New actors
Power-packed last names, glitzy launches, gushing PR—they have none of that. But you always remember the character they played. In star-sodden Bollywood, they raise the bar of acting. Bringing you the pack of new actors the industry can't stop talking about


Instant Recall: Mamdu, a Muslim shopkeeper who worships Hanuman, in Delhi-6, Saif's sidekick in Omkara
Deepak's Story So Far: We loved him first as Dolly's almost-dulha, Rajjo, who was foil to Saif Ali Khan's evil in Omkara. But this year, in three back-to-back releases, Deepak Dobriyal has shown that few can match him in range. In Delhi-6, he breaks your heart as a shopkeeper attached to a goat; in Gulaal, he keeps you riveted as Kay Kay Menon's right-hand man Bhati while in 13 B, he blows you away as Ashok, the mentally-challenged murder suspect. It won't be wrong to call Deepak as THE character specialist in movies that believe in telling it like it is. It's a distinction he relishes.
"The compliment I can't get enough of is when people fail to recognise me. I don't want to get trapped in any image except maybe the image where my audience feels that whatever he does, he'll do it well," says the 34-year-old.
Originally from Garhwal, Dobriyal grew up in Delhi where he worked with theatre guru Arvind Gaur. He arrived in Mumbai in 2001 and ended up doing bit roles in films like Dil Hai Tumhara, Samay and Charas. He also played a servant in the Balaji soap Koi Apna Sa. He thought he got a big break in Maqbool where he was Pankaj Kapur's bodyguard. When the film came out, it had Dobriyal only guarding Kapur with not even a single dialogue. But something about him impressed Kapur who recommended him for Rajjo's role in Omkara. Quiz him on how life has changed after that Vishal Bharadwaj hit and he replies, "Pre-Omkara I was a last option for casting. When they could not get anyone, they would call me but now directors develop roles keeping me in mind. Rakeysh Mehra told me that my pictures were already on his softboard as Mamdu for Delhi- 6. That's a thrill for any actor."
He continues his experimental mode with the Kundan Shah-directed silent 10-minute short Hero in Mumbai Cutting. There's also a lead role in Daayen Ya Baanye. Any dream roles? "I'd love to act in a biopic on the hockey great Major Dhyan Chand. It'll be nice to live with a role for six months, to prepare it so well that you become the character," he says. Anybody listening?

Wish-list: Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, Jim Carrey in The Mask and Samuel L Jackson in Pulp Fiction.
Industry Verdict: "Whenever I see Deepak in a film, I feel such joy. He's a true artist," says Vishal Bharadwaj.


Instant Recall: The irrepressible Dolly who played Neetu Chandra's sister in Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!
Richa's Story So Far: You have to be a really good actress to make a director run away from you because he thinks you are as crass as the character you played on screen. It happened with Richa Chadda when she bumped into Bheja Fry director Sagar Bellary. "He was very aloof with me because he thought like Dolly, I was totally obnoxious and would not even know how to converse in English. I took that as a huge compliment," says the history honours student from St Stephen's College, Delhi with a laugh.
The 23-year-old Delhi girl started her acting journey as a tomato. Er, you read that right. That was her role in her school play where she had to dance to a jingle with lines like, 'tamatar bade mazedar.' She enrolled in Barry John's acting class in Delhi and came out with a B grade in acting. Not happy with the grade, she decided to join the same course again in Mumbai. "I wanted an A. So I did just that and topped my diploma class," she says.
A casting director spotted her in John's play Baghdad Ka Ghulam which led to an audition with Dibakar Banerjee for Oye Lucky . "It was a weird audition. Dibakar wanted me to act like a 15-year-old boy who was with the young Abhay in the first half. I didn't know what was happening," she says. The famous seduction scene also has an interesting back-story. Richa, who was down with fever, kept passing out between shots. That's when co-star Abhay Deol suggested she take a shot of brandy. "I kept on sipping brandy between shots. It was a surreal experience," she says.
Richa's desi girl act has earned her congratulatory text messages from Ram Gopal Varma, Kundan Shah, Sudhir Mishra and Anurag Kashyap. "I've gained respect from directors and that's what matters the most," she says. Coming up next is an experimental film with Santosh Sivan and a family entertainer with a big banner. "After Oye Lucky I've been getting similar roles like that of a seductive secretary. They tell me, "Madam four scenes mein impact kar ke chale jayiye. But I don't want to be typecast as a four scenes specialist. I'm here to play the lead and I know I have what it takes," she signs off.

