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Do you blur the line between an idolized character and an actor portraying him?

Vanaprastham – The Last Dance is a Malayalam film where Mohanlal, a Kathakali artist finds solace in theatre.

Once, his audience includes Subhadra (Suhasini) of an aristocratic family. In love with the valiant warrior  Arjun of Mahabharata, she personifies Mohanlal as her dream hero. The eventual affair leads to the birth of a son. However, Subhadra  content to be pregnant with the seed of Arjun – her idolized version, rejects the flesh & blood Mohanlal.

The storyline struck a resonance within me.

I remember going to a late-night Marathi musical Saubhadra, based on Krishn’s orchestration of Arjun-Subhadra elopement. I went solo, but purchased 3 tickets (to free myself of annoying coughs or jutting elbows) on either side of ‘my space.’

The play was low-budget, Subhadra was played by a man (the play was an echo of bygone era when only male artistes dared to be onstage!), who was atleast 12 inches broader than Arjun. The artist playing Arjun was a mediocre TV actor, and not in my league of ‘favorite gentlemen’. Saubhadra

And yet, in the darkened theater, I sat transfixed and entranced by the magic of Arjun (click here for Arjun’s influence on my life). Pulses quickened, my palpitations audible, a delicious tense knot coiling within me, I reveled in Arjun’s charisma , intact and vibrantly alive across a span of 6000 years.

I was not merely audience at a theatre. I was the passionate Draupadi, the enamoured Subhadra, the lusty Uloopi, the rebuffed Urvashi.

Does this happen to you? Transfer of emotions from an unattainable idol to an actor?

I always harbour a soft spot for an actor playing Arjun. Irrational and illogical, but I cannot escape it. Only, instead of going to the extreme (as in Vanaprastham), I am content to capture them in carbon sketches.

Here are two of them: Arjun Feroz Khan in B.R Chopra’s and Shaheer Sheikh in Siddharth Tewari’s Mahabharat serial.arjun feroz khan sketch :  BRC's Mahabharata Shaheer Sheikh sketch: Mahabharat serial.

Arjun is a historical figure, not mythological. Krishn (click here for my take on Krishn enigma)-Arjun are as much factual as Chanakya-Chandragupta or Samarth Ramdas-Shivaji Maharaj.

But even fictional, literary characters can take root & wings within our hearts as live beings.

The book  ‘The Early Ayn Rand’, features edited-out excerpts from ‘The Fountainhead’. The editor’s note notes, ‘These scenes are not part of The Fountainhead. To state paradoxically, for emphasis – these events did not happen to Howard Roark – they are pure fiction!’

When Gary Cooper played Howard Roark, I was sorely disappointed. Roark’s  ‘inflexible integrity’ was translated by Cooper as ‘inflexible facial expression’. gary cooper as Howard Roark in Fountainhead

In contrast, when Margaret Mitchell created ‘Gone with the wind’, she envisioned Clark Gable as Rhett Butlerrhett butler clark gable and did he vindicate her! Frankly, my dears, can you imagine anyone else mutter, ‘Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn’ ?

Jeremy Scott   (and more recently Benedith Cumberbach) and Sherlock Holmes. Jeremy Brett as Sherlock HolmesI never wonder if the actors possess  one-tenth of Sherlock’s IQ, but I still attribute all of Doyle/Sherlock’s genius, deductions and eccentricities with them.

Amitabh Bachchan and Vijay – where did one end and the other begin? Amitabh’s smoldering voice, the gaunt figure, the barely leashed fury was synonymous with Vijay, the ‘rebel with a cause’ of Bollywood.

Shahrukh Khan and Rahul/Raaj Malhotra – who apes whom? Whom does the audience root for? Ben Kingsley and M. K. Gandhi; Pierce Brosnan and James Bond; Amjad Khan and Gabbar Singh.

The ‘visible’ actor often thrives on multiple ‘backstage’ artistes.

The writer who pens crisp lines, the singer who strums his flexible vocal cords, the lyricist who waxes Sufi & Urdu (never mind if the protagonist is illiterate, a goon, a Don or a professor), the Director who visualizes the film and the producer who funds the vision.

Yet, the actor becomes the face & voice of these collective talents, the poster boy of borrowed/pilfered/stolen/unacknowledged talents.

Can you be objective to an actor portraying your beloved historical/ fictional character?

Which is your ‘wow’ and ‘yuck’  literature-to-film portrayals? 

Do you transform into a casting director every time you read a book?