An edited version was published by South Asian Generation Next on 8th December 2010.
Ruslaan Mumtaz. That name would not mean much to me (or, you) personally unless you have had come across this piece of news that would hint at a film history that could have been written differently.
Think of that day when Dev Patel’s face flashed at you from the big screens. Even if you could ignore his natural good looks (think of his pouty lips that hint at a youthfulness that many girls would admit to have longed for), it would be a little difficult to get past Jamal’s anguish while he searched wildly for his Latika. And, you agreed among your friends while you debated and discussed the movie in detail, that yes, this guy could act. Not once was there any dispute that Patel was unfaithful to his role.
But imagine a different scenario. Think of another guy in Patel’s place. Think of Ruslaan Mumtaz.
The guy missed out on being the slumdog millionaire that we equate so freely with Patel’s anguish-filled eyes. As it turns out, at the time of the movie’s final auditions, the guy was “beefed up” for his role as a movie star in the mainstream Bollywood movie Jaane Kahan Se Aayi Hai. He was rejected for not being lean enough.
Before I could feel bad for the baby-faced Ruslaan…
Before I could start jumping to conclusions based on hearsay…
Before I could rely on the news item…
Before making up my mind at all, my inner journalist prodded me to watch his movies. Had this guy been capable of changing history, if not for his “muscles” at the time, as he claims?
The next thing on the agenda was to watch his movies Mera Pehla Pehla Pyaar and Teree Saang, both of which have done well commercially in India. Surprisingly, I found his slight awkwardness endearing. And, the irony is that while this guy is now a well known face among movie goers in India, Patel has lost himself in a stream of unknown faces in Hollywood (let’s not forget the bombed The Last Airbender blazing in his trail).
But do I think that Ruslaan could have been a better slumdog than Dev? Could he have pulled off an authentic Jamal being an Indian himself, instead of the British-born Patel? Would his anguish have been as great, if not greater?