NEW DELHI : A bunch of new-age Hindi film actors is cashing in on the realistic, slice-of-life wave in Bollywood to play roles that require them to don unconventional looks.

This Diwali, Bhumi Pednekar and Taapsee Pannu appeared as 60-year-old real-life sharpshooters in sports drama Saand Ki Aankh, complete with prosthetics to seem like the aged women they play. This week, Ayushmann Khurrana plays a bald man in comedy drama Bala, while Deepika Padukone portrays real-life acid attack survivor Laxmi Agarwal in director Meghna Gulzar’s Chhapaak scheduled for release in January. Akshay Kumar has already released his transgender look in horror comedy Laxmmi Bomb that comes out in May 2020.

Filmmakers attribute this willingness on the part of actors to give up the gloss and glamour to the kind of cinema that is at present drawing people to the theatres.

“Earlier our narratives were superficial and centered on aspirational lives. Now, one wants to see films about people like you, me, and those around us. Stories have to be relatable and the actors have to look like that too," said Bala director Amar Kaushik.

The filmmaker refers to the latest revolution in Bollywood where large-scale films have been beaten by small, content-driven cinema in drawing crowds to theatres. Over the past two years, several films with major stars in the lead have failed to create ripples at the box office. The list of flops includes Karan Johar’s period drama Kalank (with box office collections of 80.03 crore), Yash Raj Films’ action adventure Thugs Of Hindostan ( 138.34 crore), Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Zero ( 88.74 crore), and Salman Khan’s Tubelight ( 114.57 crore), which was directed by Kabir Khan. These have been accompanied by sleeper hits such as Ayushmann Khurrana-starrers Dream Girl ( 136.44 crore) and Badhaai Ho ( 134.46 crore), as well as director Nitesh Tiwari’s comedy drama Chhichhore ( 146.09 crore).

Film critic Bharathi Pradhan said there are earlier instances of actors agreeing to shed gloss for film roles. Kamal Haasan plays a differently-abled man in the 2003 Tamil comedy drama Anbe Sivam, while Priyanka Chopra is far from her glamorous best in Anurag Basu’s Barfi! (2012).

“I think there are many more actors willing to experiment now because everyone wants to be different. You can’t play safe and do just one thing because there is no such thing as an image anymore," Pradhan said.

Saand Ki Aankh director Tushar Hiranandani said it’s great that actors are willing to play these unconventional-looking parts and take the risk of not looking their best.

However, he is quick to point out the challenges. “It takes guts to do something like this and it’s not like everyone is doing it. It took me a long time to get the cast in place for this film. These (Pannu and Pednekar) are the only two who said yes to me," Hiranandani said.

Industry experts say the pressure to constantly look good especially in this age of social media scrutiny may bog actors down sometimes but audiences are smart enough to differentiate between their real and reel life looks. While the “look" can generate some promotional and marketing curiosity about the film, ultimately the script has to do the talking. Khurrana’s Article 15 and Shubh Mangal Savdhaan, in which there was no specific, unique “look", generated as much conversation as the upcoming Bala.

“It’s not the look that runs a film. The script has to be different. The look being different is secondary and dependent on the script," Pradhan said.

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