Joined: 02 June 2007
Call it star power, suspension of disbelief or tolerance on the part of the viewer, casting has never been a strong point for Hindi films, writes Derek Bose
Bollywood is currently caught in a curious bind. A top-ranking star like Shah Rukh Khan cannot readily find a heroine for himself any longer. It has taken him five months of intensive cross-country search to zero in on 18-year-old Anushka Sharma from Bangalore to front Aditya Chopra's comeback film, Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi.
Then there is Harman Baweja making his debut in Love Story 2050 opposite Priyanka Chopra, who has already worked with all the big daddies of Bollywood, including Shah Rukh Khan, Hrithik Roshan, Salman Khan, even Sunny Deol and Anil Kapoor. This gives her a very high "screen age" ~ something that is bound to show on being teamed as Harman's love interest ~ but the producers couldn't care less.
Shah Rukh's problem is typical of all ageing heroes who, in their anxiety to appear young, insist on being paired with girls less than half their age. It helps to extend their shelf life. In the case of Harman Baweja, the problem is from the distributor's end. A film with a recognisable face in the lead is likely to have more takers than one that has two rank newcomers as hero and heroine.
In both cases, the inevitable screen mismatch is of no concern to anybody. Bollywood has a long history of mismatched couples, not necessarily relating to age and experience, and yet, their films have worked. Just about anybody and everybody can be paired as hero and heroine, regardless of compatibility, comfort level or the chemistry they share.
Here are some glaring examples of odd couples who have inhabited our cinema in recent times:
Shah Rukh Khan-Preity Zinta: Off-screen they could be getting along like a house on fire - what with their common passion for purchasing cricketers ~ but on-screen, the chemistry they share is as cold as a doorknob. After Kal Ho Na Ho, they had two chances to prove themselves as a couple. In both Veer Zaara and Kabhi Alvidaa Na Kehna they come across as people wearing the same hat, setting off as much sparks between them as a brother and sister would. It can of course, be argued that the three films were major box-office hits but that was despite them and not because of any on-screen chemistry.
Sanjay Dutt-Vidya Balan: In Lagey Raho Munnabhai, we are clearly led to believe that Dutt has a heart of gold and for all the sex he has in mind, he is a caring individual who wants to treat his girl right. Balan, as the radio jockey is at once chirpy, patronizing, flippant, serious and confused... a complete bundle of contradictions. At no point is there a meeting of minds, let alone of hearts beating in unison. In Parineeta, there was a reason for such incompatibility, since Saif Ali Khan was the existing second angle in a triangle. Still, the script provided enough scope for closeness between Dutt and Balan. Their body language spoke otherwise.
Aishwarya-Abhishek Bachchan: Another classic case of chemistry gone wrong. At the beginning Abhishek could be forgiven for being self-conscious and wooden in Dhai Akshar Prem Ka and Kuch Na Kaho. But by the time he was dancing to Kajra Re in Bunty Aur Babli, he should have found his confidence with Ash. It was not to be. Umrao Jaan came and went and both remained as stuck up as ever. They got another chance in Dhoom 2 and this time, the mismatch became all the more evident. Ash just sizzled with Hrithik Roshan. Abhishek has since gained some ground with Guru, but he is nowhere near recreating the Hrithik-Ash magic ~ seen once again in Jodhaa-Akbar.
Mallika Sherawat-Rahul Bose: What could a knockable babe like Mallika Sherawat be doing with Rahul Bose in Pyar Ke Side Effects? Okay, they were supposed to be in love and while Bose had an issue with commitment in marriage, Mallika just could not make up her mind. But then, this is just one of the many head-scratching details in an awkward relationship that has absolutely zero going for the film. Let's face it, any guy in Bose's shoes would hold on to Sherawat's hand like there's no tomorrow. Sitting through this charade is like watching a drunken couple in a party. Everyone wants to leave but no one can find the door.
Hrithik Roshan-Priyanka Chopra: It is hard to say who's more gorgeous in Krrish, Bollywood's first superhero film. Great looks, fabulous bodies, oodles of attitude and style... only that Hrithik occasionally needs a fountain jet to catapult him in the air to glide over the mountains of India and the skyscrapers of Singapore. He flips for Priyanka because of her small waist and she loves him for his Clark Kent innocence. That's all very cool. But beyond that, what is hard to buy is why he continues to be infatuated by her when she is so utterly dumb and up to no good.
Govinda-Sushmita Sen: Here is a couple as believable as a poodle and a parakeet. In Kyonki Main Jhooth Nahin Bolta, Govinda plays a compulsive liar, a conman and Sush is his wife. There is also mistress Rambha whose presence only underscores the mismatch between husband and wife. It is not just the obvious physical oddity; their accents, expression, sense of timing... nothing works. Govinda is not such a bad actor. With co-stars like Raveena Tandon and Karishma Kapoor he could convert adversity to advantage in style. With Sush, he presents a perfect example of how bad casting can ruin acting and in effect, the film.
Shahid Kapur-Kareena Kapoor: Well, we have heard it said before. Through Fida, 36 China Town and Chup Chup Ke, Kareena comes across as Shahid's mausi. Her mature, worldly-wise face and his happy-go-lucky, boy-next-door looks made for an improbable romantic match. In Jab We Met, the situation was reversed. She became the talkative, couldn't-care-less scatterbrain whereas he played the quiet and composed scion of a business tycoon. It worked. Still, the film had made it obvious that they simply do not have the emotional range to play a romantic couple with conviction.
Ajay Devgan-Rani Mukherji: In Chori Chori, what begins as a potentially charming comedy with Rani playing a con woman, suddenly takes on serious overtones with the presence of a dark and brooding Ajay Devgan. They are supposed to fall in love afterwards (never mind Sonali Bendre in between) but a lot of questions remain unanswered. After all, how can anybody con her way into playing the hero's fiance in his own house? But it is on such absurdities that we are force-fed into acknowledging a made-for-each-other relationship. Ultimately, the only thing we are left with is Devgan's goofy grin.
Aamir Khan-Kajol: Both are competent performers ~ Kajol, a spontaneous actress and Aamir, a methodical perfectionist. Both could have created fireworks with Fanaa. But what we get is an Aamir looking old beyond his age and Kajol, with two standard expressions accompanied by an 'Uff' and a 'Hai'! Their disconnect is amplified by a script that splits the film into two: Aamir the flirtatious tour guide with a blind Kajol and Aamir the terrorist with a normal sighted Kajol. None of the characters are developed enough and yet, we must recognize these two as lovebirds in a plausible romance.
Akshay Kumar-Katrina Kaif: Few star wannabes can claim to be as lucky as this Kaif girl. She has had three opportunities to be the romantic foil for Akshay Kumar ~ Humko Deewana Kar Gaye, Namastey London and Welcome. On each occasion she did not have to act. She is the kind of pity friend your mother always told you to be nice to but you would try your best to ditch. Akshay is obviously contractually obligated to play the bumbling fool with her, pretend that she's his heart-throb and strangely enough, he makes a pretty good job of it. No wonder they are calling him a hit machine!
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