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Faces You Didn’t Know

It’s an explosion of mini novas. A brash, edgy, cinema-literate generation outshines the stars.

Faces You Didn’t Know

Who’s That Girl?

Kriti Malhotra A make-up artiste, she played the fragile Yasmin in Kiran Rao’s Dhobi Ghat Aditi rao After rave reviews in Delhi-6, she scorched the screen recently in Yeh Saali Zindagi

Aditi Vasudeva Played Rishi and Neetu Kapoor’s daughter in Do Dooni Char with spontaneity and verve Monica Dogra She is part of Mumbai’s elctro rock duo Shaa’ir + Func, was at ease as lead in Dhobi Ghat

Swati Sen She drew comparisons with Smita Patil as a conflicted bride in Antardwand Ira Dubey The delightful airhead in President Is Coming, she was the heroine’s moral support in Aisha

And His Name Is...

Prateik Babbar Brooding, charming, mercurial, he is the new pack’s star: look out for him in Aarakshan Nawazuddin Stole thunder from John Abraham in New York. Has another gritty role in Gangs of Wasseypur

Pitobash Fresh from FTII, Pune, he got all the seetis as tapori Mandook in Shor in the City Vivaan Shah He held his own against seasoned actors in his debut film, 7 Khoon Maaf

Manu Rishi Lyricist and dialogue writer, he showed his acting chops in Phas Gaye Re Obama Arjun Mathur Starting off as assistant director, he got noticed in Luck By Chance, Barah Aana, I Am

Director’s Cut

Abhinav Kashyap Took a completely different turn from brother Anurag to make blockbuster Dabangg Abhishek Chaubey Took audience on a racy, saucy ride through the badlands of Gorakhpur in Ishqiya

Anusha Rizvi A former NDTV staffer, she conceptualised Peepli [Live] while covering farmer suicides Abhishek Sharma Made the cheeky debut Tere bin Laden, a spoof on an Osama lookalike, set in Pakistan

Vikramaditya Motwane Made a most assured debut in Udaan which went to Cannes 2010 Maneesh Sharma Cracker of a first film in Band Baaja Baraat, a saddi Dilli film on the big fat Indian wedding

This week, a brand new Angry Young Man made an entry into Bollywood, in Pyaar Ka Punchnama, a film rapidly gaining cult status. No, this guy-on-the-edge doesn’t have a muscular name like Vijay Dinanath Chauhan. In fact, he has an odd onscreen name: Liquid. There is nothing muscular about his appearance either. He is thin, bespectacled, goes to his workplace dressed in regular pant-shirt-tie uniform, shares a flat in Noida with two other pals and peppers every conversation with a fistful of invectives. His angst, unlike Vijay’s, is not directed at the system. Liquid’s frustrations are basic—a girlfriend taking him for a ride, a Sunday spent at work or a bad cup of tea at his favourite dhaba. Also, instead of spilling out of the screen, his anger is about evoking heartfelt belly laughs. No wonder Liquid has become young boys’ favourite angry-funny geek and has every viewer asking the same question: who is this guy?

A message sent on Facebook quickly came back with a mobile number, shared by the actor on the condition that I should not pass it on to anyone, a declaration of Liquid’s stardom. Soon I am talking to the gifted actor behind the character, Divyendu, on the phone, in between his movie promos in several Mumbai malls. It’s evident that he is still coming to terms with his sudden popularity. “I guess Liquid may have worked because the situations and feelings are genuine. Everyone could relate to him and the film,” he says. But it worked also because Divyendu played him with a punch and panache uniquely his own.

