Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Actor and Age

When I went for my morning jog the other day I was apprehensive. I have grown (for a film) a huge, white handlebar moustache and sideburns, which have completely changed my persona. I was worried that this would have a disastrous effect on my acting career. Like most actors I try to look younger than I am.

What happened on the beach, however, was utterly unexpected. 

A stout, well-dressed gentleman stopped me said: “I say you look handsome! Who are you? I like your moustache? What is your name?”

I thought I was fairly well known. I was taken aback at not being recognised.

“Afzal Khan”, I replied tongue in cheek.
“Afzal Bhai! Ah yes, of course! Afzal Khan! How could I forget!? I have seen you in bit roles here and there! You are a fine Junior Artiste! Would you like to act in an ad film for a change? Have you ever acted in an ad film before?”
“No, I am afraid not!” I replied meekly.
“Don’t worry! We will coach you! Acting is a bum’s job anyway. It is simple! Get in touch with me!”

Saying this he handed me his card and went on his way. I should have felt down in the dumps after this conversation. On the contrary, for some unknown reason, I felt elated! 

There is a tendency in most adults to hang on to their youth. Some of the actors that I have known refused to change and try their utmost to maintain their youthful image till the very end. Some get face-lifts done, some dye their hair regularly, some get their teeth polished and realigned, wear youthful clothes, get hair transplants or have jet black hairpieces made. They continue to do the same youthful, romantic roles, stick to the mannerisms that made them popular in their heyday and, I must say, sometimes they are supremely successful. Dev Saheb, among others, was a fine example. 

But I, neither outstanding actor with much of a fan following nor in any way extraordinary, have tried to hang on to youth for as long as I can. And I am beginning to realise that this might be a big mistake. 

The wise ones accept the onset of age with grace and profit by it.

Naseeruddin Shan is an example. So was my friend Om Puri — both immensely versatile character actors.

photo courtesy: Rediff
Mr. Bachchan, however, was always a leading man and a romantic hero. He was in the top echelons when, after his near fatal accident, he grew a snow white goatee. Everyone, including me, thought that he was making a blunder and doing irreparable damage to his image.

photo courtesy: Tumblr
We were all mistaken. He came out stronger and has become a legend. How popular he has become over the years was brought home to me one day during the shooting stint of a film with him in a dry and dusty tract of land outside Bikaner a couple of years ago. 

A young lady standing among the spectators a furlong away suddenly became hysterical, broke the visitor’s cordon, fought ten hefty armed guards and numerous members of the film unit and fought her way to Mr. Bachchan, falling and getting up again on her way, paying no heed to her torn clothes and scratched knees and elbows. She finally collapsed at Mr. Bachchan’s feet, bleeding and bruised. 

Even as his bodyguards and members of the crew tried to take hold of the woman to push her away Mr. Bachchan signalled to them not to touch her. Empathy is the hallmark of a true artist. 

Mr. Bachchan gently picked the woman up and hugged her much as a father would a child. The woman began to sob uncontrollably. God knows what ailed her tortured soul. She cried for a while and as he held her and patted on her on her back she calmed down..

A hush fell over the spectators. They were touched by his solicitude, his warmth, his kindness. They began to chant “Amitabh Bachchan zindabad!” at the top of their lungs. It was a very moving scene.

For his role Mr. Bachchan was supporting a huge white beard that made him look much older than he really was. And yet audiences adore him more and more with each passing year and his age hasn’t made the slightest dent in his popularity.

photo courtesy: Bollywood Life
The gentleman on the beach made me realise that change is the law of the universe, that growth is endemic to life, that in the final analysis only stones do not grow. Clinging on foolishly to one’s old image, like I was doing, is foolishness. It ossifies a person and, more often than not, makes an actor stale.

This was brought home to me forcefully this morning. I must thank the rotund gentleman on the beach. I think I will cultivate this huge, silvery white moustache and sideburns from now on…

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