India Uncut

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Sunday, December 05, 2004

Casting the persona, not just the actor

I saw an intriguing mini-interview with Ashutosh Gowarikar on Zoom a couple of days back. (I was surfing and I came across it, I swear, I don’t watch that channel otherwise!) When asked why, after the success of Lagaan, he chose Shah Rukh Khan instead of Aamir Khan for the lead role in his new film, Swades, Gowarikar said it was because of Shah Rukh’s “persona”. “He has a careless, reckless image,” he said, “and that was the image I wanted for the film.” As opposed to Aamir’s thoughful studious image, I gather.

This jolted me into attention. I have always believed, and most fellow film lovers would probably agree, that a serious film-maker would choose an actor for a film based on how well he can portray the character, and not for any extraneous reasons. Yet, Gowarikar realised that our mainstream audiences, when they watch a film, bring a lot of baggage with them into the theatre. The bigger the actor, the more inseparable his off-screen persona from him, and from any role he plays. Instead of being hindered by this, Gowarikar has begun the process of character-building with the casting itself.

I was wondering if I’d read too much into Gowarikar’s brief sound-byte when I came across the latest issue of Time Out Mumbai. (I haven’t located it online, oddly, so I’m afraid I can’t link to it.) It has a feature on Gowarikar by Nandini Ramnath, where Gowarikar expands on this theme. “Shah Rukh’s screen image has impulsiveness, spontaenity and slight unpredictabilty,” he says. “He has an anti-hero tag which is his past, but won’t leave him. All these qualities needed to be there in Mohan Bhargav [the character he plays]. So when a Shah Rukh says this country is going to the dogs, you believe him. Aamir, on the other hand, is seen as a nice guy, and coming from him, it would sound strange.”
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