Wish-list: Kareena Kapoor in Jab We Met, Kalki Koechlin in Dev.D and Uma Thurman in Kill Bill.
Industry Verdict: "In that small role, Richa Chadda achieved what many actresses have not in their decade-long career," says Piyush Mishra.


Instant Recall: Volatile student leader Ransa in Anurag Kashyap's Gulaal

Abhimanyu's Story So Far: It happened during the rehearsal of Makrand Deshpande's play Sar Sar Sarla. Abhimanyu went overboard in a scene, got scolded by Deshpande but Anurag Kashyap, who was also acting in the play, told him, "I've found my Ransa." That statement changed Abhimanyu's life. "It's like after 10 years of soul-wrenching struggle, one fine day everybody knows you," says the 32-year-old.
If things had gone to plan, Abhimanyu would have been an IAS officer back home in Patna fulfilling his father's dream. But acting was his true calling and so in 1999 he came to Mumbai to try his luck. Theatre was his first stop and Abhimanyu acted in plays like Rawat, Yodha and Dev Vanar. "Theatre allowed me to be myself. This was a medium where I could channel all my aggression and frustration. But after a while I started thinking: 500 log play dekh ke, taali baja ke chale jaate hain par aage kya?" He dabbled in television too with shows like Yeh Nazdeekiyan, Kkusum and Kahin Kissi Roz. There were bit roles in films like Aks, Lakshya, Dhol and Jannat. But that big break eluded him. Until Gulaal.
Abhimanyu's fiery interpretation of the student leader Ransa has made the industry sit up and take notice. Congratulatory calls have been pouring in from Pradeep Sarkar, Manoj Bajpai, Imtiaz Ali and Sonali Kulkarni. In hindsight he feels the wait was worth it. "I've seen some tough days. There were many times when I wanted to quit and run. My relatives had lost faith in me and so had I. Nobody wants to be associated with a struggler but now hopefully those days are behind me," he says. In his days of struggle, it was the support of his then girlfriend-now wife Sargam that kept him afloat. "She always had faith in me and married me even though I just had Rs 500 in my bank account. No amount of success or critical appreciation can match up to the smile in her eyes when she saw Gulaal," he says.
Life's looking good for Abhimanyu who has signed on for Sagar Art's Allah-Udal and Dr Chandraprakash Dwivedi's television series Upanishad Ganga. The latter is a dream project of sorts where Abhimanyu plays more than 20 characters like Vikramaditya, Emperor Ashok and Lord Krishna. The plan is to not to make plans. "I've realised that somebody up there is making plans for you and you can just follow through. I'm open to every kind of role and just want to live a simple life," he says.

Wish-list: V Shantaram in Do Aankhen Barah Haath, Raj Kapoor in Teesri Kasam and Guru Dutt in Kaagaz Ke Phool.
Industry Verdict: "Abhimanyu has given his soul to the character of Ransa. I'm so proud of him," says Manoj Bajpai.


