The Intangible Charm of Amol Palekar’s ‘Middle-Class’ Man
Arun Pradeep works in a corporate office in Mumbai and is hopelessly in love with Prabha Narayan, a woman he knows only through their co-journeys aboard the local bus to and from office. What follows is perhaps one of the finest tell-tale and heart-warming rom-coms to come out of Indian cinema in the form of Chhoti Si Baat. Inspired by a British comedy nonetheless, Amol Palekar played the glum eyed Arun – in the surprise box-office hit of the time – an identity in which Palekar would soon carve out a niche for himself no actor till date has been able to match.
Amol Palekar went on to claim more fame in the cult comedy classic Golmaal – references to which are still made in today’s day and age. Palekar has always voiced his opinion about the missing nuances in Bollywood – the stories of the simple, middle-class man. Almost as a testimony to the thought, nobody played the middle-class man better than the man himself. The undefinable charm that his characters possessed – despite being devoid of any natural charisma or proponents of a shrill thread of storyline running through their existence – was perhaps Palekar’s greatest gift.
Contrary to what cinema later developed into, Palekar at an early age in the history of Indian cinema was well in touch with the nuances of filmmaking. Inter-mixing satire with storytelling, credibly imprinting the same onto lifelike characters turned out to be a cakewalk for the understated actor. Most impressively, the films in which Palekar has acted in have stood the test of time and are relevant even today – one of the greatest accolades for an actor. What has helped Palekar’s soft-spoken roles stay as fresh as ever is also the stark inability of actors of the subsequent ages of Indian cinema to play the classic middle-class man – one who is neither impressive at first sight, nor even at a first listen. Such mediocrity is what life is built around – something that has been grossly lacking in films since.
It can be argued that theatre in India has produced credible actors in the form of Naseerudin Shah, Irfan khan and most recently Ranvir Shorey, Vinay Pathak and the enigmatic Nawazuddin Siddiqui among others. While most of these actors have played – to their credit – roles that are seemingly of the middle-class man, there is a palpable imposing force – a deliberate intensity behind each supposition of character – a facet absolutely absent in Palekar’s takes. Amol Palekar it seemed, went to office in front of the film cameras, rather than the metaphorical journey the actors of today’s day and age make via studios and backstage setups.
In his films, Amol Palekar makes a seamless transition from life behind the camera to the one in front. While certain characters played over the years would merit appreciation from the master himself, those have been too few and far in between to even come close to what Palekar achieved in his long yet sparsely distributed career. The essence of his acting credo can be summed best by the fact that none of his roles had their pique moments, or their lowly coast-side epiphanies. They floated through the film reel, with indifferent resignation towards life as an event, as is the case with general reality – something that is glaringly missing in the portrayal of the six-packed hero, or anti-heroes of today’s Indian cinema who are too off the emotional or psychological bar to even be considered real!
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