<b>ScreenSavour:</b> Same, Same but different
Decades ago as a kid when I had gone to see the popular romantic comedy, Roman Holiday, for the first time at a theatre in Kolkata, I was startled by the presence of Dev Anand on the screen; the elderly uncle who accompanied me, explained that this was actually Gregory Peck, and Dev Anand had styled himself on the Hollywood star.
The resemblance was striking; Peck indeed looked like a young Anand, sans the mannerisms that earned Anand the epithet of “evergreen” and left women swooning through several decades. My interest in Peck persisted. Stretching my curiosity, I gradually found out that it was not only Anand, but several other Indian actors who drew their inspiration from stars from Hollywood. Raj Kapoor’s impersonation of Charlie Chaplin was obvious to the point where his exaggerated style, laden with sentimentalism, sometimes became overbearing. His brother Shammi Kapoor who was known for his dance movements as he serenaded curvy heroines, styled himself on the singing star Elvis Presley (1935-1977), but frankly, looking back, Kapoor lacked the grace, style and craft of Elvis the Pelvis.
Kishore Kumar who made a name for himself in the ’50s and ’60s as a singing star acknowledged Danny Kaye as his influence. Kaye (1911-1987) was an American actor, singer, dancer and comedian. His performances featured “physical comedy, idiosyncratic pantomimes and rapid-fire nonsense songs” — exactly the same features that still endear Kumar to all of us. In fact, Kumar’s unique yodelling style was a direct derivative of Kaye.
Dilip Kumar who stood way above his contemporaries in the acting department and brought a nuanced style to his performances that came to be known as “underacting” was known to have styled himself on Marlon Brando (1924-2004) — that dynamic powerhouse of intense acting that was shorn of any overt drama. But during the early stages of his career, according to critics, it was Paul Muni (1895-1967) whom Dilip Kumar copied. Muni was known for the intense preparation for his parts, often immersing himself in study of the real character's traits and mannerisms.

Strange as it might sound, Jeetendra — the Jumping Jack as he was popularly known in the industry for his dancing skills since Farz (1967), took his inspiration from a Pakistani actor — the legendary Waheed Murad (1938-1983). Known as the “chocolate hero”, Murad is considered as one of the most famous and influential actors of South Asia. Jeetendra bore a striking similarity to the Pakistani actor and even copied his hairstyle. In one of his interviews, Murad had acknowledged Presley as his influence, so we know the continuity.
Amitabh Bachchan’s performance as the angry young man in the ’70s and the ’80s carries shades of Al Pacino’s raw intensity and style; in fact, Bachchan’s famous hairstyle that concealed his ears with long and extended sideburns was copied directly from Al Pacino.
Uttam Kumar, the famous Bengali star who died in the late ’70s drew his mannerism and sophistication, including his hairstyle from the legendary Italian actor Marcello Mastroianni (1924-1996). Uttam, like Dilip Kumar perfected the art of underacting at a time when melodrama dominated Indian acting styles, raising his films several notches.
In recent times, it is Aamir Khan who modelled himself on Tom Hanks, delivering some memorable performances since the past two decades.
Amongst the heroines though, we don’t find any visible influences from the west. One major reason for this could be that while Indian heroes had the liberty to flirt with western values — and styles —without sacrificing their traditional values, they liked their women to be modelled on their mothers, stereotyped in traditional attire, looks and manners that required them to be epitomes of virtue, unlike their western counterparts.
(Ranjan Das is a Mumbai-based filmmaker, instructor and writer)
Ranjan Das