In much the same manner, a few months ago, a young girl-next-door with confidence and poise made the audience take note of her in Tanu Weds Manu. And no, we are not talking about Kangana Ranaut but the girl who played her friend, 26-year-old Swara Bhaskar. Her great screen presence and wonderful voice made her stand out in stark contrast to the gauche heroine. In a big-star production like Rohan Sippy’s Dum Maaro Dum, 30-year-old Bangalore actor Gulshan Devaiah demanded attention in the throwaway role of drug-peddler Ricky. Twenty-nine-year-old Arjun Mathur impressed with sensitivity and sincerity in the role of Rahul Bose’s lover in I Am. The viewers of Shor in the City came out talking about kohl-eyed stunner Radhika Apte, in the role of a simple, young bride who also happens to be a Paulo Coelho fan. The film also had the mercurial, hyper-energetic tapori Mandook, played by a little-known actor from Bhubaneshwar, 27-year-old Pitobash. And 26-year-old Raj Kumar Yadav, a talent Dibakar Banerjee discovered in his edgy Love, Sex and Dhokha, lived up to the promise as the hero of Ragini MMS, a surprise hit.

You may wonder who they are, you may not be able to put a name to their faces, but each of these actors would have lingered on in your mind much after you walked out of that multiplex. A far cry from larger-than-life, 70-mm wattage stars. Not into multi-crore endorsements. Young, real, like you and me, they are the real triumphs of the recent bunch of Hindi films.

And this new wave is sweeping other areas of filmmaking as well. You encounter it in 31-year-old Amol Gole who shot Stanley Ka Dabba with just an ordinary Canon 7D digicam. Or with Sachin Krishnan who shot Yeh Saali Zindagi uniquely in digital and Amit Roy who went more visceral with the camera in Dum Maaro Dum. “The hand-held immediacy,” says veteran cinematographer and filmmaker Anil Mehta, “the jagged edges, colour-toning reminded one of Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic, all pushing at creating a distinctive look for the film.”


  • Namrata Rao (in pic) LSD, Band Baaja
  • Hemanti Sarkar Peepli [Live]
  • Shan Mohammad Frozen, Wake Up Sid
  • Cheragh Todiwala 99
  • Pranav Dhiwar Dabangg

Pushing the edge are composers Sachin-Jigar’s songs, their lilting Saibo creating much ‘shor in the city’ and Rangrez (lyrics by Raj Shekhar) hitting new, profound notes in Tanu Weds Manu. Namrata Rao, a 30-year-old editor, bagged every single award last year for her work in Band Baaja Baraat, newcomer Maneesh Sharma’s recent hit. While the old guard, from Mani Ratnam to Ashutosh Gowariker and Ram Gopal Varma to Sanjay Leela Bhansali, is struggling to connect with the audience, the new youth brigade has stormed Bollywood over the last year-and-a-half. “There’s an explosion of talent and with it everything in the industry is set to change,” says yesteryear’s enfant terrible, filmmaker Anurag Kashyap.

“We are the change,” declares Devaiah. “We are at the cusp of change.” Adds Arjun, “It’s the most exciting time to take a plunge into Bollywood.” Swara chimes in, “It’s dynamic. There’s a lot going on.” The industry, in turn, is banking on them to tell new stories in new styles. “We went through a time when conforming was everything,” says producer Shrishti Arya. “Anything new was rejected without so much as an acknowledgement. But the next phase of cinema belongs to these people who are originals, not me-toos.” Endorses writer-lyricist Jaideep Sahni, “They have an individuality and creativity all their own.”


  • Amit Trivedi Udaan, Aisha
  • Sneha Khanwalkar LSD, Oye Lucky
  • Rajiv Bhalla (in pic) I Am
  • Krsna Tanu Weds Manu
  • Sachin Jigar Shor in the City

It’s showing. Even in traditional fields. Like the quintessential Hindi film song. New composers are incorporating new sounds and jostling with all kinds of musical influences, from Indian classical and folk to jazz, blues and rap. The lingo of songs is getting refreshingly conversational and every new song comes with a new voice behind it. “I have learnt Western classical music abroad and Hindustani classical at home, so my music has to stem from both,” says Rajiv Bhalla, the 25-year-old composer of I Am. His two compositions in I Am bear that out—the quiet, moody and mellow Bojhal Se and Kannada-Punjabi bhangra-like club song Wundoo Yeredoo. Upcoming Shaitaan’s soundtrack touches on everything from Tamil hip-hop to a tribute to Bulle Shah. “The musical liking and references are diverse,” says composer Prashanth Pillai. “Film music is embracing a lot of genres.” Adds composer Krsna of Tanu Weds Manu, “From hardcore melodies, we’re moving to world music and digital sounds. It’s getting rhythm-oriented.”

