Sometimes an actor’s second innings overshadows her first. National spokesperson for BJP and member of the National Commission for Women Kushboo Sundar is one of them. The actor has been working since she was 10 years old, most memorably in The Burning Train (1980) as a child actor. Her late father moved the family to Chennai when she was 16 and they’ve been there since then. That’s also when Kushboo disowned her abusive father and took on the family responsibility as head of the household. Her career thrived, as she worked with A-list co-stars and directors. She was quick to emulate the professionalism and dedication of the industry. As she says: “Look at Kamal Haasan. Even now, when he was acting in Vikram, his latest hit, he was in pain because of a surgery with pus in his foot, but didn’t stop the shoot even for a day because of the combination dates of co-actors such as Fahadh Faasil.” Or Rajinikanth, she says, with whom she was reunited on the sets of Annaatthe (2021). “He was five minutes late for the shoot one day and spent the whole day apologising to everybody on set.” The focus is on the craft of filmmaking, and not on the business of being a star. Die-hard fan clubs also give the actor a sense of responsibility, to make the best film possible and not disappoint admirers. The actors look out for each other. For instance, it was Kamal Haasan who called Kushboo from abroad one day in the midst of a controversy sparked by her interview to a magazine in 2005 about the incidents of pre-marital sex. He asked her whether she felt guilty, and if so, why, when she had spoken the truth. That gave her courage to face her critics and fight the 23 cases filed against her legally. These were finally quashed by the Supreme Court in 2010.
In 2006, Dibakar Banerjee’s Khosla ka Ghosla immortalised a particular kind of Punjabi, middle class Delhi with aspirations for upward mobility. In 2023, another Dibakar, Dibakar Das Roy has made what is perhaps the first African-Indian dark comedy, Dilli Dark. With Samuel Abiola Robinson from the 2018 Malayalam hit, Sudani from Nigeria, as the lead, it chronicles with humour and wit the life of a young Nigerian in the underbelly of Nigeria. Vilified for what they eat, what they do, and how they look, Nigerians still flock to Delhi because as the character of Michael in Dilli Dark says, it is like New York for Indians. Roy who spent much of his childhood as an outsider—a Bengali in Meghalaya, not enough Bengali for Kolkata and then not uppity enough for Doon School, Dehradun—understands what it is to live on the margins. In Dilli Dark, he writes up the city with love and sarcasm—its policemen, its posh people with money, its “don’t-you-know-who-I-am” culture, and its innate racism which makes everyone regard him as less than human. Dilli Dark will have its world premiere at the Jio MAMI Film Festival in Mumbai, from where it will travel to several festivals abroad. Its unique story is entertaining but it also sets one thinking about social attitudes Indians have about fair skin. As a young MBA student forced to deal drugs to finance his studies, Robinson is utterly engaging, as he specialised in the 4Cs—cellphone, coke, cash, and clients. The film was largely shot in the Mehrauli Archaeological Park, Pandav Nagar, and the streets of Delhi at night with a small crew. It even has a song to go with it: “Hum kale hain/Dilli wale hain/kisi ka rang kala/kisi ka man kala (We’re black, but we’re from Delhi, someone’s skin is black, someone’s heart is black).”
Scene and Heard
Persistence works. Karishma Tanna Bangera messaged director Hansal Mehta several times after auditioning, often in Gujarati, to remind him why she would be good to play the character based on Jigna Vora in Scoop. It worked. The Netflix series was brilliant, and has already scooped up two awards as the Busan Film festival, one for Bangera for Best Lead Actress, and another for Scoop as Best Asian TV Series. “I’ve often been told of this distinction between TV actors and film actors. I just don’t buy it,” says Mehta. “Actors are actors.” Indeed Bangera has had a long and successful career in TV but the character of journalist Jagruti Pathak in Scoop may well be her finest.