Instant Recall: The beautiful Rama bua in Delhi-6
Aditi's Story So Far: No offence to the zillion characters in Delhi-6 but everyone at the film's press screening only wanted to find who Rama bua was. The camera loves Aditi Rao Hydari and it has a strange way of beckoning her to be in front of it. As a kid she was signed by Muzaffar Ali for Zooni. Aditi was supposed to play the younger version of Dimple Kapadia. The movie never got made but Aditi's mother has still kept the costumes of the movie. As for her big screen splash, she was spotted at a concert by director Sharadha Ramanathan who signed her on for the Tamil film, Sringaram-Dance of Love.
A trained Bharatanatyam dancer—her teacher is the legendary Leela Samson—Aditi has also acted opposite Mamoothy in the Malayalam movie Prajapathi. Rakeysh Mehra's wife Bharati, who also edits his films, saw clippings of Sringaram when it was sent for the National Awards and recommended Aditi for Delhi-6. She was earlier slated to play Bittu's character which later went to Sonam Kapoor. Aditi confesses she was hesitant to sign on as Rama. "I thought I'd become a part of the wallpaper. I mean who would notice me in front of such great actors! But I agreed just for the sheer experience of it," she says. Mehra's brief to her was to model her character on Jaya Bachchan's role in Sholay. "I hadn't seen Sholay so I was at my wit's end. But with Rakeysh sir's guidance, I managed to hold my own," she says.
The 25-year-old did more than just hold her own. She dominated the reviews and sent many journos hunting for her "story". And it's quite a 'historic' one. Her maternal grandfather is Raja J Rameshwar Rao of Vanaparti near Hyderabad and her father's grandfather was the Prime Minister to the Nizam of Hyderabad, Sir Akbar Hydari. She's embarrassed about her lineage and doesn't wish to give it much importance. Her husband, Satyadeep Misra's favourite joke is to call her "turquoise-blood". "He thinks I have diluted royalty," she says.

Aditi is looking to make a switch full-time to cinema and it's the multiplex films she is most enthused about. "I can't lead the life that a typical heroine leads. I'm bad at networking and would rather spend time with my husband. I don't have any guardian angel. I can't eat glasses and nails for breakfast and push other people out of the picture. So I'd rather wait for small yet meaningful films to come my way," she says. But she's serious about making it here since she has moved bag, baggage and dog from Delhi. As for her dream role, "Anything in a Vishal Bharadwaj film."

Wish-list: Manisha Koirala in Bombay, Rani Mukherji in Yuva and Kareena Kapoor in Omkara.
Industry Verdict: "I wished the camera had stayed a little longer on that lovely girl," says Mira Nair.


Instant Recall: Farhan Akhtar's 'theatre type' friend Abhimanyu in Luck By Chance
Arjun's Story So Far: When he was nine, he wanted to become Anil Kapoor. The London born-Delhi bred Arjun was so sure of his ambition that he decided to nix college and study theatre instead. In 2002, he started his Mumbai drill and assisted on films like Kyun Ho Gaya Na, Mangal Pandey: The Rising, Rang De Basanti and Bunty Aur Babli. "I never hid the fact that I wanted to become an actor but at that point of time I used to only get indulgent pats on my back that said, 'Achcha chalo isko bhi hero banna hai," reminisces the 27-year-old.
The wheel turned when he signed on for two shorts: Mira Nair's Migration and Farhan Akhtar's Positive, both of which dealt with AIDS. It was good friend Zoya Akhtar who convinced him for Abhimanyu's role in Luck By Chance. "I was hesitant since it was just a 12-minute role but Zoya assured me that she wouldn't let me get lost in the sea of actors," says Arjun.
After Luck By Chance and Barah Aana, Arjun's stock is rising. He has been signed up by Karan Johar for My Name Is Khan and he admits to getting "double-take glances on the road." As to whether he is the golden boy of the Akhtars, he jokes, "I owe them a lot but I don't think I'm here because of anybody. But if the industry wants to think that I'm their child or something then let them."
Arjun's plan now is to pitch himself as a main lead albeit not just a "buffed-up sing-song kind of a hero." Arjun knows he has what it takes to make a kill. "I'm not here to stand on the sidelines. I'm here to give competition to Imran Khan and Ranbir Kapoor. I want to tell the industry that for anything you consider them for, I've the same stuff to offer," he declares.

Wish-list: Shah Rukh Khan in Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa, Aamir Khan in Jo Jeeta Wahi Sikandar, Matt Damon in The Bourne Supremacy.
Industry Verdict: "Arjun carried off a complicated performance with perfect nuances in Luck By Chance. It was a very mature performance," says Javed Akhtar.

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