The biggest endorsement for the new talent is that established filmmakers are willing to work with them, are finding them energising and challenging. Kashyap, who is producing films of several first-timers, finds the new lot “magical”. “I get a strange complex with these youngsters around. I am dwarfed, feel as though I have lots to learn from them,” he says. The devil has got to him: his production Shaitaan has not only genre-expanding music but also a debut director in Bejoy Nambiar. Vibhu Dasgupta’s moody-broody Michael, with Naseeruddin Shah playing the lead, is on next and the debut films of Sachin Kundalkar, Vasan Bala and Amit Kumar are also likely to go on the floor soon. Shrishti Arya is likewise putting her money, and bets, on the debut directorial venture of one Kapil Sharma, whose only claim to fame till now is that he is the son of Rakesh Sharma, the first Indian in space.

What marks out these newcomers is their passion for cinema backed by true professionalism. They are all cinema-literate. “They have seen films from the world over and then developed a cinematic language of their own. They’re refining the grammar of our cinema,” says Kashyap. In an industry where most come in through family connections, most of these newcomers have walked in without a sugar daddy. In fact, the growing breed of professionals is coming from a non-Bollywood background, a majority from middle-class, educated families and from far-flung places like Madhepura and Hazaribagh.


  • Amol Gole (in pic) Stanley ka Dabba
  • Tushar Kanti Ray Shor in the City
  • Amit Roy Dum Maaro Dum
  • Tassaduq Hussain Kaminey, Omkara
  • Sachin Krishan Yeh Saali Zindagi

Pitobash illustrates this all too well. His mother was a teacher and father retired from the state agricultural department. He did engineering in Calcutta before heading to the FTII for a course in acting. “I didn’t want to do a regular eight-hour job in a company. I’d rather work for 16-20 hours for the love and passion of it,” he says. The 25-year-old Rajiv Bhalla, coming from a family of civil contractors, took to the guitar in Class 9, gave up studies, learnt and taught music, played in hotels, orchestras to eventually start composing ad jingles. The Bollywood break came on Facebook, when he got in touch with filmmaker Onir. Gole’s father is a retired banker who wanted him to become an architect. Gole did a course in applied arts, worked as a publicity photographer for films like Rang De Basanti and Taare Zameen Par before getting roped in by Gupte for SKD. He has had no formal training and is a self-taught cinematographer. Swara studied literature in Miranda House in Delhi, and sociology from JNU. She got into theatre, learnt Bharatanatyam from Leela Samson and eventually decided to head to Mumbai, much to the shock of her parents, defence analyst C. Uday Bhaskar and professor Ira Bhaskar. Bangalore boy Gulshan Devaiah grew up with theatre, never mind the diploma from NIFT. “I could not dedicate my life to fashion,” he says. He wanted to be a glamorous star but that was before he started on serious theatre. He moved to Mumbai in 2008, worked on Rajat Kapoor’s Hamlet, bagged the lead role in Kashyap’s The Girl in Yellow Boots over dinner. The rest, as they say....

With traditional Bollywood in a spot of disarray with a string of big-ticket flops, it’s more open to admitting new talent. So Kalki Koechlin, Bollywood’s only actress with “videshi” roots, is able to do roles other than what she describes as the “typical white girl in a bikini kind”. “It’s becoming more democratic,” says lyricist Raj Shekhar. “And the change can’t be defined by a formula. Lots is happening all at once.” The space for alternate cinema is getting better defined, multiplexes are offering definite avenues of release and the new films, though independent in spirit, are accessible enough to establish a connect with audiences. “The audience is willing to see non-starry films,” says Maneesh. “They are far more receptive, intelligent. For them, world cinema is just a click of the mouse away,” adds Yadav.

