“Everything is there. Find it. Dig it up. ” is one of the lines performed by Harman Baweja as JCP Harshvardhan Shroff in the Netflix series Scoop (2023). The 42-year-old actor, who started as a hero and then disappeared, dug deep to rediscover his acting skills in the 2023 crime drama. It won praise from critics and Anurag Kashyap, who called his performance a “breakout”.
Film media loves a comeback. They will attract anyone who has been away for a few years and decided to come back. Some artists find it annoying — and certainly no one should work all the time. Others are taking advantage of streaming network opportunities and shining in ways they couldn’t before.
In Gulmohar (2023), Sharmila Tagore, who admitted to having an affair with a woman, surprised the audience as a matriarch. Chandrachur Singh played Sushmita Sen’s husband Tej Zareen in the crime thriller Arya (2020-). Bhagyashree has played supporting roles in Thalaivi (2021) and Radhe Shyam (2022). See how the journey back was.
Last Big Role: Dishkiun (2014). Returned with: The Scoop (2023)
With film director Harry Baveja and producer Pammi Baveja for parents, it was easy for Harman Baveja to stay behind the scenes. But he wanted to act and made his debut in the bombed Love Story 2050 (2008). It took Baveja 15 years to perfect his role as dashing cop JCP Shroff in Scoop.
Hansal Mehta, director of Scoop, forced him, says Baweja. “I told him I wasn’t in space. I agreed to an audition because I didn’t want them to be stuck on set with me without patting them on the forehead for choosing me in the first place,” he says. Baweja admitted to being nervous about his performance. “It was far from any role I had played before. “The focus was not on being memorable,” he says.
Baweja’s return received a lukewarm reception. Many viewers did not recognize him. His sister’s friend had to Google it to believe it, he says. “People were congratulating me during my father’s 70th birthday celebrations,” recalls Baweja. “That was the perfect gift for him.”
Looking old didn’t bother him. “I have to be true to myself and the character I’m playing,” says Baweja. He knew to “come back” because it didn’t work the first time. This time. He’s not stuck playing a romantic lead. “It allows the actors to explore the craft and enable nuanced performances,” Baweja says.
The long wait made him patient with new roles. “I’ve been hanging around for a decade, and I don’t mind waiting any longer to see what’s next.”
Last Big Role: Break K Bad (2010). Returned with: Gulmohar (2023)
Sharmila Tagore, 78, doesn’t like her performance in Gulmohar (2023) being called a comeback. “I was looking for a character that was different, that spoke to me. Something age-appropriate, not the stereotypical mother/bhabhi,” she says. In the film Praathi… Family Comes First (2005), she graced the role of Sumitra, a mother forced to reexamine her faith in humanity after the murder of her only son. She finds that Gulmohar’s storyline reflects contemporary concerns but also addresses a timeless theme: family property and multigenerational family relationships. Her character also reveals that she is having an affair with a woman.
Tagore’s story is famous. She made her acting debut at the age of 14 in Satyajit Ray’s Apoor Sansar (1959) and made her Hindi debut in Kashmir Ki Kali (1964). She married Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, had children and took frequent breaks from acting. After her husband’s death in 2011, Tagore took over her husband’s responsibilities, overseeing the family trust, which provided support to acid attack survivors and victims of domestic violence. There was no time to think about anything else.
“There comes a time when everything finally settles, and one wonders: Why can’t I do what I want to do?” she says. New roles written for older women were also a draw. “I love how professional the setup is,” she says. “Earlier, every actor except Amitabh Bachchan and Shashi Kapoor used to come late and everyone on the set was waiting for them. The set is very quiet, with no unnecessary conversations or loud instructions, thanks to the walkie-talkies and mics.
The filming process is also more democratic now, with actors having the freedom to improvise. There is respect and harmony between the cast and crew, she observes. Only one aspect of the shoot overwhelmed her. “Earlier, to start, someone would say, “Sound, camera, action”. This was our cue. Today, there are many more steps: “Sound start, camera. Then someone says something from a distance, then much later, action. Not knowing all the steps, until the time comes. Earlier I started talking,” says Tagore with a laugh.
But the return is rewarding. “It felt amazing to me, it was like meeting an old, very dear friend,” says Tagore, who is currently looking forward to his next film, Outhouse, and is also working on a Bengali film about old age and its challenges. I no longer want to be a part of star-driven films,” she adds. “I want my projects to be story-driven, where the director is in control.”
Last Big Role: Prem Mayee (2012). Returned with: Arya (2020)
Although he has been in the industry since 1990, 55-year-old actor Chandrachur Singh became a household name in 1996 with Matches. Josh followed in 2000. That’s it. Until signing on to Disney+Hotstar in 2020 to watch Sushmita Sen in Arya, Chandrachur Singh had surprised her husband by playing her in a pivotal role and killing it.
Singh’s long hiatus was to focus on his son Sharanjai, who he raised as a single father in Gurugram. “I had offers, but they weren’t projects I wanted to do,” he says. “I was also not in Mumbai at the time, so I didn’t regret saying no.” But after his son joined a residential school at the age of 13 in 2020, Singh started contemplating a comeback. He says he was not interested in TV but could not pass up the opportunity to work with Ram Madhvani.
He says Arya’s performance is unforgettable. “I went with my gut and I have no regrets,” says Singh, whose Arya was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series. But he felt a little anxious. “Everybody feels anxious if one goes out of it for a while. But one needs that little edgeness to work. One has to be inspired,” says Singh.
It was Madhwani’s style of work that eased the pressure. “The crew had workshops that acted as ice breakers and gave room for spontaneity,” says Singh, who was more familiar with the “come on set, give your lines, go” structure of the 1990s.
He credits the streaming format for liberating actors. “In the ’90s and early 2000s, one had to fit into a category: an action, romantic or comedy hero. If an actor did something out of the box, people found it difficult to accept the role. Also, other actors didn’t get that much respect,” recalls Singh. “Now. With streaming networks, having nine episodes instead of two-hour movies gives characters longevity.” And, there are more characters whose story can’t be carried forward. Singh is now one of them.
Last Big Role: Laut Ao Trisha (2014). Returned with: Thalaivi (2021) and Radhe Shyam (2022)
30 years ago, the actress Bhagyashree became a star with the superhit Mene Pyaar Kiya (1989). Soon after, she disappeared from the limelight to raise her children (Abhimanyu Dassani, 33 and Avantika Dassani, 28) and sought smaller roles that allowed her some flexibility and freedom to bring her daughter on set. Most of these opportunities are in South Indian industries as they are relatively more professional and punctual and wrap up production faster.
But in 2021, she scrapped her roles in AL Vijay’s Thalaivi (2021) and Radhakrishna Kumar’s Radhe Shyam (2022). “I was nervous on the set, but the crew gave me such a warm welcome,” says the 54-year-old actor. “It took me a long time to become a hands-on mom. I also had a health problem and an incident in the family,” says Bhagyashree.
The actor says that he was lucky to be able to act in the superhit film Mene Pyaar Kiya. It opens more doors and allows her to show how much she can do today. A lot has changed in the industry, she finds. “Earlier, films had a lot of speeches. Today, that doesn’t happen because there’s a lot to convey in a short amount of time. Also, the editing is very tight,” she says. Bhagyashree is currently working on a Netflix movie and both are looking forward to starring in a web series to be announced soon.
Moreover, she is no longer just a beautiful lover. There are meatier roles. “Being able to connect with the next generation keeps one young. But honestly, it’s not about a comeback. There should be harmony and dedication to the art form. One must love art.”
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15th July 2023 from HT Brunch
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