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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Commercialism is not child’s play

Who is a good actor or what is good acting? To make it simple, let us try a more direct question. Which is the better performance – Prakash Raj in Kancheevaram or Vijay in Vettaikaran? Many of you might find this comparison absurd. That is completely understandable because it is difficult to adjust to a comparison which is never thought of and involves two performances that are poles apart in scope. But, let us persevere with it. Is it Prakash Raj in Kancheevaram or Vijay in Vettaikaran? To enable everyone to connect with the type of comparison that is being attempted, let us try Kamal in Anbey Sivam and Vijay in Ghilli (assuming that almost everyone has seen both these movies). Again, this is one comparison that will look totally against convention and preset notions about good acting. There is absolutely no doubt that almost everyone, if not absolutely everyone, will plump for the portrayal of Nalla Sivam by the legendary Kamal Haasan. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the choice. It was indeed a master class from Kalaignani. But, this is not about Kalaignani, this is about the other actor, Vijay, and the breed of actors that he represents. What is the class that Vijay represents? The actor, who plays to the galleries, makes movies for fans, looks to entertain and doesn’t care much about critics. One gets the feeling that this class of actors is not sometimes given the respect that is their due. Not that they seem to particularly care, they are happy to see the masses enjoying their films. But, there seems to be a general opinion floating around amongst the so called A class audiences about the full-fledged commercial actor. Some of the important points seem to be; 1. they have no brains or have stopped using them 2. they can’t act even if their life depended on it 3. can’t do anything except dance, fight and look good 4. are obsessed with their larger than life image. Yes, some of the points mentioned here might be a bit exaggerated. But, it cannot be denied that there are many people who do carry opinions that are very much similar to the above mentioned. The point is that many of the commercial heroes of our times are taken for granted. The skill and charisma that they bring to the screen is sometimes totally ignored because they are supposed to be stereotypical or clichéd. The thing that we tend to forget sometimes is that the job they do is not everybody’s cup of tea. It has to be admitted that pulling off a larger than life character, mouthing punch lines, bashing up 50 odd men single handedly and other such cinematic items is not child’s play. Let’s try thinking of it this way- which is the bigger challenge- playing a true to life character or a larger than life character? Playing a true to life character demands a actor to behave much like an ordinary man would do in situations that life throws at him. But, a larger than life character demands an actor to create a mould for himself, craft his own style ad become a different person, a type that does not exist in normal life. True to life characters have templates, models and examples – a larger than life character has none (except in cinema). The energy, the inspiration and the ideas have to come from within the performer. It takes a lot of work, thought and talent to make an audience take a liking to an actor in a larger than life role. It is not every actor who can pull off a 5 fight, 5 songs and punch dialogue routine without looking silly. Only a select few have that level of screen presence and persona to make the audience (not all sections) clap in delight when they go through these predictable yet enjoyable routines. One also feels that the delivery of the punch dialogue is one of the least appreciated skills in the film industry. It takes tremendous confidence and faith in one’s ability to say lines that sometimes outgrow the script itself. Very few actors can mouth such lines without eliciting sniggers and sneers from the audience. To see the point more clearly, try answering this question. How many commercial ‘larger than life stars’ have at least one well performed true to life character to their credit? Almost everyone, would be the answer. Every commercial star has played a down to earth guy at least once in their career if not more number of times. But, can the converse be said about actors who play only the real-life type of characters. That is, does every ‘reality’ actor have at least one ‘larger than life’ role to their credit? Very few have been successful in such attempts. Our full fledged commercial heroes do have the ability (they may not be class actors) to play some really well fleshed out characters. But, they do their kind of stuff in the industry because that is what is given to them. This might be a controversial statement, but, a good character actor is easier to replace than a commercial star. Character artistes have specializations – some are good at comedy, some at sentiments, some at villainy, some at action etc…. but, a commercial hero is expected to do just about everything in a 3 hour film. He plays the loving son (sentiment), the man in love (romance), capers around with the comedian, dances frenetically in songs and is full of energy in the stunts. A person who can carry of all this at a time is definitely talented. It is this ambivalent skill set of a star that is sometimes portrayed as silly mindless commercialism because ‘he is capable of nothing else’. Yes, commercial stars do fail. When they fail, they look miserable to the point of being a joke. That is because making such cocktails of entertaining ingredients has a very fine balance which can easily be upset. Making commercial entertainers is a tight rope walk and our commercial heroes are at it all the time. That is why we see them falter and fall at times. But, let us not hold it against them and certainly let us not accuse them of being non-talented dim wits who cannot act. Look at the skills that they have, the entertainment that they deliver and the mass appeal that they command – you might be convinced that it takes a lot of skill and work to be one of that kind. Let us give them the respect that is their due.


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