Once upon a time, there lived a frog in a well; he thought that all was well, and that the well was the best. He wallowed to his heart's content, until he met a turtle who told him about the Indian Ocean.
I can't help feeling most of our film-critics and fans are sorta like the frog in the well. Any semblance of competence is immediately hailed with the highest order of praise; mediocrity is seldom recognized for what it is, and I'd better not get started on our many incompetent actors.
Look at Amitabh Bachchan, for instance. He is the biggest superstar the country has ever seen (at least in terms of longetivity, if nothing else). He is also an awesome entertainer, as KANK proves yet again. However, he - fairly or unfairly - receives rave reviews for whatever he does - TV shows, dumb movies such as 'Waqt', and even dumber ads (the new Dairy Milk ad is one of the dumbest I have ever seen). However, try to list out some world-class performances from him - and you have zilch. None of his performances - not even ONE - can hold a candle to the ones that great actors like Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Marlon Brando, Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri, Mohan Lal and Kamal Hassan have delivered in abundance. And before you object, 'Black' was definitely not world-class; it was merely an overhyped, over-praised effort by the Big B to reach the acting heights he once used to easily surpass ('Milee', 'Abhimaan' etc). Where a little subtlety would have gone a long way, Bachchan tragically sought to overact.
Let's look at another superstar: SRK. His performance in 'Swades' was much-praised. Pray, what exactly did he do in that movie that was so great? For one of the few times, in a career spanning more than 10 years, Khan was not himself (ok, to be fair, he was more than that; he was definitely competent). Does that define a great performance? Of the other two Khans, one cannot act if his life depended upon it, and the other Khan has somehow (admirably) resisted Bollywood's tendency to destroy what little talent one has (Bachchan and SRK are prime examples).
Mind you, this is not an attack on superstars; if so, I'd have attacked the other great superstar of our times: Rajnikant. However, Rajni at least makes no pretension about his acting skills. He's made up his mind to give his fans a rollicking time in the aisles, and he does exactly that - admittedly with a lot less sophestication than the Bachchans and the Khans, but with a lot more success. And I'm no big fan of Rajni myself: I thought that 'Chandramukhi' was a poorly directed, and even more poorly-enacted miserable rehash of what was originally a terrific premise.
Some of the actors (and not stars) I do admire, and whose movies I look forward to, are:
Kamal Hassan: One has to admit, this guy has guts. Despite several heart-wrenching box-office failures (I still can't believe that 'Anbae Sivam' flopped so badly), the guy keeps on ticking. And once a year, he comes out with some path-breaking cinema as well. He is getting to old to continue with his on-screen antics, though. Judging by his latest movies, there is a terrific screenplay-writer and director lurking in him, that soon ough to outrace the actor in him.
Naseeruddin Shah & Om Puri: After a terrific performance in last year's 'Iqbal', Naseer popped up in 'Krissh' in a wierdo act that was almost painful to watch. As somebody remarked elsewhere (I forgot who), they ought to pay this guy some money every year so that he doesn't have to do crap like this for monetary reasons. Om Puri isn't as selective as Naseer - he appears in a lot of crappy stuff. But whenever Om chooses to do a 'Bollywood Calling' or a 'Dhoop', one realizes what a terrific actor he really is.
Mohan Lal, who seems to have got his act back together. For the last 5 years, the guy had been doing ONLY C-grade moustache-twirling-rowdy movies. After several flops, he seems to have come to his senses. And o-boy! - 'Thanmatra' was some comeback alright!
Aamir Khan, who seems to have made up his mind to do some sensible cinema. Despite the occasional Fanaa, this actor is - for the most part - dependable.
Kareena Kapoor & Rani Mukherjee: I have maintained from the onset that Kareena can act, despite snide comments from all and sundry (my mom can't stand her). 'Chameli', 'Dev' and now 'Omkara' continue to prove me right. Rani, on the other hand, has been terrific right from her 'Rani Ki Aayegi Baraat' days, and I have always liked her infectiousness (yes, even during her Govinda-days). Hopefully, she will continue to straddle the 'Black's with the 'KANK's.
Atul Kulkarni & Manoj Bajpai: Kulkarni outshone even Kamal Hassan in 'Hey Ram' - he just dominated all the scenes he was in. And hey, am I the only one who thinks Kulkarni's fiery rendition of 'Sarfaroshi ki Tamanha' was the best scene in RDB? Bajpai, on the other hand, seems to be going nowhere. After fiery performances in 'Satya', 'Shool' and 'Kaun' - all from the RGV camp, mind you - the actor seems to have lost his touch. But there's no doubting the man's versitality.
Vikram, who spent years acting as Mammootty's driver-cum-assistant (the poor chap was picked solely to dance! Vikram must be thanking his stars that Mammootty has two left legs) before graduating right to the front of the class with Bala's 'Sethu'. Ever since, he has never looked back. Today, he is one of the few actors to successfully straddle meaningful cinema with the run-of-the-mill stuff - who else could carry off the dark 'Pithamagan' (which is one of the finest Indian movies I have seen) with the same panache as the over-the-top, flamboyant 'Anniyan'? Btw, Vikram's colleague and co-actor in 'Pithamagan' is no mean actor himself.
Konkona Sen, who is JUST AWESOME. So far, she hasn't put a single step wrong in any of her performances - be it as the rustic UP wife in 'Omkara', the South Indian housewife in 'Mr & Mrs Iyer' or the schizhophenic child-woman in '15 Park Avenue'. And on top of it, she's barely 8 movies old. In fact, let me stick my neck out here and say that she just might prove to be the best actor in this list - there, I have done it!
Of course, there are a whole lot of other great actors out there: Paresh Rawal, Mammootty and Shabana Azmi, just to name a few. However, the actors in them seem to be on vacation! Rawal seems to be content fooling around perpetually, Mammootty seems to have gone crazy (what else do you call a 57-year old triple National Award winner who is perpetually dancing - or rather, trying to - dance - with girls barely past 20?) and Azmi has been content for far too long playing the same role over and over again. Of course, they are all great actors, and just might bounce back!!