“If you’re a lead actor, people are just waiting to say ‘you’re too old’ or ‘you’re too unhip.’ If you’re a supporting actor, you can just work forever.”
Actors in Bollywood and other Indian film industries have been immortalised and worshipped by hordes of loyal fans since time immemorial. By these actors, we obviously mean the heroes and heroines, the superstars who are expected to sport the complexion of Greek goddesses and bodies of Greek gods. This does not mean that these actors are not great performers; it’s just that they have been glorified in such a manner that the support system of the film-the supporting cast get ignored from mainstream discussions. From the angry, young days of Amitabh to the romantic gentleman days of Shahrukh, there was a time when it felt like supporting actors in India were just ‘supporting’ and nothing more than that.
Actors like Om Prakash and Amjad Khan (aka GabbarSingh) got some healthy critical acclaim for their performances, but fell victim to typecast and did not always get the roles that could have tapped more of their Filmfare winning potential. Meanwhile in the West, even popular lead actors like Al Pacino and Robin Williams were being mentioned in headlines for their supporting performances. However, now the winds of change have started blowing in Indian cinema as well. Last year, Vikram Vedha emerged as a classy edgy Tamil thriller. The handsome middle-aged hunk Madhavan shone in the title role but critics and the audience went gaga over Vijay Sethupathi, who played the antagonist. He was no conventional villain; here we could see a baddie who was philosophical in his approach and could give a memorable soliloquy whenever the script demanded. Rajkumar Rao has become Bollywood’s heartthrob in recent times but in his postmodern political classic Newton, the consensus would agree that the film would not have been the same without the humorous yet realistic performances by Pankaj Tripathi and Raghubir Yadav.
These are just a few of many examples in a new Renaissance in the film industry, with filmmakers trying to get an authentic feel with authentic characters and settings. That might also explain the sudden rise in significance for the supporting artists. Often, the supporting actors are expected to get realer accents, looks, and the whole persona which is characteristic of the dweller of the town or the city in which the story is set. These actors anyway do not need to have a manufactured body and dialogue delivery because the script does not demand them to act sassy, impress the heroine and do other conventional ‘hero’ things. This ultimately leads to lesser distractions and more focus on getting into the skin of the character they are portraying. The newer generations are demanding a cinema that provides voices from places all over, be it Bareily or Wasseypur, the quest for authenticity in the supporting acts is only increasing.
Nowadays, conventionally handsome hero material boys like Vicky Kaushal are trying to indulge themselves in supporting roles. In contrast, character-actors who started with supporting roles like Sanjay Mishra and Irrfan are getting their faces printed on major portions of film posters as they are being offered lead roles. Magazines like Forbes are proudly showcasing Nawazuddin Siddiqui on their covers. Radhika Apte has emerged as the queen who has successfully colonized the “Republic of Netflix”. This shows that supporting actors are finally getting their due. They are inspiring the coming generations, and make sure the same is done with determination and raw talent. They are a step towards battling evils like typecasting and nepotism. The ones whose names dwelled in oblivion and did not see the light of the day are now finally basking in the limelight.
Feature Image Credits: The Lunchbox