The character artists lent credibility to a film’s story, they filled the screen and, what is more, helped break the monotony of the lead pair dominating the screen. Some of these artists who propped up a film were versatile, but a lot of the character actors in our earlier films were typecast and chosen when required for a particular character for which they were loved by their audience. In fact, some of these were so popular, roles were written especially to cast them in a film.
Some specialized in negative characters, some as backup. People never got tired of these actors playing the same role again and again. In fact, that is what was expected of them!
Balraj Sahni and Jayant were towering personalities besides being great talents. Iftikhar, while also doing varied roles, made a strong presence playing a no-nonsense top cop. Sapru was gifted with a royal presence and fitted all roles of a ‘khandani’ wealthy man. Om Prakash was in a class of his own. Kanhaiyalal and Jeevan were both scheming, deceptive manipulators each in their own inimitable style.
Be it a family drama, a thriller, or an action movie, a comedian in the cast was a must and his/her appearance on the screen was looked forward to like clowns in a circus. It is no wonder that some comic actors such as Rajendra Nath, Johnny Walker, Mehmood, and Deven Verma went on to become legends.
There came a time when Mehmood was the draw for a film and not the film’s hero! Legend has it that he was paid more than a film’s lead actor! Mehmood’s success never went to his head, but it started eating into others’ heads. Stars nursed bigger egos than their success could afford them.
But now, real character actors have staged a comeback. Not through the big bill commercial potboilers, but through small films by makers who chose closer-to-life stories. The films told stories a viewer could relate to. Their films, as a rule, were low- or moderate-budget productions, such as ‘Fukrey’, ‘Vicky Donor’, ‘Piku’, ‘Kahaani’, ‘English Vinglish’, ‘Paan Singh Tomar’.
Sadly, most of these talents do not get their due in mainstream cinema. The story is the same. Our writers don’t think of creating characters, besides the hero and villain (the heroine being mandatory). But, now, the popularity of some of the actors on OTT is compelling filmmakers to cast them.