How Indian Actors Go The Extra Mile Preparing For Their Roles
Before Robert De Niro came to be known as the acting stalwart of this very generation, he would spend much of his time preparing for his best roles in method defining ways. From driving a taxi around New York through 12-hours shifts for Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, to training in boxing with the real life Jake LaMotta, in order to truthfully essay the boxer’s character in Raging Bull, again by Scorsese. Much like Adrian Brody, the only American actor to have ever won France’s version of the Academy, the César Award. For his heart wrenching portrayal in Roman Polanski’s The Pianist, a movie that would later make him one of the youngest male recipients of the Academy award, Brody learned the intricate Chopin piece on the piano. So what you saw on screen was Brody truly working the instrument. Just like Meryl Streep in Music of the Heart, the result of a 6-hour-per-day violin practice.
Hollywood is filled with stories of actors going the extra mile for their roles. Whether it was Heath Ledger’s personal alienation from one and all for his career-defining turn as the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, or Nicolas Cage filming himself drunk to study his speech patterns for Leaving Las Vegas, the stories are aplenty. But if you thought Indian cinema has a dearth of similar method acting stories, you couldn’t be more wrong. With the need for genuinity ringing high and true, it’s not hard to find several of our own homegrown acting talents immersing themselves in months of preparation for their roles.
Apart from chiseling their bodies to perfection, in order to don several elaborate on screen portrayals, actors in India have continued to adopt several skill sets to prepare for a role. When Vishal Bhardwaj roped in Priyanka Chopra for Kaminey for the role of Sweety, the unrelenting lover of Shahid Kapoor’s stuttering Guddu, the actress surprised one and all with her authentic Marathi diction. A Punjabi, Chopra employed the means of a Marathi language tutor to get the accent absolutely right; something, she would later repeat for her role as Kashibai, in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s ambitious Bajirao Mastani.
With the diversity affordable in India, mainstream Hindi actors have often found themselves eagerly seeking out various accents and languages to lend their characters the authenticity they deserve. Like in the upcoming movie, 31st October, directed by National Award-winner Shivaji Patil, the quintessentially urban Vir Das will be seen essaying the role of a Sikh father. The movie, that deals with the aftermath of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination, has Vir doing an out-of-turn by learning fluent Punjabi to portray the role convincingly; of which he says, “It was fun learning Punjabi, I now have another language in my list and I always like doing a character by completely being engrossed in it, there is no half-way.”. From Katrina Kaif picking up Arabic for her work in Kabir Khan’s Phantom to Kangana Ranaut picking the accelerated Haryanvi delivery in Tanu Weds Manu Returns, Hindi cinema is full of stories of actors acing dialects for their cinematic ventures.
Speaking of skill sets, actors often find themselves in roles of a lifetime. Those that require them to go beyond looking fit, to actually learning a new physical skill; in order to portray it with accuracy. Unsightliness can be easy to spot in a role that is physically demanding; and to avoid any such situation, many of our actors have spent significant amount of time. When Aamir Khan had to take a dive in water for Reema Kagti’s thriller run, Talaash, the non-swimmer was thankful for the much-needed swimming lessons. From learning horse-riding in Mangal Pandey to the very nuances of cricket in the Oscar-nominated Lagaan, Khan has always been at the forefront of India’s method acting. His next, Dangal, sees the actor play a wrestling father to two daughters who learn the sport under his tutelage and go on to become India’s very first female wrestlers. The role has not only seen Khan bulk up to resemble the ideal athletic body, a la an actual wrestler, but the actor has immersed himself in khushti lessons to nail the part. Which is hardly surprising, given Khan’s impressive dedication to absoluteness.
Much like Aishwarya Rai in Jodha Akbar, one can have a taste of Deepika Padukone wielding dramatic sword power in Bansali’s Bajirao Mastani. The usually remarkable Richa Chadha too, who boasts of roles that scream realistic portrayals, has dwelled into lessons of cabaret and belly dancing for her next, Pooja Bhatt’s Cabaret. Richa quips, “When I learned that an accomplished Turkish teacher was in town, I decided to make time for this belly-dance workshop. Learning a new art form is always good for any actor since the learning is never ending. I was learning a bit of belly dance before I became active in films, but I am really taken by the form nowadays. I am hoping to continue learning it.”
When Amitabh Bachchan played the character of the loveable drunk with a heart of gold, in Prakash Mehra’s Sharaabi, it was well known that the actor essayed the role without touching a drop of alcohol. The thespian, a complete teetotaller, delivered a most authentic turn in the movie, with complete abstinence. On the other hand, Anurag Kashyap had all his actors consume alcohol for liquor fuelled scenes in his brilliant Ugly. Both, genuinely realistic portrayals, infused with sparkling undertones. Both, two sides to cinematic preparation.
It makes for great pop culture anecdotes to watch an actor give in to the role completely in preparation. It also makes for great visual sentiment to watch an actor portray a role most effectively. A sentiment, that blurs the line between life and the ingenuity of the filmic medium. A sentiment, worth applauding.
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