There is an interesting anecdote that Subhash Ghai had recounted at a screenplay writing seminar at FTII many years ago about how Yash Chopra’s Deewar (1975) came to be cast. When Salim-Javed came to narrate the script to Chopra, he was reclining on a divan. The writer-duo, with all due respect, proclaimed that they had two conditions before they narrated the script. Curious, Chopra sat up a little as he enquired about the conditions. Salim-Javed stated that if he liked the script, he cannot change a single line. Now Chopra sat up fully, amazed by the gall of the young writers, and enquired about the other condition. The writers now declared that they must be paid one lakh more than the main lead!
Even before the narration, Chopra was sold on the script by their attitude. Of course, he loved the script. But now he had two conditions: he insisted on songs – which the writers were reluctant to add because there was no scope, but they eventually yielded; then Chopra declared his intention to cast Rajesh Khanna and Rishi Kapoor as the two warring brothers.
Salim-Javed put their foot down: no way, they contended. They had somebody else in mind – Amitabh Bachchan – and Shashi Kapoor for the younger brother’s role. They prevailed, and the rest is history.
Casting can make a hell lot of a difference to a film’s outcome. Despite a brilliant script and a competent crew, if a film is miscast, the result immediately shows up on the screen. It is important that an actor must look the role; physicality here is of primary importance – sometimes more than the acting prowess.
When Satyajit Ray
decided to film his original screenplay Nayak (1966) on the life of a matinee idol, he had the reigning Bengali star Uttam Kumar in mind, and not his regular and favourite actor Soumitra Chatterjee, because Uttam Kumar looked the role of a matinee idol with his puffed-up hairstyle and regal body language. Ray wrote in an essay after
the actor’s death that if Uttam Kumar had declined the film, he wouldn’t have made it.
There are so many instances in filmmaking where roles are written around certain stars because it is only they who could portray the characters. Amitabh Bachchan in the 70s fell into that tradition that exploited his image of the angry young man which gradually evolved into more flamboyant and colourful characterisations. On the other hand, all the romantic roles went to Rajesh Khanna.
Commercial considerations aside, sometimes there are situations in which only a star can do justice to a role, and not any other actor – no matter how talented he is or how suited he is in terms of physicality. The role of the disgraced and mentally wounded hockey coach in Chake De India (2007) could have been done only by Sharukh Khan. There was a risk involved: Sharukh had mostly been cast as the romantic hero and this was a casting which went against the grain. But then, there was no bigger star than him – even Ajay Devgan or Akshay Kumar, despite their physicality could not have carried the film; it needed King Khan to pull the audience into the theatres for a film that had no romantic angle!
Sometimes certain actors get immortalised in films for their roles which were not originally meant for them. Dilip Kumar was the original choice for the lead in Pyaasa (1957) but when he insisted on certain demands regarding distribution rights and profit-sharing which Guru Dutt was reluctant to concede and he did not turn up for the first day’s shoot, a disgruntled Dutt put on makeup and began acting. Dilip Kumar to this day regrets his behaviour.
Before Amitabh Bach-chan, his role in Zanjeer (1973) was offered to Dharmendra, Dev Anand, Raj Kumar and so many others, all of whom, thankfully refused.
Till recently actors were cast according to types and the image that the audiences liked them to see in, but the trend in recent years have begun to change: so, we have the chocolatey hero Varun Dhawan playing a vengeful killer in Sriram Raghavan’s Badlapur and Nawazuddin playing Manto.
Reinventing oneself is the new manta.