Receding but succeeding

At a recent comedy show, the stand-up comedienne began bantering with me — they always pick on people who sit in the first two rows — and she decided to take a dig at my receding hairline.

I took it sportingly; but back when I was in my twenties, my biggest fear was losing hair. Every morning, I would count the strands of hair left behind on the pillow.

I wish the two recent films revolving around men petrified of premature balding were released when I was young and callow. I had a full head of hair but was petrified of parting company with it if heredity kicked in.

I would have drawn solace from the fact that balding men, whether it is Sunny Singh in Ujda Chaman or Ayushmann Khurrana in Bala, finally make peace with their shimmering chaand ka tukdas.

I expected Ujda Chaman to be a laugh riot but the film’s screenplay and dialogue were like hair in need of sheen. Sure, the premise and the protagonist are unusual — Sunny Singh plays an insecure, prematurely balding man who hesitantly falls in love with an overweight girl he meets on Tinder — but the setup begged for more uproarious jokes.

What the protagonist does is evoke some sympathy and half a smile when he wistfully looks at his father combing his hair and his mother towelling her thick wet hair.

Years back, I shared with a famous actor the measures I had taken to retain my hair — from sessions with Richfeel, treatment at Dr Batra’s clinic, a gift of Moroccan hair oil from my daughter Nikita, and Shehnaaz Hussain’s super expensive conditioners.

But the actor had me tongue-tied when he told me, “Have you tried camel’s urine? I have; it doesn’t work.” Another actor told me that he invests a small fortune in capsules that he orders from abroad. He is past 50 and if the proof of the pudding lies in the eating, and if he is not cheating with a toupee, the capsules are doing the trick.

‘Hair today, gone tomorrow’ is no longer a cause for sorrow for today’s breed of actors. Hair transplants, hair weaving and a black powder to conceal bald patches are now as easily available as fine-toothed combs. It is believed our audience lays a premium on a thick mop of hair, as SRK and Aamir’s success evidences.

There is also a lot of speculation about which actors wear wigs and which 50-plus heroes undergo regular hair transplants, but there have been actors who had no qualms about appearing bald on screen and making history, both in Hollywood and Bollywood.

This obsession with a crowning glory is strange when you consider that some of the biggest male stars in Hollywood currently are bald — Dwayne Johnson aka The Rock (Priyanka Chopra’s co-starrer in Baywatch) is one of the world's highest paid actors.

As is the bald-domed but hugely successful Vin Diesel (Deepika Padukone’s co-star in XXX: The Return Of Xander Cage). Then there are also other major names such as Jason Statham, Samuel L Jackson and John Malkovich. Perhaps this current vogue was started by Bruce Willis.

But long before Bruce Willis there was Yul Brynner, the one Hollywood star everyone recognised because of his signature bald look. Strangely, he was not bald but maintained a shaved head all through his impressive career spanning three decades. It all began with his bald look as King Mongkut of Siam in The King and I (1956) for which he won the Best Actor Oscar.

He followed it with work that has stood the test of time — The Ten Commandments, Anastasia (in which he romanced the lovely Ingrid Bergman), The Magnificent Seven. He continued to march ‘bald’ly till Futureworld (1976). His pate could reflect the moonlight but he exuded star presence.

Closer home, Motilal has become famous as one of our first and foremost natural actors despite a rather obviously receding hairline. As the hero in Ek Thi Ladki (the film had the famous Lara lappa song), his widow’s peak was prominent and it grew even more pronounced in Mr Sampat (1952). He alternated between sporting his natural hair or a smart hat.

Motilal relied on the dictum, “I don’t act, I just live the role” and he enjoyed a successful stint as a character artiste in Devdas (as the inebriated Chunilal, a role which was later reprised by Jackie Shroff in Bhansali’s Devdas),  Jagte Raho (he wore a wig while giving lip sync to the memorable song Zindagi khwab hai), Anari, Paigham, Waqt.

In his swan song and also his sole venture as a writer-producer-director-actor, Chhoti Chhoti Baatein, Motilal chose to present himself with just a few strands of hair around his ears. It’s admirable how Motilal was never ill-at-ease with his baldness; he was a self-assured actor who relied on his talent more than his looks.

Anupam Kher struck lucky — his bald look was just what the doctor ordered for his role of a 65-year-old ex principal in his breakthrough film, Saaransh (1984). He was only 28 then. Kher drew on his compassion for the aged to guide him through the difficult role.

The scene where Kher admonishes a customs official because of the red tape involved in procuring the urn containing his son’s ashes has become a histrionic hallmark.

When I look back in time, I recall with affection how my father religiously applied Brylcreem to his balding pate. He was the best bald man I have ever known; kind and generous. He is the reason why a line from Ujda Chaman reverberated with me — it posited that “inner beauty” is what matters finally.