Change and equilibrium:
Actor’s conundrum

There are times when one is not quite sure of where one fits in. One’s role is not clear in the big scheme of things and as a result there is indecisiveness as to what to do. We have seen many great and top performers experiencing this syndrome where they lose their equilibrium and are unsure of their roles until they regain it. A classic case to explain this syndrome would be Sachin Tendulkar. In his early 30s he went through a bit of an equilibrium crisis where he was caught between two worlds; one was that of the energetic 20 year old who was used to dominating bowlers at will; the other was that of the experienced 30 year old who wanted to play a safer brand of the game. We would have all come across the things that were being said about Sachin at that stage. He was shuffled up and down the order in one-dayers, used as a middle order mainstay instead of an opening maverick. It took some time for Sachin to recalibrate himself to a body that did not have lightning reflexes and a mind that had tones of acumen. That is when we saw the revival of a batsman who was much surer of the way he wanted to play. Cinema is a field where we see many such classic cases of equilibrium that is lost and regained.

People who are most susceptible to such problems in their careers are lead actors. Simply because of the reason that a lead actor cannot remain so forever (except if you are Superstar or Universal Star). There will come a time when one has to step down and reassess where one stands.

The best example in Indian cinema would be that of Amitabh Bachchan. After reigning in Hindi cinema for almost 20 years, there came a time when the Big B had to perhaps step down from the angry young man mould. But, the readjustment was not so easy. There were numerous films that were still trapped in his heyday image that failed miserably, like Mrityudaata or Suryavamsham. The Big B was facing an identity crisis in the industry he owned indisputably. It took a few years of sabbatical and a changed look and a hugely popular game show to pull him out of that and there began the second innings where Big B was more comfortable in a newly found role of senior statesman of Hindi cinema and a powerful character actor.

In Kollywood, the best illustration might be Prabhu. A leading hero in his days, there was a lull period in the early 2000s which saw him lose his winning touch as a lead actor. What precipitated that lull is another question. For a brief while Prabhu was around trying to revive his prospects as a hero once again. But, he was unsure of the path to follow, a few flops later he took time off from the big screen. Maybe realizing that his calling was in a richer variety of roles, he re-launched himself as an able character artiste, first in Vasool Raja, followed by Chandramukhi. Audiences and producers however took time to get acclimatized to the idea of Prabhu as a support actor. Now, the equilibrium has been reestablished in favor of Prabhu, the character actor. Films like Billa, Something Something, Ayan and most recently Kanthaswamy have re-cemented Prabhu’s place in the industry. A contemporary of his, Karthik is yet to regain his equilibrium. One hopes that Mani Ratnam’s Raavan kick starts that process.

Other prominent actors who have undergone similar phases in their career are many. Take the case of Jaishankar. There was a time in the late 70s when he was quite a close competitor to Rajinikanth and Kamal. But, for inexplicable reasons, he soon lost his grip as a leading actor. However, he was quick to readapt to changing situations and resurfaced soon as powerful actor, not shying away from negative roles either like the one in Murattu Kalai. Vijayakumar is another actor who after an initial period of success faded out for a few years. The way he returned spoke volumes about his ability to adapt and leave the past behind him, playing character roles such as the one in Andhimandaarai until the recent Pokkisham. When it comes to regaining equilibrium, actresses seem to be better than their male counterparts. Almost all leading heroines have been able to successfully transform themselves into mature character artistes within no time. From K.R. Vijaya to Simran, the women seem to have a fairly simple and effective formula.

It has been said that ‘the only thing that is constant in life is change’. Times change and one has to change with the times. Especially in cinema where appearances matter a lot, it is inevitable that an actor is alert even to the slightest wind of change. More importantly, an actor has to be willing to adapt instead of holding on to the past.

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