Some of them are crazy, some quirky, some totally nonsensical, while others still make your blood boil and the rest can be totally antagonistic. We are talking about character actors in Bollywood. Accept it or not Bollywood can’t do without character actors who drive the narrative forward. Remember Ramlal from Sholay, the stoic servant of Thakur and the witness to the carnage and destruction. Remember Om Prakash, Iftekhar, Nasir Hussain, Mehmood, Asrani and countless others? Without their presence, a movie would not become the movie it was. Honestly, they were an indispensable part of any movie they were in and this trend has continued. As they say, behind every successful man there is a woman but also behind every successful movie are a group of character actors, who might not be paid in crores but their presence itself is a guarantee that the movie will be have a glorious run at the box-office.
The 1950s, 60s and 70s are often considered to be the Golden Age of Bollywood and this phase gave us certain powerful actors who could easily sync with any roles while 80s and 90s gave us another group of actors that highlighted the change that Bollywood was going through. Once new millennium entered, character actors too made a transition with superstars of yesteryears suddenly donning that mantle. Examples are in plethora. Rishi Kapoor once a Bollywood heartthrob, and we find him acting as a love guru of sorts in Suddh Desi Romance or a hardcore criminal in Agneepath that became one of his most appreciated roles. Amitabh Bachchan, made the transition with Mohabbatein and nowadays he is the fourth pillar of any movie that he is a part of. Actors like Nawazuddin Siddique or Irrfan Khan have carved a place for themselves through the characters that they portrayed and both started out in minor roles here and there. Kay Kay Menon is another actor worth mentioning along with the likes of Manish Chaudhury and Adil Hussain And the list is endless.
Character Actors can now be seen in two different avatars, like becoming heroes in small, off-beat indie ventures while playing major to minor roles in mainstream Bollywood movies. It is to be noted that a section of Indian critics came down on Nawazuddin Siddique heavily for playing the role of the antagonist Shiv Gajra opposite Salman Khan in Kick. Again, during Badlapur, many questioned why was he playing second-fiddle to Varun Dhawan but one can’t deny he was the best person to play those roles.
Other character actors like Mohammad Zeeshan Ayub, Deepak Dobriyal, Manoj Pahwa as well as Sanjay Misra, Brajesh Hijri, Mukesh Tewari, Yashpal Sharma and so many have practically carved a niche for themselves. Whatever the role be, small or big, blink and you miss roles, they always manage to make it exciting. Talking of Sanjay Misra, he finally got the much needed boost with his award-winning performance in Ankhon Dekhi as well as Dum Laga Keh Haisa and has now become an in-demand actor. Manoj Pahwa, you might remember him as Ayesha Takia’s obsessed landlord in Wanted, has been the part of a cult movie like Urf Professor , which is a must watch if you haven’t. Boman Irani in Munnabhai Series gave a solid performance and became as important as Munna and Circuit. Ronit Roy, among the countless forgotten faces of the 90s came back to Bollywood after a stunning performance in Udaan and have acted in a number of movies like Boss, 2 States and a few more. Another exciting character actor is Saswata Chatterjee whose Bob Biswas in Kahaani became hugely popular overshadowing even the stars.
In recent times, each and every script in Bollywood has a special place for a character actor because the directors as well as the producers know that they will be the USP of the movie. Sometimes the actors fail, even an item song might not achieve chart success but character actors can never fail. A very good example can be Shirish Kunder’s Joker, which had a brilliant premise and a set of wonderful actors. It was not a box office success but yet the characters created had tremendous potential.
Actors like Nawazuddin Siddique as well as Irfan Khan and even the recent discovery Niraj Kabi all have excelled in such roles that are not bound by box-office numbers. Neeraj Kabi has been single-handedly praised for his brilliant outing in Detective Byomkesh Bakshy. Not only males, but female character actors too have found a place for themselves. Actresses like Swara Bhaskar, Sandhya Mridul, Sheeba Chaddha, Suhasini Mulay as well as Divya Dutt, Huma Qureishi all have done well in their past and recent outings creating an incredible talent pool
A hero might have limitations but not a character actor. Even a minor screen presence, a well developed character will leave a mark. According to many trade analysts, the difference between a star and an actor has reduced considerably and a character actor has finally got back the respect they deserve. So three cheers for these character actors who make our movie-watching experience truly unique.