And back home, Bollywood’s star structure seems to be losing its sheen. Stars are few, working in fewer films and can’t assure hits. “Big stars have also given superflops,” says Pitobash. The industry itself seems to be much more willing to look beyond stars for key roles, and is placing greater stress on getting the fabric and texture right for a film, rather than just focusing on the hero and heroine. “Filmmakers are willing to cast rank newcomers in all roles, leading or tertiary. As the importance of casting has grown, so too has the role of the casting director, whose job is visibly becoming more important and time-consuming,” says casting director Atul Mongia.

The move away from stardom is also helping other professionals. “The younger cinematographers are not living under the tyranny of the star,” says Anil Mehta. “So cinematography is not just about the faces, but equally about the spaces and textures,” says Mehta. So lighting is being used as an expressive tool rather than just a means of making the actors look glamorous. “The younger filmmakers have a better sense of the real,” says Kalki. “BBB’s authenticity had a lot to do with locations, production design and casting,” says Maneesh. According to Jaideep Sahni, the best of young technicians are like sponge. They absorb the character and emotion of a film and then add another layer while bringing it alive on screen.

The new formula is no formula. Variety, as Pitobash says, is the name of the game. Which is why he swings from political satire Na Wo Hota Na Ye Hota to Aalaap, about a Naxalite rock band in Chhattisgarh. In between there’s Dibakar Banerjee’s Shanghai and Shirish Kunder’s sci-fi film, Joker. Gole will work on Gupte’s next film and wants to write and work on his own project. Namrata Rao is editing Kahani, Ladies Vs Ricky Bahl and Shanghai. Somewhere, a film drawn from her own life in Dilshad Garden and Janakpuri, middle-class areas in Delhi, is also lurking in her mind. Yadav has Shaitaan, Chittagong and Gangs of Wasseypur. Arjun will be seen next in My Friend Pinto. “I subconsciously don’t accept run-of-the-mill stuff,” he says. “The idea is to get noticed.” “Now is the time when people like me will find a place in the sun,” says Devaiah. So the start has been explosive for this breathless, new Bollywood. As a fan of the old-school may exclaim, “Kya entry hai, baap.” Now for how the rest of the script plays out.

Films in the Offing

  • Shaitaan: Bejoy Nambiar’s debut (picture) focuses on the devil that lurks deep within the most angelic souls. A who’s who of the young brigade, it stars Gulshan Devaiah, Kalki Koechlin, Neil Bhoopalam, Shiv Pandit, Kirti Kulhari, Rajat Barmecha and Raj Kumar Yadav.
  • Always Kabhi Kabhi: Coming-of-age high school film from the SRK stable. Has four Gen-X faces playing the leads: Zoa Morani, Giselle Monteiro, Ali Fazal and Satyajeet Dubey.
  • My Friend Pinto: Sanjay Leela Bhansali produces former assistant Raghav Dhar’s film, starring Prateik Babbar, Arjun Mathur and Kalki Koechlin.
  • Delhi Belly: Irreverent comedy written by newcomer Akshat Verma. The cheeky Bose DK song written by Amitabh Bhattacharya and composed by Ram Sampat is already a cult hit.
  • Gangs of Wasseypur: Anurag Kashyap’s epic thriller, set across six decades in the world of Bihar’s coalmine mafia, has young actors like Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Raj Kumar Yadav, while the music is by Sneha Khanwalkar.
  • Chillar Party: Produced by Salman Khan, this film on a bunch of kids taking on politicians is directed by debutants Vikas Bahl and Nitesh Tiwari; music is by Amit Trivedi.

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