(L to R) Mallika Sherawat, Kumud Mishra and Keerthy Suresh
As Gulabo in the new movie RK/RKay, Mallika Sherawat oozes an old-fashioned oomph that reminds one of a time of slow romance and tasteful wordplay. Eighteen years after Murder catapulted her to sex goddess status, Sherawat is basking in the glow of RK/RKay, a tragicomedy of a film director who loses his grip on his leading man. To get under the skin of Gulabo—a nod to Guru Dutt’s classic Pyaasa—Sherawat watched Waheeda Rehman films and movies like Pakeezah to understand that poetic grace as well as the cinematic tehzeeb (culture). At 45, the actor has never looked better, and pulls at her cheeks to show she hasn’t had any cosmetic surgery. To those who have a blurry memory of the early noughties, it is difficult to explain what impact Sherawat had on popular culture with her outspokenness, whether it was the “17 kisses” in her first film as a leading lady (Khwahish, 2003) or wearing a bikini onscreen (something every beauty pageant winner has to do, she pointed out). With nothing but her talent and chutzpah, despite not having a famous last name or a famous filmi boyfriend, she became a star. “Yet, there were filmmakers who wouldn’t even look me in the eye and would tell me to do whatever I pleased when I asked for direction,” she says. She was called “bold”, a term she has understood to mean “erotic”. The actor went on to show comedic flair in movies such as Pyaar Ke Side Effects (2006) and Welcome (2007) but says she was continually bullied by a section of the media. It was Jackie Chan who told her to stop complaining and try her luck in Hollywood, after they worked together in The Myth (2005), which was also the first time she walked the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival, subsequently becoming a regular, meeting great directors like Emir Kusturica and Alfonso Cuarón. Some time in Los Angeles resulted in two films, Hisss (2010) which she co-produced, and Politics of Love (2011), where she played a version of Kamala Harris. It was a fulfilling experience for her, she says, attending film festivals; watching great stars like Barbara Stanwyck and Bette Davis; and doing amateur theatre. In and out of India in the last few years, she says she has rarely done movies for the money. Up next is Gurmeet Singh’s webseries Bouncer Nagar, which takes her back to her Jat heartland. “I get stacks of fan mail from young women across the country and they always tell me you did it on your own terms, not using your husband’s money or your father’s money,” she says.
No Small Roles
“There are no small roles, only small actors.” Konstantin Stanislavski, Russian guru of acting, may have had someone like Kumud Mishra in mind. The Army officer’s son who studied in a military school in Belgaum and then at the National School of Drama has been acting steadily in a series of small but memorable roles. Breaking through with the role of Khatana in Imtiaz Ali’s Rockstar (2011), as the man who teaches Janardhan the value of pain for the sake of art, Mishra has also worked with directors such as Anubhav Sinha and Ali Abbas Zafar. Now comes a big role and he fits into it with ease. As the eponymous Dr Arora: Gupt Rog Visheshagya, a new webseries on SonyLIV, he plays a sex doctor who cures sexual ailments. With a mix of humour and a serious intent to educate, Imtiaz Ali, who has written the series, tackles tricky situations and outdated attitudes involving sex, especially in small-town India—though it must be said ignorance is not restricted to any particular geography or economic class. Mishra says he did have an initial round of queasiness given the subject, but it was quickly dispelled when he started the shoot and entered the world. “The subject was handled with so much maturity and lack of judgment,” he says now, that he enjoyed being immersed in it. Based mostly in Jhansi and Morena in Madhya Pradesh, the world of Dr Arora is full of quaint characters: the chatty chaiwallah (Pitobash Tripathy); the puffed-up regional media baron (Vivek Mushran); and the sexually unfulfilled middle-class wife (Vidya Malvade). Mishra, at times matter-of-fact, funny, and manipulative, gives a masterclass in acting, and shows it’s never too late for the small part to become a lead role.
Scene and Heard
If anyone is in the mood for a sweet romance with a touch of legal drama and social messaging, I would highly recommend Vaashi, a Malayalam film with the charming Tovino Thomas and Keerthy Suresh. As lovers-turned-legal rivals, the two offer a love story that is progressive and persuasive. It helps that both are easy on the eye.