The Old School
Thanks to an excellent channel called DD Bharati, which, in my opinion, is about 10x better than the DD National Channel,I have been regularly catching epsiodes from Shyam Benegal's 'Bharat Ek Khoj'. The serial has several things going for it: excellent direction from Benegal, Nehru's erudite, liberal and generous view of history, and great actors who went on to become celebrated character actors of Bollywood.
In today's episode alone, which was based on Raja Rao's Kanthapura (coincidentally my mom is reading the book now), I came across, I might even say bumped into, Irfan Khan as a wiry and evilish police constable, Shabana Azmi as a progressive village lady, Om Puri as the village Gowda, Pallavi Joshi, Shyam Benegal himself as a conservative Pandit, Ila Arun, and wonder of wonders, Piyush Mishra, the man who plays the TV channel owner, Majeed, in Tere Bin Laden - it took me quite a while to place him.
Om Puri is a regular, now playing Raja Raja Chola, now Babur, now Mohammed of Ghazni. Kulbhushan Kharbanda appears as Akbar in one episode, Sadashiv Amrapurkar plays Mahatma Phule in another. Irfan Khan appears often too. The other role of his I remember is as one of the associates of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan.
The routes the character actors of Indian cinema seem to be quite different from the ones taken by the 'stars' of Bollywood. Theatre, drama school, doing solid work in alternative cinema or in quality serials like Bharat Ek Khoj, the acting equivalent of making your bones...vs. a 'launch', in an often family sponsored, big budget big banner...