Imagination Gets a Nudge
Sonam Kapoor pips Marion Cotillard

A new role for Directors

Several directors have chosen to face the camera as a gesture of friendship or to experiment with the medium in a different capacity

In a gritty film that charts the journey of a street fighter,played by Ranbir Kapoor,and of Bombay as it became a metropolis between 1950s and ’70s ,Karan Johar’s association in any capacity seems out of place. But that is one of the reasons behind filmmaker Anurag Kashyap’s decision to have Johar play the antagonist,a businessman with grey shades to his character,in his project,Bombay Velvet.

This casting is being called a coup in the industry. Many believe Johar,himself a director and producer,will make for a good actor. “Every director is an actor as he has to live each character’s life while making a film,” says director Anurag Basu,who faced the camera for the role of a doctor in Onir’s I AM. Onir has on other occasions too cast directors in his films — Kashyap played a sexually abusive step-father in I AM whereas Sujoy Ghosh had a part in My Brother… Nikhil. He was also in talks with Rituparno Ghosh for a role before the latter passed away this month.

In the near future,one will see several filmmakers face the camera — Sujoy as popular detective Bomkesh Bakshi in Rituparno’s last directorial project Satyanweshi,Vikram Bhatt as a genie in his own Bhaag Johnny,and Farhan Akhtar as Milkha Singh in Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Bhaag Milkha Bhaag,his first film as an actor outside of his production house.

While Akhtar has been a dedicated actor,the others have taken up sporadic assignments either for the love of the script and character,as is the case with Johar and Bombay Velvet,or merely as an act of friendship. Basu recounts how Onir took from him the promise to play the part in exchange of bailing him out of an embarrassing situation at a coffee shop. “I ran out of money at a cafe and Onir lent me the amount but asked for a commitment to act in I AM,” Basu says.

Kashyap’s acting stint in director Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Shagird was part of a friendly deal struck between the two. The former demanded that Dhulia return the favour by playing the role of Ramadhir Singh in Gangs of Wasseypur. “Anurag conned me. His was a small role in Shagird while he cast me as one of the key characters in Gangs of Wasseypur,” says Dhulia,who won the Screen award for Best Actor in a Negative Role for that part.

It isn’t always an instinct that makes directors cast their colleague or friend in their films. “It is often an extension of their own creative space. Also,the idea of experimenting in a different capacity can be exciting,” says Akhtar who has also been a producer,writer and TV show host. That apart,some of the filmmakers have had roots in theatre and acting. Onir says that both Kashyap and Basu had first come to the city in the hope of becoming an actor. Kashyap too was aware that his friend,Dhulia,is a graduate from National School of Drama. “With a background in theatre,I am well-versed in various departments of filmmaking,but I prefer to direct today. In fact,Kashyap offered me a role in Gangs of Wasseypur too,but I was busy with Barfi! then,” Basu says.

There are certain obvious advantages of casting a director in a role. Akhtar says when he came on board as Milkha on Mehra’s project,he could grasp its production details,deadlines and also the director’s scale and vision. Once on the sets,however,these filmmakers leave behind their own directorial instincts and instead go with the flow as Johar promises to do during the making of Bombay Velvet. “Both Anurag Basu and Anurag Kashyap are hugely talented,but none of them shared their views regarding the creative process on the sets of I AM,” says Onir,and adds it helped that they are friends,which made it easy to work with them.

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