The films actors chose speak volumes about them. And in Bollywood this is perhaps the difference between trying and a successful career. At the beginning of his career Shah Rukh Khan held on to the marquee directors irrespective of the role. Consider Ramesh Sippy’s Zaamane Deewana (1995) or Mukul Anand’s Trimurti (1995). But at the same time he lapped up Darr (1993) and Baazigar (1993) without batting an eyelid. If at first he was the second choice for someone to play the role visualised with Aamir Khan or Salman Khan, he made it his own and in the process set the standard for playing the hero. In the same context, Hashmi has made himself the automatic and indispensable choice for a certain kind of character and honestly there’s no one who can play Emraan Hashmi better than Emraan Hashmi.
Leading up to his releases you’d find Hashmi talk about the film as if it were an important piece of art and how it contains all the elements necessitated by Bollywood and how in spite of being ‘same, same’ this new one would be different. But like Hashmi and his one-note acting, even his films generate just one kind of reaction and he rarely fails to deliver on that front. I can’t help but look forward to an Emraan Hashmi film. It’s not like I’m a fan of Hashmi’s talent, as a matter of fact I question it on most occasions, but I do find him interesting. More than Hashmi or even the film I enjoy the buzz that surrounds his films. A successful star in his own right, Hashmi is one of the few lucky ones whom everyone considers to be immensely talented and what makes him more intriguing is that no one seems to be get tired of his limited one-note acting talent but instead blame the limited opportunities that came Hashmi’s way.
There have been many actors in the past who have mastered being unvarying but none come close to the level that Hashmi has attained. For any actor to play the same character and play them good isn’t a compliment but for Hashmi everyone seems to make an exception. In most cases the only variation he brings to his characters is the level of loudness and yet, Hashmi’s fans, and he has more than a handful, seem to love him. Such is his magnetism that the audience comes alive the moment he swaggers on to the screen in Once Upon a Time in Mumbaii (2010). Beneath the infectious mannerism of a character based on the young Dawood Ibrahim, which is not only different but perhaps a shade better than that of Ajay Devgn’s Malik in Company (2002), is the same single-note actor who mouths his lines in the same manner as he does in every other film of his. No one seems to be bothered with the fact that Hashmi plays the same role and sometimes he’s so lackadaisical about it he even sounds the same like in The Dirty Picture (2011).
The bigger question here is whether Hashmi is incapable of doing something different or are the roles not coming his way? He has gone on record to say that he can’t play a ‘good guy’, which, to me, means that he isn’t open to experimenting. Of course, he can change his look to look more or less the same guy but that’s just about it. Hashmi’s first role in Vikaram Bhatt’s Footpath (2003) revealed to the world an actor who knew what it took to be fearless. He played Raghu, a typically nuanced Bambaiya character, and while there was little that Hashmi could bring to the table, he did stand out. But every subsequent performance of his is a page from the same book including Murder (2004), his second film and the one that established him as star in his own right. But Hashmi has shown that he can put in an effort when required. In Shanghai (2012), a film where he gets a chance to bite into something substantial for the first time, he played a character that is as different as the others he has portrayed as car models from different years.
I must confess that I thoroughly enjoyed Hashmi in Once Upon a Time in Mumbaii, a film where no character undergoes any transformation and everything remains the same. It’s impossible to beat Hashmi in such a scenario. For those who have seen Hashmi’s Footpath and Mahesh Bhatt’s Angaray (1998), a film that provided the former with the blueprint, can’t help but smile at the irony that the hugely ‘Emraan Hashmi’ model is pretty inspired by Irfan Kamal’s performance, who played a similar character in Angaaray. Sometimes the greatest music is created by that one-note struck pretty darn well.
Born a cinephile and a close observer of society, the author is an award-winning documentary filmmaker/writer. He is a regular contributor to leading Indian publications and is currently working on his first book. Find out more about him here.