We Don't Talk Enough About How Bollywood Failed Arshad Warsi

How did an actor with Arshad Warsi's talent go from being a promising leading man, to a strong supporting actor to... drivel like Fraud Saiyaan?

Watching Simmba‘s (rather drab?) version of Aankh Marey, one couldn’t help but notice how the screen lights up when Arshad Warsi appears. There’s a bit of history here, Warsi appeared in the original song that belongs to his Bollywood debut, Tere Mere Sapne. And while he slayed in the original through those intermittent Heee-Ho-Haaas, in the 2018 version Warsi is made to share the spotlight with Tushar Kapoor, Kunal Khemu and Shreyas Talpade, apart the two Simmba leads. Having all of 15 seconds in the remix video (where the camera is ONLY on him), it a reflection of the many ups and downs of Arshad Warsi’s Bollywood career.

Actor/comedian Vir Das tweeted to the actor, saying how much he appreciated watching the original actor from the song making a surprising appearance in the remix. Warsi’s response was a tongue-in-cheek quip about how his screen-time has come down from an entire song to 15 seconds, and that he hopes it wouldn’t reduce further. If you’ve ever been a believer in Arshad Warsi’s potential, you might hear the pathos in his truth-bomb. Warsi’s latest film called Fraud Saiyaan sees him play a character juggling five wives. It’s one of those problematic, old-school films that champions infidelity and makes it look ‘heroic’. How did things come to this? How did an actor with Arshad Warsi’s calibre go from a promising leading man, to a strong member of the supporting cast to… this drivel?

Also is it surprising, that Warsi starred in Sunny Deol’s Bhaiaji Superhit before this? How did someone who began his career with a ‘hit’, had a good semblance of the craft of acting – get relegated to someone who has to choose between unemployment and a trashy film? There are lots of reasons, real and perceived, about why Arshad Warsi never quite got his due as an actor.

Many of Warsi’s choices as an actor after a decent debut like Tere Mere Sapne, were questionable. One can blame it on that time when films like Hero Hindustani, Betaabi and Hogi Pyaar Ki Jeet – were considered perfectly legitimate films. This was the last phase of the trashy 80s formula, and the new age of Dil Chahta Hai was still three years away. During this phase, a good actor like Warsi did little to diversify his characters. In fact, if you think about his films from the late 90s, one could confuse one film for another. They all had the same beats of two pinches of comedy, one tablespoon of melodrama, a few teaspoons of naach-gaana and the unavoidable filmy action sequences in the film’s climax (not Warsi’s strongest suit).

He came back with a bang as Circuit to Sanjay Dutt’s Munnabhai. The free-flowing use of vaat, mamu and the unforgettable ‘How long?’ put Warsi back on the map of the Bollywood dream. Supporting roles in films like in Salaam Namaste, Golmaal, Dhamaal were usually followed with Warsi playing ‘hero’. Among them is Kabeer Kaushik’s incredibly underrated, Sehar. Or for that matter even Kuch Meetha Ho Jaaye, whose interesting premise was bow-tied with Arshad Warsi’s beautifully restrained turn of the alcoholic ex-lover. He was on an equal footing with the great Naseeruddin Shah in Abhishek Chaubey’s Ishqiya films.

Somewhere along the line, Arshad Warsi was weaned off meaty characters. And a myth around his commercial viability began to do the rounds, who weren’t willing to risk having him as a lead actor. Which is why even after Warsi won over the audience in Subhash Kapoor’s Jolly LLB purely with his ability as an actor, he was replaced with the more ‘bankable’, Akshay Kumar in the sequel. It didn’t help that Warsi continued to do trash films where he played the eponymous character like – Mr Joe B Carvalho, Guddu Rangeela and The Legend Of Michael Mishra.

Should Arshad Warsi have stayed a mile away from despicable franchises like Dhamaal and Golmaal? Probably. Has Bollywood (apart from Abhishek Chaubey) failed to challenge Arshad Warsi as an actor? Most likely. Seeing Warsi participate in has-been films like Fraud Saiyaan and Bhaiaji Superhit, one can’t help but feel sad. There’s no doubt that Arshad Warsi’s talent (like that of many others) hasn’t been fully exploited by Hindi films. The worst part is we don’t even talk about it anymore.