Sunil Dutt - Nargis, Dharmendra - Dimple, SRK - Alia and other unusual casting coups


Mainstream Hindi cinema is notorious for first convincing a big gun mainstream hero to give the film the nod – it gets the financiers on board and sets the ball moving. Casting for the heroine is then taken up in a largely lackadaisical manner. More often than not, the leading man will make his personal ‘suggestion’ and ensure a particular actress of his preference is taken on. The scenario is definitely changing with filmmaking becoming more professional and content-driven, and not forgetting the emergence of big female stars like Deepika Padukone, Kangana Ranaut and Alia Bhatt.

However, while good casting ensures the right actors are chosen for the roles, great casting happens when the pairing comes with an unexpected element of surprise. Here’s looking at the films that managed to do that for the right – and sometimes the wrong! – reasons…


The Sanju trailer has released to much applause. Ranbir Kapoor is being hailed for his uncannily realistic resemblance to Sanjay Dutt, in his physical features, facial expressions, gait and voice. However, there is no missing the irony – some would say karmic connection – in this Dutt biopic. It is more than a tad unusual after all to have Ranbir play Sanju. The two actors share a strange but strong connection. While Sanjay is the son of Nargis and Sunil Dutt, Ranbir is the grandson of the great showman, Raj Kapoor. It is part of cinematic legend that Nargis and Raj Kapoor had shared a long and intense relationship, which had started back in the late 1940s and ended a decade later in 1958. Nargis married her Mother India co-star Sunil Dutt, and had three children. She doted most on her son, Sanju. Today, it is Raj Kapoor’s grandson Ranbir who has stepped into Nargis’s son Sanju’s shoes on screen, recreating his tumultuous life on celluloid.


Dear Zindagi

This Gauri Shinde directorial brought the 50-something superstar Shah Rukh Khan and the 20-something Next Best Thing Alia Bhatt together on screen for the first time. It was a feat, no doubt. While Alia played a budding cinematographer, who is discontented with her life, Shah Rukh played her free-spirited psychologist who helps her to gain a new perspective on her life. Alia chirped, “Not for a minute did I feel Shah Rukh was older. We worked like friends. But when he spoke, I felt very young in front of him. He is so knowledgeable.” Duh!


This Shoojit Sircar film brought about the chalk-and-cheese pairing of Irrfan Khan and Deepika Padukone. While she is the reigning No.1 heroine of mainstream cinema, he was known more for his nonchalant brilliance in off-beat films. Yet the chemistry they generated in this unusual story, dominated by a cranky parent, sizzled. So much so, it led them to being cast in Vishal Bhardwaj’s next, which has been delayed due to Irrfan’s serious health condition.

The Dirty Picture

Casting Naseeruddin Shah, one of the industry’s finest actors in a sleazy part opposite Vidya Balan sure upped the interest value of this Milan Luthria film. Naseer played Suryakanth, an ageing South Indian superstar, who has a secret affair with the much younger Silk, played by Balan. Their scenes together were convincing and entertaining, proving that odd combinations are definitely worth the risk.

Gulaab Gang

Known to be rivals and rather fierce foes, Juhi Chawla and Madhuri Dixit had both vied hard for the numero uno crown at the height of their careers. Always politically correct, they took care to be dismissive of their enmity in public. Naturally, it came as a surprise when years later they were cast together in this woman-centric film. One reason they probably agreed to come together – they played bitter enemies in the film!


Yash Chopra chose to make a film on an unconventional topic - an extramarital affair. He had originally planned to cast Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya Bachchan and Rekha in the lead roles – the trio who were allegedly embroiled in a similar real life situation. Knowing that it wouldn’t be possible to bring them together, he went ahead and signed actresses Smita Patil and Parveen Babi to play the parts of Jaya Bachchan and Rekha respectively. However, during a discussion with Amitabh, the filmmaker opened up about his unspoken casting desire. Soon he got what he wanted – a casting coup that was so daring it had jaws dropping and breaths stopping. Never before has the Hindi film screen been witness to such a shocking casting combination – and there hasn’t been anything as scandalous ever since.

Dushman Devta

This tale about an escaped convict wrongly accused of murder did not raise eyebrows for its plot as much as for its awkward casting. It brought together Dharmendra playing Shiva and Dimple Kapadia, playing Gauri. Now that had to have had its moments of discomfort, as at the time Dimple was apparently involved with Dharmenda’s son, