The myth of Mumbai is greater than its reality. The city, despite its warm, at times clammy embrace, is not always forgiving to the outsider. Yes, the outsider-that discomfiting creature with his nose forever pressed against the city's shop window, which is misting over with the breath of far too many eager suitors. All of them want to romance the city, own it, possess it, even inscribe their names in the shifting sands of its celebrity-industrial complex. Some, usually with famous fathers and femme fatale girlfriends, manage to do it overnight. Others fail, repeatedly. Yet others, despite not always playing by the rules of smart haircuts and six pack abs manage to stay in the margins of public consciousness as journeymen.
Until a breakthrough performance bestows on them a heat quotient and anoints them as the next best thing. As movies change, so does the nature of these stars-in-the-making. They need not always be the traditional leads, with chiffon songs shot in Switzerland and fights choreographed in Hong Kong. It could be Vidya Balan, the doe-eyed '60s girl next door of Parineeta. It could be Randeep Hooda, D's babe magnet from Haryana-via-Australia who could have been a permanent ramp fixture but opted for Naseeruddin Shah's taxing theatre laboratory instead. It could be Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi's Shiney Ahuja, a personable young man from Delhi, familiar from a gazillion ads, hawking everything from chocolates to suitings. Or Sarkar's intense Kay Kay Menon, the longest overnight sensation whose career has had as many almost-star stops as there are steps in the stairway to heaven.
No phalanx of handlers, no playing too hard to get. Not exactly naïve but yet not full of their own importance. These are stars who are not quite there-call them actors instead, who have touched fame in the past few months. Dim the lights, let the title credits roll. Meet the slow burners who are on the way to becoming show-stoppers.
Breakthrough film: Parineeta
Hot Point: Period beauty with winsome smile and tonnes of talent.
Her tawny eyes draw one in. They laugh and speak a whole new language. To say Balan has taken the Hindi film industry by storm wouldn't be an exaggeration. And to say that this sociology student is far removed from the debutante mould would also be correct. From the moment she got a call from Vidhu Vinod Chopra in the middle of an Enrique Iglesias concert informing her she would be playing the object of affection in his Parineeta, much has changed for Balan. "One minute I was moving towards the stage to hear Enrique sing Hero. The next moment I was a heroine," she laughs.
Parineeta's success still comes as a bit of a surprise for the face that has launched numerous washing powders and two-wheelers. The Tamilian from Palakkad in Kerala did her first commercial when she was in Class VII and has since done a short stint with Balaji Telefilms' Hum Paanch, music videos for Shubha Mudgal and Euphoria and too-many-to-count ads. The excitement of hitting the jackpot is, however, tempered with pragmatism. "I am obviously extremely excited. But it is all taking time to sink in," she says.
Balan is enjoying the last vestiges of anonymity. "I can still go to the temple in my neighbourhood without being recognised," she says. The climb to success has been slow and strewn with disappointments but she has learnt to take things in her stride. Before her debut in the Bengali film Bhalo Theko with Joy Sengupta she had signed a number of Tamil and Malayalam projects that never materialised. "I almost became a jinx." But there are no regrets. "I waited two-and-a-half years for Parineeta. Other offers didn't work out. So I think the universe conspired to make this happen for me," she smiles.
Now she is equally concerned about her gym regimen, joining a power yoga class and meeting filmmakers. And between the hustle and bustle of stardom, her parents and elder sister keep her firmly grounded. But even as she eats poha in her parents' very middle class Chembur home, Balan's flight tickets are booked. First class. Coming up are Munnabhai Meets Mahatma Gandhi (working title) and Yagna, both for Chopra. "So far I have done things on my terms and I want it to stay that way," she says. Her limpid eyes twinkle. A million hearts beat faster.
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|RISING AND SHINING: Ahuja |
Man in his Moment
Breakthrough film: Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi
Hot Point: Method actor with choir boy looks. Works hard, is willing to wait for right job.
He's eating an apple, sitting in his suburban Mumbai apartment, a legacy of the appearances in 60 ads. "I'm a big-time kanjoos. Or maybe I had a sixth sense," says Ahuja, who waited for two jobless years for the career-defining Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi. The army brat who switched five schools seems to have followed in the footsteps of Delhi's most famous Bollywood export, Shah Rukh Khan-Hansraj College, Barry John, marriage before stardom.
The struggle was expected. It was 2000. Twenty days with a friend of his father. A few months with a pilot friend. The rest was a round of auditions, leading to ads and music videos. One such got him an almost-role in Dil Chahta Hai until it went to Akshaye Khanna. But one call led to another and Ruchi Narain, then casting for Hazaaron, asked him to audition for the role of Vikram, the hustler with a heart of cotton candy. That was when the wait began. Started in 2003, Hazaaron was released in May to rave reviews from directors such as Shekhar Kapur and Ketan Mehta. Pre-release private screenings generated a buzz, landing Ahuja roles in Karam, Sins and the forthcoming Kal-Yesterday and Tomorrow.
He has the moves of a serious actor and is learning the skills of a glamour boy. "I now realise the virtues of a good haircut," says Ahuja. Life's a roller coaster right now. Up one minute when he gets a congratulatory SMS, down the next when a director doesn't take his call. But he is strapped in for the ride. As for the time to fill-well, there's always the short films he shoots and edits on his laptop and the calls to make to his publicist wife who lives in the US.
Breakthrough films: Sarkar, Paanch (not released)
Hot Point: Intense face with smarts from theatre and projection needed for the big screen.
"I thought I had erased my origins," groans Kay Kay when questioned about his real name. "I had decided I would be called Kay Kay until somebody revived my surname," he adds. For long in danger of being known as the greatest, but least watched, actor of his generation because of his propensity to act in never-seen movies, Kay Kay looks on the verge of stardom with a searing performance as Amitabh Bachchan's wayward son in Ram Gopal Varma's Sarkar. It's a familiar perch-the last time Kay Kay was here was in 2001 when Paanch was to be released. The movie landed in a censor soup. Kay Kay was left with only kudos from early screenings and a lesson in patience.
Since then, the MBA from the University of Pune has become more realistic. The Kerala-born actor has decided that pinning his hopes on any one film is "foolish". "An actor's contribution is limited in a difficult, unorganised industry like cinema," he says. Kay Kay, who began with a cameo in Saeed Mirza's Naseem (1995), buried his ambition in a shortlived advertising career before he decided to live the life of a pauper. For four years, he stayed with friends in suburban Mumbai, drinking coffee at Prithvi Theatre and rehearsing for plays. "We had these big ideals about making a difference in art."
Last year's Deewaar: Let's Bring Our Heroes Home rescued him from a life of eternal struggle and now he is more respectful of the big chances, even willing to be made-over in sharp suits for Khalid Mohamed's Silsiilay. The new and improved Kay Kay is still embarrassed when cheered by girls but he is not above having his own make-up man and twice-a-week workouts. He may still get to hang out at Prithvi with his theatre gang but he knows he has a shot at stardom.
Good thing he looks good in a suit.
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|REBEL WITHOUT A PAUSE: Hooda |
Breakthrough film: D
Hot Point: Brooding good looks, theatre training. On-off girlfriend Sushmita Sen.
As a boy he rarely smiled. "Now I have a booming laugh," says Hooda. The small-town boy from Rohtak, Haryana, is now a city slicker with a shiny Crown Majesta and has just menaced Mumbai in Ram Gopal Varma's D. "It was a great experience but if I am going to make a hundred movies, it's time to concentrate on the other 99." That's Randeep Hooda for you, constantly talking in quotable quotes.
The son of a surgeon, educated at boarding school in Sonepat, the rebel in Hooda came to the fore when he was at Delhi Public School, R.K. Puram. "I rode an Enfield Chopper, had long hair and wore old army gear," he says with a grin. The move to Australia for his MBA exposed Hooda to a different life. He worked as a bus boy, a salesman, chopped onions in a restaurant and drove a taxi to make ends meet.
Back home, the good-looking Jat dabbled with ramp shows and press ads till one day he got an audition call from Mira Nair. Though he cringes every time he sees himself in Monsoon Wedding, it was a turning point in his life. "I realised I had a lot to learn." Hooda then moved to Mumbai, determined to make it as an actor. Theatre kept him sane while he waited for the big break. "Waiting can kill you. The struggle is with yourself, not for money and food," he says. Even after his star debut established him as an actor with potential, his struggle hasn't ended. "Shah Rukh Khan was a superstar in his 30s. I have a long way to go."
Next on the cards is G.G. Philips' Shock, produced by RGV again. Being labelled his blue-eyed boy and Sushmita Sen's toy boy doesn't bother Hooda, or so he says. Varma has said D's minimalist don is just 10 per cent of what Hooda is capable of. Audiences are waiting to see if it is true.