Gagan Dev Riar is a Sikh whose family had to leave Mumbai after his father’s car battery store in Chembur was burnt down during the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. He says this without rancour, as if it were a normal part of everyone’s growing up. They moved to Pathankot until his elder sister beseeched the family to return to Mumbai in search of a better life. The family did so in 1993, and his father asked young Gagan whether he wanted to be an actor. When the reply was in the affirmative, his father enrolled him in the Ashok Kumar Academy of Dramatic Arts. From then on, he went to Ruparel College, and then workshops, plays, big parts, small parts, whatever came his way. The high point was a nine-month workshop leading to the staging of Andha Yug, with the late Nirmal Pandey. There were times he didn’t have money to pay the rent, a time when he couldn’t afford a TV subscription, didn’t have decent clothes, when he couldn’t take a proper bath because it would mean his roommate getting wet, and times when he had nothing to eat. “The period between 2001 and 2003 was particularly bad, until I joined Balaji Telefilms as a writer,” he says. But he is a man of frugal means, he says, and doesn’t want much by way of material things. He just kept working, kept learning with theatre maestros such as Om Katare, Trishla Patel, Sunil Shanbag, Atul Kumar and Rajat Kapoor. Even later, having played Lata’s brother-in-law in the BBC series A Suitable Boy, the father of the bride in the off Broadway musical Monsoon Wedding (Mira Nair, the director of both, had watched him in Shanbag’s Stories in a Song), and now Abdul Karim Telgi in SonyLIV’s Scam 2003, he doesn’t ask for much, except that his two cats are taken care of. With five episodes of Scam 2003 yet to be aired, Gagan is not signing anything yet. There’s no shortage of offers though.
Nag Ashwin Returns
Amitabh Bachchan, Kamal Haasan, Prabhas, and Deepika Padukone. Nag Ashwin’s Kalki 2898 AD is understandably the dark horse of next year. Unveiled at Comic-Con in San Diego in July, the movie, formerly called ‘Project K’, got a formidable welcome with the unofficial ambassador of Telugu cinema to the world, Rana Daggubati, legendary star Kamal and rebel star, as he is popularly known, Prabhas, in attendance. The teaser promises a dystopian world where a force will rise to dispel the darkness, in what critics are already calling a mix of Mad Max and Dune, though the director says he was inspired by the Star Wars series, and we know references to Vishnu’s tenth and final avatar that is incarnated to end kalyug. A blend of science fiction and Indian mythology, it is taking the route of SS Rajamouli’s early work, which was shown at sci-fi fan events in the US and built a base of hardcore fans, apart from diaspora loyalists. Ashwin who made the fabulous Mahanati on actor Savitri Devi’s life in 2018, has been working on the film since 2020. It is produced by his father-in-law C Aswani Dutt. It is billed as the most expensive Indian film ever, at `600 crore, so the big question is: will it be an Adipurush or an RRR? A much-trolled mish-mash of the old and new, or a much-celebrated reimagining of a period film?
Scene and Heard
There’s a scene in Jawan where Shah Rukh Khan’s character is asked by the hostage negotiator what else he wants. Alia Bhatt, says the actor’s character. “Only she’s a bit too young,” he adds, alluding to the difference in age and the potential creepiness embedded in it. In an advertisement for a masala brand, featuring both Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan, they jokingly refer to each other as superstar while directing a gaggle of photographers away from themselves until they decide to direct them to the biggest star of them all, Alia Bhatt. It is an interesting moment in Bollywood’s history—the uber superstar of the past and superstar of the present are deciding the inheritor of their legacy. It’s not the obvious choice between Ranbir Kapoor and Ranveer Singh but Alia Bhatt, a young woman who has shown considerable talent in her career so far and an appetite for much more. With a producer’s credit, several sure-footed performances, and a Hollywood appearance as well, the future of the Hindi film industry may well be female.