You can’t insult the insulted, says Ashish Vidyarthi. An actor who has played villain in 90 per cent of almost 300 films, Vidyarthi has a habit of dying on screen. If it isn’t that, then he is shown in a less than flattering light. But the actor, who was trained at the National School of Drama, has not let that come in the way of building his career. He may seemingly be in every major series now, whether it is Trial By Fire on Netflix or the forthcoming Rana Naidu, also on Netflix. But there were fallow periods in which he would often be asked by friends and well-wishers what he was working on. “Or they would call up, in those days we had landlines, and ask, has shooting been cancelled today?” he says. But Vidyarthi, who has worked across all languages and industries, has a thriving alternative career as a motivational speaker where he tells audiences how he has lived his life. It is a masterclass in storytelling, with Vidyarthi talking simple home truths, that to be still breathing at 57, his motto, is the ultimate accomplishment. He talks of the idea of wants and needs, saying he is perfectly content to drive around in his 17-year-old Camry, one of the few cars that still has a handbrake. Vidyarthi travels 20 days of the month, meeting new audiences, holding workshops here, telling stories there, carrying his own camera, mic and presentation, keeping everyone engaged and entertained. And yes, there is a book in there somewhere, when he can take time off from his renewed career in streaming series.
Bhansali Goes Global
When Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos came down to have a conversation with Sanjay Leela Bhansali for the launch of his forthcoming web series on Netflix, Heeramandi, he was honouring one of India’s greatest filmmakers. Deeply influenced by Parsi theatre and India’s song and dance tradition, Bhansali is the last of the believers in big is beautiful. Which may explain why at 59, his movies have remained spectacles, rather than intimate stories on a small scale. The last of the pure filmmakers, he relies on his imagination rather than on VFX, and believes in the grandeur of big sets and bigger emotions like K Asif, Mehboob Khan and Raj Kapoor. He is also one director whose movies are much wanted by heroines because he showcases them as never before. Naturally, expectations from Heeramandi are high given it has some of Bollywood’s most beautiful women, from Manisha Koirala to Aditi Rao Hydari to Sonakshi Sinha—it also stars his niece, Sharmin Segal. After the kind of reception RRR got, Netflix is keen to cash in on Hollywood’s interest in India. According to Sarandos, “India is the fastest growing Netflix market in the world this year and because of that, we’re able to continue to invest in great storytelling.” Heeramandi could be what Abhishek Varman’s poorly executed Kalank (2019) was not, a period piece set in Lahore in pre- Partition India which focuses on the adventures of a group of courtesans. The writer Moin Beg came to Bhansali with the idea 14 years ago but every time he was making other films, such as Devdas (2002) or Bajirao Mastani (2015). When he wanted his script back, the series finally got made. Bhansali has a particular fondness for eternal outsiders, whether they are courtesans (in Devdas, Saawariya in 2007, last year’s Gangubai Kathiawadi and now Heeramandi) or the disabled (Black in 2005, and Guzaarish in 2010). Heeramandi is Bhansali’s second international moment—the screening of Devdas at the Cannes International Film Festival put Aishwarya Rai Bachchan on the map as a beauty to watch out for.
Annu Kapoor: Scene and Heard
He’s played Mahatma Gandhi in Sardar (1993) and Vinayak Savarkar in Kaalapani (1996). So, it is no surprise that Annu Kapoor is playing Deendayal Upadhyaya, the father of what is known as integral humanism, in the upcoming film Main Deendayal Hun. The leader of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh died under mysterious circumstances at the Mughalsarai railway station and it is one of those questions without answers. Kapoor says the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is involved in the making of the film. But he keeps his own politics aside whenever he plays a politician or a real person, as in the 1995 TV series Kabeer. Add to this Pankaj Tripathi as Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the forthcoming Main Atal Hoon, and there will be quite a few Sangh Parivar icons in cinema halls.