Badhaai Ho, an unconventional film, featuring an ensemble cast unlike the formulaic Bollywood one and a taboo subject, managed to impress the audience like no other film. It was sort of a landmark project which proved that a film doesn’t need star power when content is the unbeatable king.
Despite starring Ayushmann Khurrana, Badhaai Ho’s ultimate stars were Neena Gupta and Gajraj Rao. What we are trying to get at, is that a compelling script and accurate casting (no matter the stardom) can do wonders. Fortunately, the 2018 film gave the viewers an opportunity to rediscover a gem - Neena Gupta.
Ever since she regained popularity for her portrayal of a middle-aged, to-be-mother, the actor has been roped in for roles she always deserved.
The OTT wave gave many actors, who were let down by lousy scripts in the past, a second lease of life. Saif Ali Khan, one among those actors, was re-invented through the top-notch series Sacred Games. Although the actor never went into a long hiatus, this show marked the comeback of Saif with a role that employed his full potential as an actor. Following the tremendous success of the Netflix series, he went on to star in another show titled Tandav.
The political-thriller was a sinking ship none of the on-board, stellar actors — Dimple Kapadia, Saif Ali Khan, Kumud Mishra, Mohd. Zeeshan Ayyub, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Sunil Grover — could save. The ensemble cast was one of the reasons behind the major expectations from the show. After Finding Fanny, in which the actor is irreplaceable, we spotted Dimple Kapadia in a few mainstream films.
Tandav was her big digital debut, where the actor was totally failed by the amateurish storytelling. Even in her cameo appearances we got a glimpse of what the actor is capable of. But her full-length role in the series was botched by the all-too-predictable storyline.
Speaking of veteran actors, Bhagyashree, who we still know as Suman from Maine Pyar Kiya, made a comeback with the much-anticipated biopic, Thalaivii. The film was based on the life of Indian actress-turned-politician J. Jayalalithaa. Since Kangana Ranaut played the titular role and Bhagyashree featured as her mother in the film, the latter was surely overshadowed. She was barely seen on the screen and there wasn’t much space for her role either. The highly-anticipated project ended up as a fairly run-of-the-mill cinema.
On the contrary, if we observe the series Bombay Begums, the Netflix project Pooja Bhatt chose to make her OTT debut with, was refreshing to watch. Despite the ensemble cast, the palatable script made room for every distinctive character. It was heartening to watch Bhatt in a well-written role which is way more nuanced and fitting for an actor like her.
We, scarcely ever, witness actors featuring in roles that seem to be tailor-made for them. And once in a while, when that happens we get to see actors embrace the characters in a way that they become indispensable in the film or series. Be it Pankaj Tripathi as Akhandanand in Mirzapur or Jitendra Kumar as Jeetu Bhaiya in Kota Factory, one can’t imagine another actor essaying these roles.
Likewise, Sushmita Sen returned to the screens as Aarya, a badass female protagonist. And that felt like a compensation for the endless times Bollywood fit her into the mould of stereotypical characters. Sen arrived just on time, when Indian films and shows are blurring the line between a hero and a villain. We are ever thankful to the creators for Aarya, for creating a character who is flawed yet relatable, and redeeming Sushmita, the actor.
Sen’s contemporaries Raveena Tandon and Shilpa Shetty, too, joined the bandwagon when they debuted on OTT platforms. While the former has been headlining the slow-burn mystery series, Aranyak, the latter landed a role in Hungama 2 that boxed her into the same stereotypical role from the 90s (only of an older woman this time). Although it has a lot to do with the choices the actors make when picking a script, there’s a dire need of viewing these erstwhile actors in offbeat roles.
Case in point, Chitrangda Singh playing Mary in Bob Biswas. The actor's performance was pathbreaking in many ways, whether it’s proving that female actors don’t have a ‘shelf-life’ and essaying a role beyond the archetype she has always been associated with.
Lately, we also witnessed R. Madhavan returned to OTT with the series Decoupled. A peculiar script, rightly roped actors such as Madhavan and Surveen Chawla, to play a couple gradually separating. Even though the leads’ performance frequently tries to compensate for the lousy storyline and unnecessary inclusion of social concerns, it just couldn’t strike the right chord.
So far, we have loved and appreciated actors making a comeback with unwonted projects and roles. However, there have been a few misses and we would definitely want to watch those actors essaying well-matched characters soon.