Who are Bollywood's most promising faces?
There's a vital component - screen presence - which can make or break a Bollywood star. Today, the snag and especially so among the fresh batch of heroines, is that they lack that key element to connect instantaneously with the audience. Is there any heroine who can hold a candle to Sridevi and Madhuri Dixit? Or even to Vidya Sinha or Taapsee Pannu?
Not in my book at least. Perhaps that has a lot to do with how the heroines-come-lately are groomed and presented by the stylists and costume designers, and above all in the ABC of acting by the directors. Although some of their films may have been successful, there's no USP which makes most of them stand out in the clutter.
With due apologies, I have to admit, that oftentimes I can't distinguish Rakul Preet Singh (De De Pyar De with Ajay Devgn), Mrunal Thakur (Super 30 with Hrithik Roshan), Nusrat Bharucha (Dream Girl with Ayushmann Khurrana) and Kriti Kharbanda (Paagalpanti with Pulkit Samrat) from one another. Alas they look pretty much the same and their media publicity interviews sound the same, too.
With time and experience, perhaps they will evolve their distinct recognisable identities. Which is to say, I do hope that they prove my words wrong. In this context, I cannot help recalling a piece of casting advice given to me by Shyam Benegal, "Always pick actors - be it male or female - who not only suit the role but also have an extraordinary quality which they can call their own." That was his primary reason for select Karisma Kapoor to enact the part of Zubeidaa. Right off, he had sensed an untapped resource of vulnerability in her.
Initially, Benegal was criticised by some for opting for a 'commercial' heroine, but he proved to be spot-on about the casting. Similarly for the part of the male lead, he handpicked Manoj Bajpai because he didn't look like a 'typical maharaja'.
Indeed, the point of this week's column is to state that camera-friendly looks and self-confidence aren't sufficient. The ability to project a screen presence forcefully certainly is. Examples of mainstream heroines who have frequently elevated even the most mundane roles way above the script are many. However, Like it or not, a majority of newcomers can barely deliver the goods.
Mercifully, there are a few exceptions to the rule. Allow me , then, to zero in on Kriti Sanon who is slowly but surely evolving an identity of her own. And that's the 29-year-old Kriti Sanon who despite featuring essentially in fantasy-laden fare has improved immeasurably after debuting in the male-dominated actioner Heropanti, opposite Tiger Shroff, some six years ago.
For evidence I would cite Bareilly ki Barfi which believe me merits a repeated viewing. As a smalltown girl, who longs to break out of the conservative milieu, and seeks out a romantic novel writer as her life partner, hers was a nuanced, undevalued performance. The witty interexchange of dialogue with the always-excellent Pankaj Tripathi portraying her father, were especially well executed. Moreover, she underplayed the glamour quotient, by opting for minimal make-up and costumes shorn of the mandatory Bollywood-style bling.
Subsequently, in the historical drama Panipat, Kriti Sanon did strike an impact despite an abbreviated role and the stodgy script and direction by Ashutosh Gowariker.
Over, next to Ananya, the 21-year-old daughter of actor Chunky Pandey. Two-films-down so far - Student of the Year 2 and Pati Patni aur Woh -- she has disclosed a flair for being understated. In Karan Johar's student franchise, she was certainly more believable than the in-your-face, over-dolled-up Tara Sutharia. And in the Pati Patni aur Woh, remake of the Sanjeev Kumar-Vidya Sinha-Ranjeeta comedy of 1978, hers was a difficult part, especially in the company of the showy Kartik Aryan and the reliably competent Bhumi Pendekar. Auspiciously enough, she was restrained and used her expressive eyes effectively.
By comparison the 24-year-old Sara Ali Khan appears to be no-holds-barred and did tend to go over the top both in Kedarnath and Simmba. That she has a walloping screen presence, a la her mother Amrita Singh, is undeniable. A perfect fit for the big-budget glossies, she could vault into the A-list, given the opportunity to prove her versatility.
Her next Love Aajkal, under the direction of Imtiaz Ali, hasn't proved to be a key turning point, though. With more varied roles and by adding shades to her portrayals, Sara Ali Khan could shine a light like no other newcomer has in recent years.
In sum, then, Kriti Sanon, Ananya Pandey and Sara Ali Khan do have that precious 'it' factor called screen presence. How far they go in the future depends, needless to say, on luck and that killer instinct to stand out, individually, in the crowd.