It was Russian theater legend, Konstantin Stanislavksi who once uttered the evergreen words, “there are no small roles, only small actors.”
Actors across the world are not only familiar with this adage but firmly believe in it.
Take Mendes’ cinematic masterstroke, American Beauty where the most memorable role in the film was arguably Alison Janney’s near mute character who had a grand total of one sentence in the film. The reason her character resonated so strongly was because Janney was able to effectively convey her character’s despondence through facial expressions and body language alone.
Janney accepted the seemingly trivial role because she had faith in the film and her acting skills.
Would a Bollywood star have done the same?
Probably not. Because in a film industry that is more image-obsessed than even Hollywood and where pretension is a prerequisite, accepting a minor role in a film, regardless of how great or important the film has the potential of being, is something that most Bollywood superstars would automatically pooh-pooh.
They wouldn’t think of it as an opportunity to stretch their acting ability or to make an artistic contribution but that they were playing second fiddle to another lead actor.
What’s surprising is that even an actor’s actor like Tabu expressed dissatisfaction with her not receiving top billing in the 2006 blockbuster, Fanaa. Her character only single-handedly took down the film’s main villain in an epic helicopter scene, but I digress.
In a film industry that is more image-obsessed than even Hollywood and where pretension is a prerequisite, accepting a minor role in a film, regardless of how great or important the film has the potential of being, is something that most Bollywood superstars would automatically pooh-pooh.
Hollywood superstars have repeatedly shown that they do not share that same mentality. Brad fucking Pitt played a very minor part in the landmark film, 12 Years A Slave while Viggo Mortensen played a blink-and-you-miss it role in the adaptation of the iconic Jack Kerouac novel, On The Road.
And let’s not forget James Franco’s decision to star in a thirteen episode arc in the trashy soap opera, General Hospital.
His bizarre stint on the show ultimately proved an enriching experience for him as he reportedly used the new skills he gained working on the show for his next film, 127 hours; a film that not only became one of the greatest films in his repertoire but also garnered him his first Academy Award nomination.
These are a just a few instances where globally celebrated actors graciously stepped down from their pedestals for the sake of art.
Barring cameos, item song appearances and Zoya Akhtar’s Robert Altman-esque mega star ensemble films, which, let’s face it, wouldn’t be possible if she was not Javed Akhtar’s daughter, Bollywood A-listers, are too enraptured by their own public persona to do what actors do in other film industries do.
To them, image is king and art has to be subservient to it.
To almost everyone else, it’s the other way round.
ARTWORK BY MIRA MALHOTRA