With filmmakers choosing to stay away from formulaic storytelling, some talented actors are choosing films with irreverent themes. Clutter breakers are the need of the hour in this rapidly evolving Hindi film industry. With the advent of OTT platforms, democratisation of content, and the emergence of new-age production houses we are now seeing a new version of stardom not dependent on numbers but content. We take you through a list of actors who have chosen the offbeat path and proved that a dynamic story and some impressive acting is what the audience really wants to see.
Take Sayani Gupta, who held her own in Shonali Bose’s Margarita With A Straw opposite Kalki Koechlin, Leena Yadav’s feminist narrative Parched, Anubhav Sinha’s Article 15, and a much-discussed Amazon original series, Four More Shots Please! But her breakout film is the recently released Axone. Directed by filmmaker Nicholas Kharkongor, this Netflix film is produced by Yoodlee Films. It not just makes important points about racism and cultural stereotypes in society but also gives Sayani enough room to be a feisty protagonist with agency.
What makes the film even more important is that it is arguably the first mainstream Hindi film based on the life of an ordinary North-eastern citizen who deals with subtle and overt racism every day. The movie premiered at the BFI London Film Festival, debuted in India at the 21st Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival last year, and also stars Dolly Ahluwalia, Vinay Pathak, Tenzin Dalha as well Northeastern actors like Lin Laishram, Asenla Jamir, and Lanuakum Ao. Sayani chose the script for the way it questions ignorance and privilege and subtly appeals for a more diverse idea of India.
Jitendra Kumar is another unusual success story who had no prior connection with films. An IIT Kharagpur alumnus, he started exploring theatre, began to trend in The Viral Fever (TVF) shows like Kota Factory, the acclaimed Amazon original Panchayat, and played a significant role opposite Ayushmann Khurrana in the comedy Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan.
His latest release that got him rave reviews everywhere was Apurva Dhar Badgaiyann’s, Chaman Bahaar. The film has Jitendra portraying the aspirations and forbidden desires of a small-time paan-waala in love with a young girl. The film drew mixed reviews because of its disconcerting subject but his performance was acclaimed widely.
One more actor who has carved a niche in the industry with his choice of roles is Aparshakti Khurana. With the 2019 film Kanpuriye directed by Ashish Aryan, he has finally come full circle. Khurana has been a lawyer, an RJ, a TV host, and has played supporting roles in many blockbusters like Dangal, Badrinath ki Dulhaniya, Stree, and Street Dancer. It is in Kanpuriye though, that he finally played a lead role along with Divyendu Sharma, and Harsh Mayar. His character Jaitun Mishra is a mix of a Basu Chatterjee’s naive heroes and Anurag Kashyap’s cynical, worldly-wise protagonists and he does this fine balancing act seamlessly.
Then there is Rasika Dugal who is fast becoming the face of alternative storytelling on the big screen and OTT platforms with powerful performances in films like Kshay, Qissa, and Manto as well as Amazon favourites Mirzapur and Made in Heaven. Her starring role in Hotstar’s Out of Love and performance in the Netflix series Delhi Crime also impressed the critics and fans.
This mathematics graduate and FTII alumnus has risen to this point in her career through a long journey. In 2018, she played the role of helpless wife and mother in the National Award-winning film – Hamid. Directed by Aijaz Khan, the story showcased not only shone light on the deeply problematic politics of war in strife-ridden Kashmir but also gave Rasika Dugal a chance to showcase her range of acting talent
This moving adaptation of the play, Phone No. 786 by Mohd. Amin Bhat went on to win the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Urdu at the 66th National Film Awards.
Vinay Pathak another stalwart who has done a wide variety of work in film, Tv and theatre, has delighted us always with his choice of unusual roles. Starting as a Channel V VJ, he went on to etch memorable performances in films like Khosla Ka Ghosla and even pulled off leading roles in offbeat offerings like Dasavidaniya, Bheja Fry, and Gaur Hari Dastaan.
In Chappad Phaad Ke, an incisive film directed by Sameer Hemant Joshi, Vinay Pathak again displays his versatility. With great insight, he plays Sharad Gupchup, a protagonist emblematic of middle-class ambivalence towards money and moral uprightness. It’s available on Disney+ Hotstar.