bride to be, and her very visible motherhood didn’t impact audience perception of her character. Compare this to Karishma Kapoor’s attempts at comeback only a few years ago, which failed face down.

Internationally, in both film and TV, age has been just a number. Older men and women have helmed key projects and performed well. Ironically, as franchise obsessions take over Hollywood films, cinema in India is opening up to a variety of subjects. In the long run, this shift that ensures veteran stars prime positioning in films is pure gain for movie buffs. When it comes to acting, they still rule that space.

Updated Date: Aug 05, 2018 08:56 AM