'Yun Hota...' will be Naseer's acid test

Jul 16, 2006 Priyanka Khanna

New Delhi, July 16 (IANS) Versatile actor Naseeruddin Shah is ready with his directorial debut that hits the marquees on Friday, while the directorial success of former Bollywood actor Rakesh Roshan has reached a crescendo.

Though Naseer's "Yun Hota Toh Kya Hota" is as different from Roshan's "Krrish" as chalk is from cheese -- both are visions of actors who made it big in an era when the Mumbai-studio based Hindi film trade was a far cry from the industry that is has become today.

On the surface, similarities between the two end there.

Naseer never was a fit in the world of larger-than-life escapist Bollywood films. One cannot help agreeing with him when he says: "How I have survived (in Bollywood) is a mystery'"

When one thinks of Naseer, offbeat films like "Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron", "Masoom", "Sparsh", "Monsoon Wedding", "Ijaazat", "Maqbool" and "Iqbal" come to mind. It is hard to imagine him doing a typical Bollywood song and dance sequence, though he has.

He has featured in over 120 films and his oeuvre includes typical Bollywood masala flicks as well. Like when filmmaker Rajiv Rai had cast him in a romantic role with Sonam decades ago in "Tridev", a villain in "Mohra" and a play-boyish, flamboyant kind of character in the more recent "Asambhav".

He is among the handful of so-called character actors from India who have made a mark internationally. In director Stephen Norrington's "The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen", he was pitted against international superstar Sean Connery.

However, neither the US critics nor the US box office was too happy with the film, but it did bring him international recognition. Acclaim from overseas came for films like "Monsoon Wedding" and "The Perfect Murder".

Naseer had entered films some 25 years when a lot of low-budget, experimental and realistic films were being made. He later rejected a lot of them as being trash and unnecessarily dark.

"The mistake we made in the seventies was imagining the movement would sweep the country and change the course of filmmaking. The filmmakers had the pretension. Frankly, we all did.

"So when the movement collapsed on its face in five years or so, we were all shocked. Now I believe when the need for good cinema arises, we will make good cinema. It is as simple as that," he says.

Mainstream Bollywood had always been his béte noire. He said in an interview, "Bollywood has become much slicker on the surface, but I don't think we are making any progress in terms of content. We are just doing the same old stories."

As Naseer turns director with "Yun Hota To Kya Hota" it will be interesting to note how he has managed to walk the tight rope between meaningful and fantasy cinema. Going by the star cast it is evident that he is trying to target both -- mainstream Bollywood movie audiences as well as discerning viewers.

He has roped in acting powerhouses Irrfan Khan and Konkona SenSharma along with popular actors Jimmy Shergill and Ayesha Takia. Both Jimmy and Ayesha know their craft but have not had many opportunities to exhibit their prowess.

Not too long ago, another versatile, un-conventional-looking actor Anupam Kher had gone behind the camera. The debut film of the actor, who is known for his work in meaningful and powerful films, was the box office dud "Om Jai Jagdish". The multi-starrer was as mainstream Bollywood as they come.

Naseer's attempt to marry mainstream and popular cinema is not new. And that is where the other similarity between him and Roshan comes in. The latter, who once made archetypical kitsch Bollywood films, no longer churns out run-of-the-mill fare.

In some way he broke away from the established formula and certainly served to strengthen the movement for better content and special effects.

Now only if Naseer's "leftist" could become more mainstreamed and Roshan's "rightist" cinematic visions could be less shallow, Bollywood would be utopia.

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