There was a news item in today’s edition of The Telegraph (top of p.4 – I couldn’t find the link on the net: if someone discovers it by chance, please send it to me) titled ‘Hey, hero, Brando’s school is coming to Bollywood’. The gist of the story was this: mainstream Hindi cinema has always been high on melodrama, burlesque, slapstick and suchlike stuff (a package they call ‘nautanki’ in the vernacular) and low on acting; so Bollywood stars have specialized and taken pride in being good at dancing, mock-fighting, hyperemoting, in-your-face tomfoolery, lip-synching with background music and so forth, and have never bothered much about acting proper. But now those days may be over: in response to a supposed change (‘maturation’?) in audience tastes, they will soon have to learn what real acting means and how it is done. To help them along, the Stella Adler Studio of Acting (founded in
, 1949) is setting up shop in Mumbai soon. This famous school supposedly brought about a sea change in New York Hollywood following the lead given by the ‘immersive, psychological acting technique’ based on the work of Konstantin Stanislavsky, actor and sometime director of the . The school claims to have Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, Moscow Arts School Susan Sarandon and Martin Sheen, besides other stellar actors, among its alumni. Hollywood
Now that might be welcome news to some, but I am not too sure. First, I don’t know whether the above names are the only greats among
Hollywood actors, and whether great actors, generally speaking, really learnt their skills from European pioneers. Secondly, if mainstream Bollywood cinema rarely rises above pedestrian levels, isn’t it because our producers, directors and actors have to make a living like everybody else, so they have to keep dishing out the sort of stuff the great majority (which, unfortunately, includes not just the vast unwashed masses but even the children and wives of the rich and supposedly educated public, with few exceptions) wants? If their tastes require that movies Hollywood er be more subtle and aesthetically demanding than Hum Aapke Hai Kaun or Dhoom in order to succeed at the box office, is it the fault of those who make cinema in this country, and can it be cured by a foreign school of acting? nev
Besides, is it true that our actors cannot act when they want to, when they are given a chance to? I can think offhand of dozens of fairly good-to-excellent movies made even within the suffocating limitations of mainstream Bollywood cinema within just the last decade or so: Dor, Aamir, Black Friday, A Wednesday, Cheeni Kum, Black, Swades, Parzania, Rocket Singh, Lage Raho Munnabhai, Taarey Zameen Par, Guru, Paa, Johnny Gaddar, Omkara, Yuva, Dev D, Kaminey, Ishquiya… and if you bothered to look at regional cinema in at least half a dozen languages, you would find a much bigger pool of proven talent: talent which was home-grown, talent which, if it could not do as well as it might have, was only restricted by what the audience was prepared to take, in terms of both story-line and acting methods (Raj Kapoor said long ago that the commercial failure of Mera Naam Joker had taught him a bitter lesson he'd never forgotten, much more recently Sanjay Leela Bhansali said, in expiation of Devdas, that he could do much better films than Black, but the audience wouldn’t pay for them, Ayesha Takia has gone on record saying that if she only acted in movies like Dor, she would starve, Nagesh Kukunoor has trouble getting new projects funded, Shah Rukh Khan has wasted a life in singleminded pursuit of pelf, and Aamir Khan had to stoop to juvenile clowning and teenage mooning to make a hit of as important a movie as 3 Idiots). How is a ‘phoren’ school of acting likely to make a difference in a country where actors as talented as
Om Puri and Utpal Dutt have been reduced to what is basically rustic jatra to pay their bills?
I’d like comments from serious cinema buffs here: not those who presume to write 'reviews' by hamhandedly copy-pasting stuff they get from IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes, wikipedia and other such sites on the net…