Real-reel face off

Why do Bollywood's biggest names not want to look like themselves?

Other than the fact that there's something endearing about Naseeruddin Shah, even when he plays, by his own admission, a lusty old goat, the thing that makes you click 'replay' on The Dirty Picture trailer link on YouTube, is actress Vidya Balan's makeover.

Vidya Balan puts on kilos and pulls off clothes in Milan Luthria's
The Dirty Picture, while a moustache-sporting Shahid Kapoor grows up in
Mausam. Imaging/Satish Acharya

Balan is not your average glamorous heroine. She has a knack of getting her wardrobe, on screen and off it, wrong, and has had some trouble carrying off western outfits in the past. That was until she discovered Kolkata's decadent designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee, who draped her in mulmul sarees and three-fourth sleeve retro blouses, coin-sized tikas and jhumkas to add, making her the quintessential classic Indian beauty.

For the Milan Luthria-directed The Dirty Picture, an Ekta Kapoor production slated for a December 2 release, Balan was convinced to put on a few kilos and drop the handspun pallu in favour of nylon polka-dotted, front-knotted blouses that left little to the imagination. Costume director Nikarika Khan's  reference was the late South Indian sex siren Silk Smitha (on whose life the film is based) and a bevy of Chennai item girls.

Ranbir Kapoor
Plays Jordan in Rockstar
Highlights: Shoulder-length hair, drawn cheeks, stubble and head
wrapped in a scarf. Grunge is the word

"Vidya has this image of being pure. For her to say, 'Do what you want to. I trust you,' is unbelievable. There is a scene in the film where I have got her to slit open her blouse right down to her stomach," says Khan, who played a key role in freezing Balan's look.

Shah Rukh Khan
Plays Don in Don 2
Highlights: Matted locks worn in a ponytail, stubble and moustache,
'D' tattoo on forearm

And there's something convincing about the actress, as she heaves her floral choli lined-bosom in Naseeruddin Shah's face to the beat of Ooh la la ooh la la, tu hai meri fantasy, while lemons rush down a hill behind her. 

This isn't the story of Balan, and her conviction, alone. In a complete turnover of attitude, the Hindi film industry's most successful stars are edging away from safe territory while picking challenging roles that are not often pristine, transforming their appearance in a bid to get under their character's skin.

Shah Rukh Khan
Plays superhero G.One in RA.One
Highlights: Spiked hair, clean shaven-elastic make-up,
rubber superhero suit

Everyone's favourite little boy Shahid Kapoor grows up in next week's release, Mausam, while playing Virendra Singh, an Air Force pilot, with a crisp moustache and a smart crew cut. Sanjay Dutt has run a razor over his head, shedding his blonde locks for a clean pate as Kancha Cheena, the villain in Karan Johar's remake of the 1990 film starring Amitabh Bachchan, Agneepath.

Recent trailers finally revealed Ranbir Kapoor's grungy, stubbled look as Jordan in Imtiaz Ali's Rockstar, while John Abraham took the six-pack trend to another level in Force, with producer Vipul Shah calling him "96 kilos of pure muscle".

Sanjay Dutt
Plays Kancha Cheena in Agneepath
Highlights: Bald head, silver piercing, tattooed arms

Kunal Kohli's untitled project starring Priyanka Chopra and Shahid Kapoor brings back the retro look rooted in the 1960s, and it is just one of the three looks in the film that's said to span three eras.

Both of superstar Shah Rukh Khan's forthcoming releases, Don 2 and RA.One, required that he look un-SRK like. While he grew his hair long to tie it into a dishevelled ponytail in Don 2, as RA.One's superhero G.One, he sports blue lenses to match his ink blue rubber suit. King Khan says, "At five kilos, the costume was not heavy but thick. It was hot inside and difficult to put on. I desisted from drinking too much water or eating because I didn't want to go to the bathroom. I could not eat or drink too much. In fact, I could not breathe too well."

Shilpa Shetty
Plays Gautami in The Desire
Highlights: Bald head, minimal make-up

And it's not just the wonders of make-up artists at work here. Some actors are taking the trouble to make it as real as it can get. After showing off six-pack abs in Murder 2, actor Emraan Hashmi packed in fatty foods and starch to grow a paunch for Dibakar Banerjee's Shanghai.

"I put on some weight to make it look authentic," he says. Glamour doll Shilpa Shetty, who is as proud of her tousled mane as she is of her surfboard tummy, went through a four-hour prosthetic routine everyday for the climax of The Desire, a film produced by her mother Sunanda Shetty.

"Audiences have to see the effort. If they see the same old Shilpa Shetty in every film, they will be bored," she admits with utmost candour. 

The look speaks like dialogue
For Imtiaz Ali, whose Rockstar sees Kapoor's character, Jordan traverse seven years marked by various hairstyles ranging from a nerdy, oiled back short crop to locks held in place under a shemagh, it's about letting the look speak as much as the dialogues.

"We are making a comment through a character's look and style. And by style, I don't mean making someone look good. It's about sticking to character, visually. Films are trying to make characters look like real people," he explains.

