Should an actor play second fiddle? Especially to a contemporary? For actors, deciding to play the second lead is a tough call as it could prove a risky proposition. But recent examples in Bollywood show that the risk sometimes pays off, resulting in greater glory.
"Gulaab Gang", "Queen", "Raanjhanaa" and "Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani" Â– saw actresses Juhi Chawla, Lisa Haydon, Swara Bhaskar and Kalki Koechlin playing the second fiddle with aplomb.
In "Gulaab Gang", audiences are appreciating Juhi's diabolic avatar as much as they are lauding lead actress Madhuri Dixit for playing the feisty head of a women's group.
Paradoxically, Juhi had turned down a role in "Dil To Pagal Hai" as she felt she should be in the same league with her arch rival Madhuri, who played the lead in the triangular love story that enjoyed record-breaking success at the box office in 1997.
But with time, Juhi's mindset changed.
Therefore, when a similar offer came her way in the form of "Gulaab Gang", she grabbed it and is now reaping the rich dividends.
The idea of playing second lead may not be appealing, but one shouldn't be prejudiced while making a decision. It's like a gamble, which can turn into a phenomenon.
Remember how Amitabh Bachchan played second fiddle to Rajesh Khanna in medical drama "Anand"? The film changed the course of Amitabh's career Â– which, at that point, comprised a dozen damp squibs Â– and catapulted him into the big league and eventually turned him into the industry's next superstar - after Rajesh Khanna.
Another living proof is Manoj Bajpayee. The actor witnessed overnight stardom with the release of 1998 crime thriller "Satya". Director Ram Gopal Varma had pitted Manoj, then a newcomer, against the film's lead actor D. Chakravarthy in a negative role, but the former hogged all the limelight for playing Bhiku Mhatre with aplomb, thus casting a shadow over the male lead.
Today, Manoj has carved a niche for himself as one of the most versatile actors in filmdom.
Having said that, actors are often seen buckling under less important second fiddle baggage, and losing out on meaty roles because they somehow get typecast.
So it's not about whether it is a lead role or second lead. The moot point is whether the role is relevant to the script.
One can't deny that people often come to theatres in hordes to watch big stars like Salman Khan or Hrithik Roshan or Deepika Padukone, but when the story unfolds in front of them, the way other actors' characters are placed in the plot and how honestly they essay it, decides their fate.
"Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani" was promoted as a Deepika-Ranbir Kapoor film, and even though they both did well, when the viewers actually saw the film, Kalki's well-etched role and her performance wowed everyone. She was appreciated as much as her co-star Deepika.
Swara too stole the show in "Raanjhanaa", while Lisa impressed in "Queen" despite the presence of talented and versatile Kangana Ranaut in the lead.
Examples there are a-plenty, and one can go on and on about them. But it's heartening to watch cinema evolve to accommodate more versatility and create space for everyone to showcase their talent and find their place in the sun.
Being popular should not stop actors from choosing to play second fiddle. Don't flinch from such roles; rather, grab them!
((13.03.2014 - Arpana is Cinema Editor at IANS. The views expressed are personal. She can be reached at email@example.com)