Ayushmann Khurrana. Image Source: IANS

By Vinayak Chakravorty THE NEW MAVERICKS: GAMECHANGERS OF BOLLYWOOD
By Vinayak Chakravorty
(Continuing with our series on contemporary Bollywood heroes, we look at GenNow Heroes who are redefining masala entertainment. Ranveer Singh, Ayushmann Khurrana, Vicky Kaushal, Rajkummar Rao and Ranbir Kapoor have erased the line between credible actor and saleable star with their unconventional approach and roles) 'Actor' and 'star'. Sometime in the seventies, Bollywood filmmakers, fans and the film press alike created a distinction between the two job profiles. The actor was someone who would win the accolades and awards for his histrionic skills, not necessarily guaranteeing hits. The star was the industry's prized possession, because he raked in the big revenues for the film trade, cashing in on an image that triggered off mass hysteria.

There were a few who managed to blend the two - think Amitabh Bachchan or Aamir Khan - but by and large, Hindi mainstream cinema's idiom was so radically divided down the middle that no one went to see the stars - in many cases, the superstars - for their acting skills, just as no one expected the actors to score blockbusters.

The changing syntax of Hindi cinema has accommodated a new breed that has carved a niche with talent, and yet can assure profitable returns for producers pumping in the money. Ranveer Singh, Ayushmann Khurrana, Vicky Kaushal, Rajkummar Rao and Ranbir Kapoor may represent varied flavours of contemporary Hindi cinema, but they stand for one thing: In an industry that is learning to create commercially viable films that bank primarily on content, these actors are all malleable enough to fit into a wide variety of roles. In short, none of them bank on a specific image.

RANVEER SINGH: CHAMELEON SUPERSTAR Ranveer Singh made clear his intention of serving entertainment with a difference with his very first film. "Band Baaja Baaraat", his debut film in 2010, was a slice-of-life rom-com about two wedding planners. Ranveer's guy-next-door charisma worked well with the film's breezy yet realistic mood.

Over the years, his stature has risen and, after consecutive blockbusters, Ranveer today is perhaps Bollywood's biggest new-age hero. His gameplan, however, remains the same. His focus seems to be on signing up a role that lets him surprise his audience - be it Khilji in "Padmaavat", Bajirao in "Bajirao Mastani", Sangram Bhalerao in "Simmba" or morphing into Kapil Dev in the upcoming "'83". Indeed, his choice of roles make it obvious that he is Bollywood's most enigmatic chameleon of this generation - readily donning a new skin for a new film.

His only failure in recent times has been the romantic drama "Befikre", and the poor show of that film perhaps underlined the truth - when it comes to Ranveer Singh, regular stuff won't do. The audience has somehow come to expect something beyond the ordinary whenever he hits the screen, besides, of course blockbuster box-office shows. Balancing that larger-than-life expectation with the not-so-simple deal of a good performance every time will be Ranveer's big challenge in the future, even as he enters the brightest phase of his career.

AYUSHMANN KHURRANA: MASTER OF SURPRISES His is literally the story of a rise from the ashes. Ayushmann Khurrana, it seemed, had the world at his feet with his debut role in "Vicky Donor" in 2012. Then came the slump. Although he did deliver "Dum Laga Ke Haisha" in between, most of Ayushmann's films over the next five-odd years simply failed to leave an impact.

The turnaround that started with 2017's "Bareilly Ki Barfi" was a quiet but steady one. If law of averages is indeed a reality, Ayushmann poor phase is long gone. Since 2017, he has been on a roll of five consecutive hits - "Bareilly Ki Barfi", "Shubh Mangal Saavdhan", "Andhadhun", "Badhai Ho" and Article 15" have all been hits.

Ayushmann's box-office USP, however, lies not just in his newfound power to deliver hits. It lies in the fact that the actor has made it a habit to portray a very different role in each new film. The audience has come to expect something new from him every time. At a time when Bollywood cinema is changing, and young filmmakers are out exploring with fresh concepts and characters, that bit puts Ayushmann in a position of huge advantage - not to mention the fact that the National Award he just won raises his stakes by a huge margin.

VICKY KAUSHAL: BELIEVABLE FACE OF THE HERO No one expected the lanky boy of "Masaan" (2015) with undoubted artistic skills to deliver one of the biggest blockbusters of the year, four years into his career. Vicky Kaushal did just that when his latest release, "Uri: The Surgical Strike" gave Bollywood its most unlikely commercial star of the season. The blockbuster "Uri" has raked in over Rs 240 crore since release, and Vicky is now part of the A-list.

Vicky's phenomenal rise, along with Ayushmann Khurrana, perhaps signals the shape of things to come for Bollywood stardom. In the era when realism has crept into entertainment cinema, the hero will also have to be someone who can effortlessly shed all larger-than-life pretences.

Vicky's National Awards win as Best Actor for "Uri" marks a new high, but the actor is taking things cautiously. Despite "Uri" he has only two films coming up: the horror drama "Bhoot: The Haunted Ship", and the patriotic biopic "Sardar Udham Singh" where he essays the title role.

RAJKUMMAR RAO: IRRESISTIBLY VERSATILE Not many actors in Bollywood can claim to have never repeated the same act, and won over fans despite never bowing to stereotypes. If Rajkummar Rao fits that bill, he has also carved his niche by defying every cliché that normally defines the Bollywood leading man.

Indeed, Rajkummar has defied all odds in Bollywood. He shot to fame doing a bit role in an art film (2010's "Love Sex Aur Dhokha") and sustained on supporting acts for three years. And then, when he had his first prominent leading role ("Shahid in 2013"), he won a National Award as Best Actor for it! He doesn't hesitate signing up for heroine-dominated subjects ("Queen, 'Stree", "Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga", "Judgementall Hai Kya").

Perhaps the key to his survival and thriving lies in that last bit. With Rajkummar Rao, there is no casting hassle. He can easily fit into any role as long as there is scope to perform. If versatility is increasingly becoming an asset in Bollywood, Rajkummar is indeed looking at a busy career ahead.

RANBIR KAPOOR: THE THINKING ACTOR-STAR Being born in Bollywood's first family was an advantage, of course, but it does come with its woes, too. Ranbir Kapoor's decade-plus career in Hindi films has overwhelmingly been dictated by one question: Can he live up to the legacy of his father Rishi Kapoor and grandfather Raj Kapoor? Ranbir's strategy to survive the harsh glare that question brings in its wake is to by and large portray a cool-dude image, on and off the screen. It is an image that, driven by expert PR, has let him play the field as a ladies' man, and some his biggest hits have also been films where he has been the affable youngster.

The going has been rough for Ranbir lately because, barring last year's "Sanju" he has no clear winner at the box-office since 2013's "Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani". His ambitious upcoming "Bhrahmastra" has been pushed back, and his other film is a period drama, "Shamshera". Lately, he has been more in the news for rumours pertaining to his romance with Alia Bhatt.

Still, no one is writing Ranbir off. For the simple reason that, beyond his obvious advantages of innate glamour and proven acting skills, Ranbir is a thinking actor-star.

(figures courtesy koimoi.com) COMING UP IN THE SERIES: VARUN DHAWAN & TIGER SHROFF: WAITING IN THE WINGS

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