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Tuesday, September 28, 2021

The Unreal Times

Can the star become an actor on Indian television?

Written by Shubhra Gupta | New Delhi |
Updated: August 10, 2014 1:00:57 am
he adverts of the latest edition of Kaun Banega Crorepati that act as fillers for Yudh give us the Bachchan we know and love. he adverts of the latest edition of Kaun Banega Crorepati that act as fillers for Yudh give us the Bachchan we know and love.

Can the star become an actor on Indian television?

I’ve tried watching Yudh, and failed. Nothing in the show has grabbed me till now. There’s been the rare interesting moment that’s caught my attention, but a complete episode that’s held me? Nope.

I’ve been trying to nail what ails this heavily-publicised multi-starrer of a TV show, which boasts of “mega-star” Amitabh Bachchan, and is backed by Anurag Kashyap and such talented actors as Sarika, Kay Kay, Zakir Hussain, and a few interesting fresh faces. And I’ve zeroed it down to this: I simply do not buy anything that’s on the screen.

And that’s because this show looks and feels constructed. Around a “megastar” who remains The Megastar instead of becoming the character. When we see Yudhisthir Sikarwar aka Yudh aka YS, we see only Bachchan. The star with that beard, that voice, those familiar inflections, struggling to be someone other than himself in a plot that never takes off.

Nothing wrong in the Big B being the Big B. The adverts of the latest edition of Kaun Banega Crorepati that act as fillers for Yudh give us the Bachchan we know and love. As the only Indian TV show host who is consistently a viewer magnet, as the ambassador of We Love Our India dil-jeetne-waley spots, he uses his popularity and gravitas to wonderful effect. By being himself.

That doesn’t work in fiction. You have to convince us you are the character you play. Not an actor spouting his lines who will leave the set once his job is done. That’s what is primarily plaguing Yudh, this business of everyone “acting” their parts, never getting into them.

That was precisely the problem with Anil Kapoor’s 24, which was also supposed to “change Indian television”. In the Indian version of the Fox show, Kapoor heads an anti-terrorist unit based in Mumbai, which is hot on the tracks of a bunch of bad guys. Now we aren’t really familiar with crack outfits like the ones Kapoor works with, but nothing about that warren-like office felt real: I kept waiting for Kapoor’s swish colleague, played by Mandira Bedi, to jump into her standard-issue, much more believable spaghetti-straps. And despite all the scorching “action” on the “streets” of Mumbai, the whole thing felt it was being filmed in a large, artificially-darkened industrial-sized barn, whose doors would open any minute to let the light in.

Kapoor is not as “mega” as Bachchan, but he stayed more Anil Kapoor than Jai Singh Rathod, his character. Even the other actors who dropped in for a brief role — Shabana Azmi and Anupam Kher, didn’t stray far from their persona.

Are Bollywood stars incapable of fitting into “real” TV characters? Do we need them only to be oracles all the time? The people who have all the answers, or can whistle up a friendly “computerji” to solve a toughie?
A while ago, I finished watching True Detective, an HBO show that stars Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey. These two Hollywood stars play a couple of sleuths who track a serial killer over 17 years: the show was too stretched, and relied too much upon atmospherics, and sometimes those deep Southern accents got real annoyin’, but you believed in the two detectives. Because the actors who played them banished their “stardom”, and dissolved into their characters.

Then again, would Tom Cruise, a much more “starry” star than Harrelson and McConaughey, be able to “become” a TV character? Does it then come down to the kind of star you are, whether it is Bollywood or Hollywood?

And does it also come down to a time when we will be able to look at an actor doing TV without wondering if his or her film career is over? This happens only in India.

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