Leading with laughs
Khalid Mohamed on stars whose radiant and heartwarming smiles dazzle up our days
Most actors in the world will agree that it is far more difficult to laugh out loud than it is to shed tears in front of the harsh gaze of the camera. Tears can be facilitated by a dab of glycerine just before the camera starts rolling. Ask any actor to laugh uproariously, and there'll be a moment of hesitation. How to break into full-throated laughter spontaneously is the question.
Incidentally, in an essay back in 1958, the legendary critic James Agee had defined various kinds of laughter, stating, "The titter is just a titter. The yowl is a runaway titter. Anyone who has had the pleasure knows all about the bellylaugh. And the boffo is the uncontrollable laugh that kills."
Needless to harp, laughter - be in the movies or in real life - is the best tonic.
There was a time when Ashok Kumar could guffaw with avuncular delight. Comedian Mehmood, by twirling his eyes around, could tickle the funny bone of the most hard-hearted viewer in the audience. And then there were Madhubala, Geeta Bali and Sridevi in later years, who possessed the uncanny talent of drumming up mirth as steadily and deafeningly as standing under a waterfall. Mr Agee would have surely approved.
Today, a majority of Bollywood actors don't seem to have mastered the art of straight-from-the-cuff hilarity. However, there are at least 12 top exceptions who can chortle, guffaw, giggle, go ha-ha and even hyuk-hyuk effortlessly, without caring for the fact that they're being caught on the lens, with their inhibitions down.
This column is dedicated then to the dozens of B-town film personalities who have made us laugh along with them, for treating us to joy and laughter in the darkened hall of the auditorium.
. AMITABH BACHCHAN: On the sets and locations, Bachchan Sr tends to be grim and even grumpy on occasion. As soon as the camera is switched on, there is a dramatic change. His whoops of laughter are contagious as they were in some of his best comedy roles, topped by Amar Akbar Anthony (1977) and Namak Halaal (1982). Perhaps a cool rapport between the two directors and the actor allowed Bachchan to let his hair down. There was a touch of wry humour perceptible, too, in Piku (2015). Yet, his most endearing, easygoing performances of late have been in the ongoing Kaun Banega Crorepati quiz show, in which he seems to enjoy the snatches of fun and camaraderie with the often-nervous contestants.
. MADHURI DIXIT: Endowed with a perfect smile, at the outset of her career, she wasn't exactly generous with the laughter quotient. Steadily, she appeared to go with the flow, and knocked out a series of performances, in which she shed tears, danced up a storm and belted out chuckles galore, most notably in Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! (1994). Presently, whenever she appears on TV reality shows, she doesn't hold back her high degree of amusement at the proceedings any more.
. KAJOL: A one-woman laugh bag, yesteryear's dulhania of Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995) arguably has the most endearing guffaw among the heroines. At any film preview, she practically rolls in the aisles while watching the fun antics on screen. And if she hugs a friend, whom she has met after a long while, Kajol's yelps and yowls are pure au naturel.
. TABU: It would be off-the-mark to slot her as a heroine who specialises exclusively in roles of gravitas. Place her even in a typical Bollywood comedy a la Biwi No. 1 (1999) or Hera Pheri (2000), and she's a scene-stealer. Perhaps this facet of her hasn't been tapped sufficiently yet. Her laughter is unusual, rising from the belly to explode into a concatenations of peals of laughter. Crack even a corny joke in her presence, and she's more than likely to respond with a non-stop ha-ha-ha rather than scoff about the lame wisecrack she must have heard so many times before.
. AISHWARYA RAI BACHCHAN: She conveys the impression of being aloof and remains distant with those who don't know her well. In the company of her family, close friends, many of whom are high-end still photographers, she breaks into giggles, and that's when the most likeable candid photographs of hers have been clicked.
. DEEPIKA PADUKONE: Hers is a girlish laugh, highlighted instantly by the deepening of her dimples. Not surprisingly, thanks to her instinct to get into a character's skin, she had a blast in Chennai Express (2013), outshining even Shah Rukh Khan, who spent most of the footage striving to match her jest escapades.
. KAREENA KAPOOR KHAN: Once in a classic blue moon, she forgets about which angle of her face is the more flattering one, how she will look darting all her sparking pearlies at the paparazzi. When she does, that's the Kareena Kapoor Khan you want to know, innocent and unspoilt.
. RANVEER SINGH: When he's not portraying a ferocious sultan, as in Padmaavat (2018) or restraining his high-energy in Gully Boys (2019), Ranveer is a one-man comic circus (evidence: Simmba, 2018). In real life, he's never seen without an ear-to-ear smile and when he's especially upbeat, which is very often, there's a fusillade of laughter. Now there's one actor who can intuitively grin big-time rather than look melancholic.
. SONAM KAPOOR: Since she's a voracious reader of books ranging from P.G. Wodehouse and Alexander McCall Smith to Haruki Murakami, during her hours with the tomes, she can be seen chortling her heart out. In person, too, she doesn't shy away from breaking into whoops of laughter, a gift which served her well in the romedies Khoobsurat (2014) and Veere Di Wedding (2018).
. ALIA BHATT: She can be feisty and she can be fun. Her speciality is that rare quality of laughing at herself. Ask her to make funny faces, tee-hee or look uber chic, she's malleable. No worries. That's why she can be thoroughly pixiesh (Student of the Year, 2012) or she can be young woman of grit and independence (Udta Punjab, 2016, Raazi, 2018).
. VIDYA BALAN: An expansive smile, followed by a toss of her head and then the proxysms of laughter are her calling card. She can be an equally accomplished tragedienne (The Dirty Picture, 2011) and comedienne (for instance, Tumhari Sulu, 2017). No wonder she is frequently compared to Meryl Streep, who can handle every genre stupendously. If there's one reliable blues-chaser in B-town showbiz, it's the versatile Ms Balan.
. SOONI TARAPOREVALA: Unlike most directors, photographers and scriptwriters, the author, most famously of Salaam Bombay! (1988) and the helmer of Little Zizou (2008) and currently finessing her second feature Yeh Ballet, Sooni's is a remarkable musical laughter. The near-symphony commences, rests and then returns to full volume. Alright of the directors, Rajkumar Hirani does wear a smile 24x7, but to date, I haven't heard him dissolving into laughter.
To wrap, then, may I request so many of our far too glum-faced film actors and directors to thaw a bit and shine a light of genuine laughter on our lives?