Child stars don’t usually age well. Too much fame at too young an age either turns their heads or raises their expectations. Kunal Kemmu, familiar to those who loved Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke (1993) and Zakhm (1998), managed to dodge a bullet. He ascribes it to his philosophy of balance. “As Robert de Niro said, just be calm when things are going well. Don’t think you’re on top of the world.” The actor, who had to leave Kashmir Valley like many other Pandits when militancy became endemic, took a break of almost a decade to complete his education (he is a graduate of Mithibai College, Mumbai). But not before winning acclaim with his work in movies and in the beloved Doordarshan series based in the Valley, Gul Gulshan Gulfam (1987), in which he made his debut. “I’ve practically grown up on a film set,” he says. Mahesh Bhatt who cast him as his young self in his autobiographical Zakhm asked Kemmu to meet him when he was ready for the movies. He did and Bhatt was true to his word, casting him as the young Kunal in the intense Kalyug (2005). Kemmu’s early work seemed to suggest an intense trajectory, until Raj and DK cast him in their first film in India, 99 (2009). It was a quirky comedy much like their later work and it set Kemmu off on a career in comedy, both slapstick and sophisticated. But Kemmu likes to confuse those who like to stereotype him. Movies such as Kalank (2019) and Malang (2020), and his recurring part in Abhay as a police officer re-established his credentials as a serious actor, while Disney+Hotstar’s Pop Kaun? saw him returning to the genre that has got him wide appeal. Kemmu is remarkably sorted for someone who has been in the arclights since the age of seven. Married to fellow actor Soha Ali Khan, he uses his downtime to learn new skills (playing the guitar and learning photography) and write (he wrote the dialogues of Go Goa Gone, 2013). His father’s association with IPTA (Indian People’s Theatre Association), his own work in theatre, and his grandfather Moti Lal Kemmu’s legacy as one of Kashmir’s foremost playwrights, may well see him write something for and about his homeland. He is not a great reader, he says, pointing out that his wife is the voracious consumer of books. “I’m very imaginative and consume a lot more visual content,” he says.
Driving India Abroad
Canadian-Indian director Richie Mehta has completed Poacher, starring Malayalam actors Nimisha Sajayan and Roshan Mathew, which tackles elephant poaching in Kerala’s jungles. The first three episodes of Poacher were screened at the Sundance Film Festival this year. He has also directed a critical episode of Apple TV+’s Extrapolations based in India. Episode 5 of this dystopian series, set in 2059, sees temperatures rising to such a degree that the world sleeps during the day and works at night. People have to pay per puff of commercially available oxygen masks and sleep in oxygenated sleeping bags. But India’s jugaad is as potent as ever, as little children armed with mango seed slingshots can bring down drones and village women can shoot down trained assassins. The episode follows Adarsh Gourav playing a Mumbai driver (yet again after his fascinating turn in The White Tiger) who has to transport precious cargo to a research establishment in Amritsar, along with the genetic scientist, played by New York fashion arbiter Waris Ahluwalia. And what’s the cargo? Organic rice seeds which may well save the country from eating its synthetic version. From playing taxi drivers to scientists, it looks like Indian actors are broadening their professional range on screen. One of the many subtexts in the episode is an unending war with Pakistan which has normalised hatred of Muslims among large parts of the Hindu population. Mehta’s work was last seen on Indian screens in Season 1 of Netflix’s recurring series Delhi Crime.
Scene and Heard
The only good thing about the absurd Obsession on Netflix, based on Josephine Hart’s 1991 novel Damage, is its attempt at diversity. Unlike the all-white cast of the movie based on the book, this casts Indira Varma as Ingrid, and Rish Shah, last seen as a mystery superboy in Ms Marvel, as her son. Adding to the browner version is Sonera Angel, an Indian- Irish actor who has done some work in TV in England.
Gitanjali Aiyar (1947-2023): Poise and Perfection Kaveree Bamzai
‘India needs to look at water, climate problems closely,’ says Joyeeta Gupta Ullekh NP
The Yaksha Who Deserves More Attention Aritra Ghosh