Menon has long maintained that actors like him and Manoj Bajpayee were able to find a place in the Mumbai film industry because the late, great Irrfan Khan had opened doors for talented artists with unconventional looks
When Babil Khan was cast as Kay Kay Menon’s subordinate in The Railway Men (airing on Netflix), it was as if life was coming full circle. Menon has long maintained that actors like him and Manoj Bajpayee were able to find a place in the Mumbai film industry because the late, great Irrfan Khan had opened doors for talented artists with unconventional looks. Babil is his surrogate son in the new Netflix series, a young man who has an instinctive talent to be a railway man, unlike Menon’s son in the series. During the shoot of the series, the two men bonded, and the emotional Babil says it was almost as if he was with his father. He told me, “I had just lost Baba, and jumped straight into this series. I was still raw. But with him, I could talk for hours about anything.” Perhaps that vulnerability and grief found its way on to the screen. Menon, on his part, cannot bring himself to talk about his old friend. All he says about Babil is that he has something special which he has asked him to retain. “He has a quality that cannot be defined. He needs to preserve it,” he says. As someone who has kept his sanity and clarity intact through the many vicissitudes of a Bollywood career, Menon knows what he is talking about. The Railway Men’s other star, R Madhavan, also has an old connection with Irrfan, and not just about replacing him in Aanand L Rai’s Tanu Weds Manu (2011). “My first day in a television show was on Zee TV’s Banegi Apni Baat,” says Madhavan, referring to a popular sitcom that ran between 1993 and 1997. “And guess who said I was not bad for a newcomer? No less than Irrfan who had already become a rising TV star by then.” The show, a desi version of Friends, was an informal school for stars, with actors ranging from the late Surekha Sikri to Shefali Shah to Manav Kaul, making their mark there.
Making It Big
She tried her luck in India but without success. It took a Netflix series about an Indian teenager who speaks in John McEnroe’s voice for her to make it in Los Angeles. And how! Richa Shukla Moorjani who plays the fictional Devi Vishwakumar’s voluptuous and brilliant cousin Kamala in Netflix’s hit show, Never Have I Ever, is back in another beloved series, Fargo, in its fifth season. This season features yet another mystery and Moorjani is Indira Olmstead, the Minnesota police deputy whose job it is to uncover the truth. Moorjani, an Indian American, is a trained Kathak dancer and has inherited her love of Bollywood from her parents who have been in a music band for over four decades now. She won her role in Never Have I Ever through an open casting call after a series of minor roles, including in the experimental Indian film X: Past is Present (2015), a collaboration of 11 directors, as Richa Shukla. In Season 5 of Fargo, she plays an “Indian lady” who is investigating a mysterious abduction. She also has a slacker husband to deal with and a Donald Trump-worshipping sheriff who comes from a long line of ranchers. But she is also smart enough to know something is deeply wrong. Moorjani gets the Minnesota accent just right as she does the body language of a police officer who refuses to be intimidated by power, money or men. From the winsome Kamala to the stern Indira, Moorjani is building a series of sharp characters. She and her co-star in Never Have I Ever, Poorna Jagannathan, who plays Devi’s mother, have shown there is room out there for brown women who believe there are no small roles, only small actors. Jagannathan, too, had a less than exciting journey in the Mumbai film industry though she did get bigger parts in Delhi Belly (2011) and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013). More power to them and the bicultural richness they bring to the table.
Scene and Heard
He burst on to the screen with Tum Bin (2001), the musical romance that put director Anubhav Sinha on the map, but then the Delhi boy faded away as a lot of newcomers tend to do. But two recent movies have put Priyanshu Chatterjee back in the spotlight. These are the Bengali biopic of Rabindranath Tagore, Rabindra Kabya Rahasya, and 12th Fail, Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s joyful story of a man who never gives up on his dream of making it through the UPSC exam. Chatterjee has an inspiring role in 12th Fail as a police officer who forbids the hero from cheating, giving him a lifelong lesson. The journey may be tough but if you persist, there are rewards at the end.