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When an actor refuses

November 13, 2012

Success usually liberates its beholder by giving them the freedom to be just what they want. In every other part of the world, success allows people to say no whenever needed but in Bollywood, success means something else. Here individual success very often becomes collective in the blink of an eye and anyone who can forge a connection to you can partake on the booty. Everyone pays some price for his or her success and earns the right to say no after ‘repaying the debt’ but an actor can never really escape this golden cage.

A few days ago Kunal Kohli, best remembered as the director of Hum Tum (2004), got livid with Ayushman Khurana for refusing his offer. Rumors ran amok. Some suggested that Khurana didn’t like the script and some hinted that he didn’t like the idea of a rank newcomer cast opposite him. Allegations and counter-allegations notwithstanding, it is quite clear that Khurana simply exercised his choice of saying no to something that didn’t excite him enough.

Following the success of Vicky Donor (2012), his debut film and one of 2012’s biggest hits, that’s the least Khurana has earned but Kohli and a big segment of Bollywood doesn’t think so. A few years ago following Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi (2005), Sudhir Mishra had assumed that Shiny Ahuja, the surprise element of the film, would be an automatic choice for every production that he planned. Ahuja who had been struggling for years before Mishra’s Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi proved to be his breakthrough film, was the toast of the industry but couldn’t say no to Mishra when it came to a film. Ahuja confessed to close friends and even Mishra’s associates that he was made to feel obliged beyond repair by the filmmaker.

So, what makes an actor refuse a film? Casting is one of the biggest factors that one doesn’t attribute enough when it comes to success. Khurana believes that Kohli’s proposed film is a rom-com and it needs an established leading lady and he refused the film as Kohli wasn’t able to cast right. Kohli on the other hand believes that Khurana is too young to make such demands. One can’t help but think that at least Khurana was smart enough to cite this reason as oppose to saying that he didn’t like the script. A few years ago, the then up and coming star Vivek Oberoi refused Kohli’s Hum Tum and regrets his actions to this day. More than saying no, according to his own confession, Oberoi can’t get over the manner in which he refused the film. Riding the crest of his newfound success, Oberoi told Kohli that the film wasn’t worth his attention and had to eat his words once it became the monstrous hit it did and even got Saif Ali Khan a National Award.

The problem in Bollywood is that it operates on logic that defies all common sense. The only rule that governs it is that there aren’t supposed to be any rules and if there are some rules then they need to be broken. The only other rule that is followed silently is that there’s no reason good enough to say no. If that weren’t enough then the future of such actions more often than not comes with a retrospective effect. This becomes more potent when the actor happens to be someone who is an outsider and doesn’t have a godfather in the industry.

At the height of his popularity Jackie Shroff played a thankless role in Subhash Ghai’s Saudagar (1991), Salman Khan was paid Rs. 51, 000 by Sooraj Barjatya for Hum Aapke Hai Kaun… ! (1994) and if tomorrow Khurana’s passed over film becomes a hit, he might not regret it as much as Kohli ensuring that he does.

Nothing succeeds like success and when it comes to Bollywood everything becomes bigger. And the bigger things get, the simpler Bollywood gets – cite lack of dates when it comes to saying no.

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Born a cinephile and a close observer of society, the author is an award-winning documentary filmmaker/writer. He is a regular contributor to leading Indian publications and is currently working on his first book. Find out more about him here.


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