From Irrfan to Nawazuddin: Actors blur the lines of commercial cinema..

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He is best known for his offbeat, unconventional roles, but last year, Nawazuddin Siddiqui surprised the audience by appearing in the out-and-out commercial film, Kick. Now, he will be seen in another such movie, Badlapur, alongside Varun Dhawan.

Nawazuddin isn’t alone. Other acclaimed performers like Manoj Bajpayee, Irrfan Khan and Kay Kay Menon are also successfully juggling niche and mass-oriented cinema.

Manoj recently played the archetypal Bollywood villain in Tevar, while Kay Kay will soon follow up his performance in Haider (2014) with Baby. Irrfan, too, is set to appear in two films with Deepika Padukone and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan respectively.

"During casting, we (film-makers) can go either the conventional or the unconventional way. It was a decision I made, knowing that going with someone like Irrfan will be beneficial. He is a powerhouse performer, and it (his casting) works for me commercially too," says film-maker Sanjay Gupta, who is directing Irrfan in his film with Aishwarya.

Meanwhile, the actors refuse to see mainstream films differently. "I don’t consider anyone a commercial star or an arty actor," Irrfan told HT Café earlier. He added, "They (his ‘commercial’ co-stars) are all well-established personalities. Deepika’s (film) choices are very interesting. And I have watched many of Ash’s films and I feel she has been tremendous in all of them."

Nawazuddin adds that even his approach to roles — whether in commercial or niche films — is more or less the same. "If an actor starts thinking that he is making some kind of a compromise, then it would be wrong. For the audiences, it was Kick (a mass entertainer), but for me, it’s as important as any other character. So, both are equal tasks for me," he says.

While these actors have all done commercial films intermittently so far, they are opening up to such scripts more regularly now. Trade analyst Komal Nahta explains the trend, saying, "Unlike in the ’70s and ’80s, the lines between commercial and art house cinema have blurred. Now, we have more of the middle-of-the-road kind of cinema. So, when you cast a so-called offbeat actor alongside a star, it’s beneficial for makers, because that way, they can attract both kinds of audiences."

The poster woman of art-house cinema, Smita Patil, tried her hand at commercial cinema with films such as Namak Halaal and Shakti (both 1982).

Alongside her powerhouse performances in films like Ankur (1974), Shabana Azmi also straddled the commercial world with ventures like Amar Akbar Anthony and Parvarish (both 1977).

One of the most talented actors in Hindi cinema, Naseeruddin Shah also has several multi-starrers and commercial potboilers like Ghulami (1985), Tridev (1989) and Vishwatma (1992) to his name.

Known for his terrific outing in Ardh Satya (1983), Om Puri has also done mass entertainers like Chachi 420 (1997), Hera Pheri (2000), Malamaal Weekly (2006) and Don (2006).