For Rockstar, Kapoor has dumped his cool chocolate boy look. "Ranbir wanted to look attractive. I wanted him to look like a regular guy, and even feel like one. Looking good was never his concern; not looking good often worried him," says Ali.

Ra.One director Anubhav Sinha agrees. According to him, the trend stretches back to a decade, with successful actors taking the risk to venture close to their characters. "And the good news is that they have been accepted," he says.

Sinha created two distinct looks for actor-producer Shah Rukh Khan -- a curly haired computer geek, and the blue rubber-suit sporting superhero, G.One. "The look in Ra.One is central to the narrative," he says.

Kunal Kohli sees this as a going back to the basics. He cites the example of veteran actress Nutan opting for a deglamourised look in the award-winning Sujata (1959) and Amjad Khan choosing to wear military fatigues, a clear departure from conventional dhoti-clad dacoits, in his portrayal of iconic villain Gabbar Singh. "For a short period (in Hindi cinema), we didn't concentrate on the look. Now, the look of every film is as important as its dialogues," says Kohli.

In an age where a multitude of films and other media vie for audience attention, packaging is as crucial as the product. And filmmakers realise that.

"The story still remains most important, but what sells the story is the packaging. The 'look' of the character is an important aspect of that," says Vipul Shah. It's not surprising then that the producer briefed his actor John Abraham to get into super-muscular shape for his next production, Force, in which the actor plays a cop, ACP Yashwardhan. Abraham, who is otherwise in six-pack shape anyway, underwent an eight-month long rigorous fitness and diet regime to acquire the look.

"I was on a three-day fast, without water and sugar, to retain the look for a Force photoshoot," Abraham says.

Trust in me
What's driving the current trend is the willingness of successful stars to surrender to the vision of the director-costume designer team.

"I've always loved my curves, and my curves love Silk (Smitha)! Silk was made to give Indian men sleepless nights. She doesn't leave much to the imagination. She reflects every woman's wild side, and yet she's soft at heart. She is spunky, she can shock you with a straight face. I'm beginning to feel a little like her myself..." says Balan of the iconic actress, who was found dead in her Chennai flat in 1996.

Shahid Kapoor wasn't as confident about his makeover, though. "I told my father, 'moustache toh purane hero rakhte the' (moustache was worn by heroes of yore).' But he explained that almost every Air Force officer sported a moustache," recalls the actor about Mausam, his father Pankaj Kapoor's first directorial venture.

"Shahid was extremely focused on getting his look perfect. It's not only the moustache; his physique changes to match the various stages of his life," says the director.

Labour, it is
And like with all good things, acquiring the right look is laborious. It's a team effort that often involves laborious sessions between the costume designer, make-up artistes, actor and director. Research is often followed by look tests that work like trial runs.

"I didn't research any one actress. We tried to capture the flavour of the '80s.  We studied a lot of Hindi and South Indian films, observing Zeenat Aman's dresses and Helen's cabaret numbers. Vidya took me shopping in Matunga. She is a South Indian and knows where to go and pick up what," says Niharika Khan about The Dirty Picture wardrobe that's characterised by nylon blouses, loud prints, yellow-tinted sunglasses and chunky jewellery.

Ali too went shopping with Kapoor, and speaks of the actor picking up a badly fitted pair of pants from a roadside stall in New Delhi's Palika Bazaar. "I think it helped him get into the space the character was in. The clothes made a difference by helping him get into what the character experienced."

While researching for Kohli's film, Priyanka Chopra spoke to actresses who dominated the 1960s in Hindi cinema, including Saira Banu and Asha Parekh.

"I showed Shahid footage of how Shammi Kapoor, Dev Anand and Dilip Kumar dressed. Most of them used to shop abroad. We came across a Parsi lady who used to operate from a shop outside Taj Mahal hotel, and create Western dresses for top heroines of the time. It was a discovery," says Kohli.

How to keep a secret
The look that the audience can expect to be bombarded with once a film's publicity campaign is out, is one of the most closely guarded secrets while production is on.

On the sets of Agneepath, security was doubled after pictures of Hrithik Roshan shooting the dahi handi scene with co-star Priyanka Chopra were leaked in the press. Ekta Kapoor wielded the whip and banned cell phones on the sets of The Dirty Picture to make sure Balan's character garnered curiosity.

While Shah Rukh's look in Ra.One has long been revealed, the villain's look, played by Arjun Rampal, is still under wraps. Director Sinha says, "Arjun's look is a surprise, and a surprise isn't the first thing you throw at the audience. With the gadgets available these days, it was tough to keep the look a secret."

While shooting for Force, Abraham is said to have opted for long-sleeved shirts and tees to keep his physique under cover. "Whatever you do, things will get out. The minute Priyanka stepped out of her make-up van at Mehboob Studios, she was clicked. You can't help it. You just hope it doesn't spoil the fun and instead ups the intrigue value," says Kohli.

With inputs from Tina Krishnan and Pooja Thanawala, Bollywood News Service

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