The dwarf as a character continues to be a half-baked stereotype in Indian cinema with few exceptions
Shah Rukh Khan will be seen as Bauua Singh in Aanand L Rai's Zero soon. The film is a love triangle revolving around Bauua’s relationships with a NASA scientist suffering from cerebral palsy (Anushka Sharma) and an actress (Katrina Kaif). The megastar is back to playing a lover boy, but with a difference. Bauua means a child in colloquial Hindi, and the character is named thus since it is a 38-year-old dwarf from Meerut.
SRK VS KAMAL HASSAN
SRK’s Bauua will be inevitably compared with Kamal Hassan’s Appu in Singeetam Srinivasa Rao’s Apoorva Sagodharargal (1989), which was released in Hindi as Appu Raja. Hassan, a world-class method actor, had played three characters in the popular classic. He was seen as a cop who gets murdered, and also as his two sons. One of them grows up to become a mechanic, and the other is the dwarf who works as a clown in a circus. As Appu, Hassan’s body language, interaction with animals in the circus and reactions in emotionally powerful moments had left everybody impressed.
COMEDY OF ERRORS
Humankind is defined by its diversity. People are different because of their skin colour, spoken language, traditions and rituals. A short character, in other words, can be just like any other tall character of substance. The Indian film industry, by and large, hasn’t shown much interest in creating author-backed short characters.
Anupam Kher, another fine actor, had practised walking on his knees to perfect the gait of a dwarf who is Salman Khan’s uncle in Shirish Kunder’s garish debacle Jaan-E-Mann. While nobody could fault the chemistry between Khan and Kher, the latter’s character was a spoof on short height.
The viewer was told that his parents had named him Boney Kapoor, which was perhaps a dig at Anil Kapoor’s elder brother. His tall, muscular and dim-witted assistant mispronounces his name as Bauni (Bauna means a dwarf). This angers Boney. The assistant also talks about some ‘bauna-fide’ (meaning bona fide) certificate of one Mr Baunarjee (he means Banerjee) that Boney must sign. Such tasteless humour didn’t find appreciative audiences, which wasn’t such a bad thing.
THE PROBLEM, IN SHORT
A short character as a means of evoking laughter was seen in Indra Kumar's Aashiq (2001). Johnny Lever played a man of normal height who gets married to a taller and healthy woman. There is a sequence in which an inspector, who has lost his balance after being hit by a trolley, falls out of a building and lands on the woman’s head.
The woman’s height shrinks. She mutates into a dwarf. Lever’s character is heartbroken before history repeats itself. The inspector experiences a similar fall and lands on the man’s head. He becomes a dwarf, leading to marital compatibility.
WORK FOR SHORT ACTORS
Substantial dwarf characters regardless of who plays them are rare. However, Malayali actor-director Ajay Kumar, popularly known as Guinness Pakru, can make an interesting claim. Two feet six inches tall, Pakru had entered the Guinness World Records after becoming the shortest actor to play the main character in a full-length film, Athbhutha Dweepu.
The fantasy starred him as the dwarf prince of Vamanapura, a kingdom where men are doomed to be short while women are of normal height. Pakru has worked extensively in regional cinema and television, a big achievement in an industry that has little quality work for very short actors.
LESSON FROM HOLLYWOOD
Can Hollywood teach a thing or two about how characters suffering from dwarfism in romances or action films, or physically unusual characters for fantasies, can be written? It surely can, if our screenwriters are willing to learn them.
A fine instance of a successful short actor is Peter Dinklage, who has won a Golden Globe, three Primetime Emmys and a Screen Actors Guild Award for his performances. Dinklage has been seen in Living in Oblivion, Underdog, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, X Men: Days of Future Past and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. His characters can be a benchmark for our writers when they want to look around the stereotype.
THE INDIAN STEREOTYPE
The talented Lilliput, who made his debut in Ramesh Sippy’s Saagar, was seen as a trumpeter in a band in Shaad Ali’s Bunty Aur Babli. The character epitomizes the kind of work short actors can expect to find on the big screen.
Lilliput, who earned a name for himself by writing the children’s television series Indradhanush in the late 1980s and was also seen in the hilarious sitcom Dekh Bhai Bhai, has often his disappointment and also spoken of the industry’s disrespect for the short person.
There are others like KK Goswami, who played Gabroo in Vikraal Aur Gabraal and Dhenchu in CID. Goswami has been also seen in a few Hindi films. Juhi Aslam, who reached many homes with her performance in the soap opera Baba Aiso Varr Dhoondo, has found fairly steady work on television. What these actors do know is that the first big film role for them hasn’t been written as yet.
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Last Updated Dec 17, 2018, 4:39 PM IST