Good actors as good people.


Byline: Jawed Naqvi

IRRFAN Khan has been praised, deservedly if tardily, for his enormous acting talents after the movie star's unscripted fall to cancer last week. Praise has been showered also on Rishi Kapoor, who died a day after Irrfan just as suddenly, for his remarkable ease before the camera.

While their approaches to the cinema were very different, neither would be a good actor had they not been agreeable men in the first place. Take any actor you like. Touch their heart. If there's no humanism pulsating in it, they are probably not great actors. The Indian People's Theatre Association comprised men and women who knit India's diverse cultures into an expansive and colourful fabric. The songs that Sahir, Majrooh or Shailendra penned were rooted in strong support of India's poor but they reached out to the toil and pain of the larger world too. Ismat Chughtai and Amrita Pritam procured front seats in the enterprise for creative women.

Charlton Heston and Marlon Brando make handy comparison. Heston earned fame and fortune with a messianic role in the1956 magnum opus, The Ten Commandments. Writing in The New York Times when the film was re-released for a brief run 30 years later, film critic Vincent Canby, however, called it 'a gaudy, grandiloquent Hollywood classic' and likened Heston's Moses to little more than 'the rugged American frontiersman'. A committed right-winger, Heston died in harness as the spokesman for America's revanchist National Rifle Association. He was a popular actor, but not a great talent in the craft. Brando, on the other hand, is revered for his peerless performances and for his activism against white racism and the abuse of Native Americans.

Take any actor you like. Touch their heart. If there's no humanism pulsating in it, they are probably not great actors.

Kirk Douglas had little personal rapport with Brando but ideologically they were on the same humanist page. It was Douglas who rescued leftist writer Dalton Trumbo from forced anonymity after vicious McCarthyism had pushed him to write under a different name. Trumbo got his credit line back as writer with Spartacus, the story of a popular slave revolt in ancient Rome. Former American communist party chief Howard Fast wrote the novel which Douglas turned into an all-time classic.

The more established talent in Hollywood can thus be divined from its caring and liberal moorings, and this isn't too different elsewhere, including South Asia. One knows from...

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