William Hazlitt in his 1817 essay on actor and acting wrote: “Today kings, tomorrow beggars, it is only when they are themselves, that they are nothing.” The situation is no longer the same for some actors. They may perform at the director’s call but their thoughts also play a big role in shaping the role. The star image is not easy to maintain. After achieving success, there is the pressure of maintaining the image. They are expected to maintain a certain outwardly lifestyle which some may find stressful. Actors not hankering for stardom and those having monetary security do, however, take chances of playing a variety of roles. Some actors portray the character in the film, not themselves. They try not to become larger than the context. We remember them even if the role is small. When we see them we experience the character they are portraying. As if the roles were specifically written for them. More than objectivity, it is subjectivity, which plays a prominent role in creative imagination. Take a look.
Amitabh Bachchan in Deewar was brilliant. One can learn the trick of balancing turbulent fury with charisma. Amjad Khan was frightening in Sholay. “Although defeated, although dead, this man is frightening”, is how Hitler was described. In cinema, Amjad Khan epitomized hate. Anupam Kher’s moving portrayal of a retired school teacher in Saaransh is an out-of-the-world performance. After watching one particular scene (when the school teacher goes to collect the ashes of his son from the customs office) I felt that an actor needs to go much deeper to conceive and enact such a scene. Balraj Sahni as Mirza Salim in Garm Hawa is one of the best performances in Indian cinema. The most memorable scene is when Salim’s mother (Badar Begum) is evicted from their ancestral home. I wonder what is more powerful – politics or religion. Guru Dutt in Kagaz Ke Phool is amazing. The film tells us how vulnerable the star system is. Jennifer Kendall’s portrayal of a struggling Anglo-Indian lady in 36 Chowringhee Lane has no match. She is sensitive, hurt, but not bitter. Madhavi Mukherjee in Charulata is a classic. The opening sequence (moving from one window to the other in her house to observe the activities of the outside world) tells so much about human complexity only with a few expressions. Meena Kumari is the heart and soul of Saheb, Bibi aur Gulam. Her portrayal of Chhoti Bahu is one of the greatest performances in Indian cinema. Rekha in Umrao Jaan, no one else can be a better Amiran Bai. Satyajit Ray once remarked that there is a difference between an author’s vision and a director’s imagination. Soumitra Chatterjee in Apur Sansar understood both the vision and the imagination of a writer and a director. Nayak is about a successful but lonely film star. I can’t think of any actor other than Uttam Kumar in the title role. Waheeda Rehman was so graceful in Guide. After seeing these performances one feels there is no limit to how much an actor can grow.