Riding on the support of a public eager to try variety, Bollywood is buzzing with new talent

With the A-list getting reduced to four or five names, more and more big banners and seasoned directors are showing interest in new talent. The likes of Zayed Khan and Fardeen Khan have been rather unceremoniously dumped and the middle row has suddenly started to look sparse with only the likes of Emraan Hashmi and, to an extent, Shahid Kapoor evoking interest. The desperation is showing as even the Deols have to come as a family pack to make an impact. While the seasoned players say it is too early to write the formula off, the demise of “Himmatwala” at the box office has shown the public might have finally begun to separate the star from the content.

It is no longer about playing safe with newcomers or going for a soft launch by placing them with big names in the support cast. Vipul Shah, who is known to work with Akshay Kumar, is giving Vidyut Jamwal a chance with a slickly mounted action entertainer, “Commando”, this week. And unlike in the past, where a new action hero was pitted against an established baddie like Danny, he has cast Jaideep Ahlawat opposite him. “In the last year or so the way the audience have reacted to good content has given courage to producers like me to cast according to script and put the money according to the demand of the story and not the experience of the cast.”

“Commando” is locking horns with “Nautanki Saala”, where Rohan Sippy has taken a break from his favourite Abhishek Bachchan and cast Ayushman Khurana, who is being touted as the next big thing after the success of “Vicky Donor”. Last week it was David Dhawan taking a break from his trusted A-listers in the remake of “Chashme Baddoor”. Ali Zafar, who led the young cast, says out of the three films he has done two have made money. “And ‘Chashme Baddoor’ has opened simultaneously in three cities in Pakistan, a first for a Hindi film. I believe I am doing something right.”

As always it is largely about business, and this year Sushant Singh Rajput is making more news than Saif Ali Khan. Last year Karan Johar’s “Student of the Year”, Yash Raj’s “Ishaqzaade” and Eros Entertianment’s “Vicky Donor” proved to be surprise hits, and with Ranbir Kapoor delivering a 100-crore “Barfi”, producers have begun to believe that they are in for a generational shift. “For how long can you show a 40 year-old as a college-going student? Considering 82 per cent of our audience falls in the age group of 15 to 45 we need to invest in the future,” says Ashish Patil, who heads Y-Films, a subsidiary of Yash Raj Films which focuses on fresh talent. With the life of a film reducing at the box office, industry insiders say theatres need more content. “It is not about budget; the idea is to make an impact with concept-driven films. Like a romantic comedy around the Facebook phenomenon.”

The inflection point, says, Patil, was the success of “Band Baaja Baraat”, where Yash Raj Films launched Ranveer Singh with one-film-old Anushka Sharma. “The media was surprised: how come the banner is not launching a Kapoor or a Khan?” In fact there were reports that the actor’s family was financing the project. “Yes, there were, but Ranveer’s performance silenced everybody. Today he is working with Anurag Kashyap and Sanjay Leela Bhansali.”

Patil says every industry invests in research and development. “We are investing in young blood and fresh blood. We have made three films and have introduced 25 people in front of and behind the camera.” He emphasises these are not one-time investments. “Saqib Saleem, who did two films with us, is now working with Karan Johar on ‘Bombay Talkies’, where he is cast with Rani Mukerji and Randeep Hooda. Rhea Chakraborty (‘Mere Dad ki Maruti’) has been signed by Rohan Sippy, and Shraddha Kapoor (‘Luv ka the End’) is doing Vishesh Films’ ‘Ashiqui 2’.” While some public relations guys share off-the-record that the youngsters who are launched by big banners begin to consider themselves stars from day one, Patil insists that part of his job is to keep the guys grounded. “Anushka’s discipline is well known and Saqib used to share the room with an AD for he understood the kind of budget we were working in.”

Saqib says when he landed in Mumbai from Delhi he was ready for a long struggle. “My face doesn’t look like any of the Yash Raj heroes that I have grown up watching. But call it my luck or the industry getting more organised, I got my break with Yash Raj Films within a year through an audition. I hear stories of scenes being written on the sets but today audition is the reality and you get a bound script one month before the shoot.”

Swara Bhaskar, who has as many as five films lined up this year, says the good thing about new Bollywood is that talent doesn’t go unnoticed. “Look at Nawazuddin Siddiqui. He started from one scene and today everybody wants to cast him. ‘Tanu Weds Manu’ was supposed to be Kangana’s film but the actors who were noticed the most were Deepak (Dobriyal) and me.”

While Saqib is proving to be the Yash Raj boy, his sister Huma Qureshi is having a gala time with the so-called offbeat stuff with films like “Gangs of Wasseypur”, “Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana” and now “Ek Thi Dayan”.

“The best part is today you don’t have to repeat yourself for the rest of your life. In ‘Bombay Talkies’ I am again playing a 24-year-old but Avinash is more mature and feels a lot of pain unlike the fun-loving characters I played in ‘Mere Dad ki Maruti’ and ‘Mujh Se Fraandship Karoge’. Also, today my sister can dream of being a Yash Raj heroine and I can aspire to work with Kashyap and get it,” says Saqib. Agrees Ranveer, “After my first two films, I was in danger of being branded as an extrovert. I could not control my hand gestures but then I was offered ‘Lootera’ by Vikramaditya Motwane. I had to keep one hand consistently in the pocket during the workshop to control myself,” he laughs. Ayushman says no star would have agreed to play a sperm donor but when he will become one he would not like to say no to experimentation.

Amidst all these outsiders, blue blood is also oozing with confidence. Arjun Kapoor, who also got “Ishaqzaade” and now “Aurangzeb” through the audition process, says he has seen the realities of the industry from close quarters. “As a kid I have seen the highs of ‘Mr India’ and the lows of ‘Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja’. So I am immune to the glamour part of the industry. I have seen an actor-star like my uncle (Anil Kapoor) and as an assistant director on ‘Wanted’ observed the aura of Salman Khan, who just had to turn up on the sets to evoke euphoria.” Eager to pull it off, Arjun says like a good film the Kapoor family has its share of ups and downs. “And I like to believe we have not reached the intermission stage yet.”

But there is a flip side to the bonhomie as well. Nawazuddin complains that a seasoned player has made sure that his role is chopped in a forthcoming film. “When I complained the makers agreed to give me a special appearance tag in the credits.” Mira Nair, who considered Ranbir Kapoor for “The Reluctant Fundamentalist”, says there is a significant shift but they are yet to make a mark on the world stage. “Ranbir Kapoor is a cutie but a mollycoddled cutie and is still a nobody on a global platform. Had Irrfan been a little younger I would have cast him and he was still ready to give his right arm for the role but with Ranbir there were issues of dates!” As for the content, National Award-winning filmmaker Ashvin Kumar says that cinema is a great way to capture the events that define history. “Are we making enough films that capture struggles that are going on in Kashmir, the North East and the jungles of Jharkhand?” he asks.