Bheja Fry 2 is being promoted as India’s first comic franchise. Its film-makers seem to have overlooked Golmaal (2006), Golmaal Returns (2008) and Golmaal 3 (2010). It doesn’t really matter who got there first: The movie business is running a bit low on ideas and hits at the moment, so there’s no harm in getting infected by sequelitis just like Hollywood and producing a rash of Part IIs, No. IIIs and Chapter IVs. But the real reason to look forward to Bheja Fry 2 is Vinay Pathak. The talented actor never actually went anywhere—it’s just that of late, audiences seemed to have stopped coming to him.
Pathak is one of the few actors in Hindi cinema who can make the unwatchable watchable, like the silly Chalo Dilli and the first Bheja Fry, an unacknowledged copy of the French movie Dinner with Friends. His talent extends far beyond the comic—director Sriram Raghavan used his dramatic range beautifully in Johnny Gaddaar. Mostly, though, Pathak has played variations of a cuddly clown, whether it’s in Aaja Nachle or Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi. Second-fiddle actors routinely get put into boxes just like marquee names, but unlike the stars, they are not as handsomely rewarded.
Alt actor: Vinay Pathak (right) in a still from Bheja Fry 2
There are stars in Bollywood and then there are the so-called “real actors”—the ones with the formal training, years of struggle on stage and in television, and the lists of unreleased low-budget films or aborted projects. Reporters and critics love these actors and slobber over their every release, but their fans don’t seem to add up to a critical mass. Credibility isn’t the same thing as saleability.
“Alt actors” such as Pathak, Irrfan Khan, Kay Kay Menon, Ranvir Shorey and the newer ones of the lot, such as Deepak Dobriyal and Amole Gupte, headline “Hindies” and bring gravitas to big-name movies, but there simply isn’t enough work beyond formula-driven fare for them. Age catches up more cruelly with alt stars such as Pathak and Menon than with, say, Saif Ali Khan or Salman Khan. Stars are not minted every day, we are told, but there is a large enough young talent pool between Mandi House and Prithvi Theatre to keep the “Hindies” well staffed.
Also read | Nandini Ramnath’s earlier column
It doesn’t help that Bollywood keeps trying to co-opt Hindiewood in its attempt to reach the notoriously fickle and impatient youth market that would rather download a film than patronize a multiplex. Why risk investing in an unknown but talented name when the telegenic scion of a film family is more than willing to take on a hatke role?
The reason Pathak got access to a mainstream audience—his superb comic timing—has the potential to both rescue and imprison him. His risk-taking role of a gambler in Johnny Gaddaar and his compromised cop in Manorama Six Feet Under will always have fans, but the moolah only follows the parade of cheerful losers that he seems doomed to play. On the all-important Friday, Bheja Fry’s foolish Bharat Bhushan matters far more than Johnny Gaddaar’s wordly wise Prakash.
Bheja Fry 2 releases in theatres on 17 June.
Nandini Ramnath is the film critic of Time Out Mumbai (www.timeoutmumbai.net).
Write to Nandini at email@example.com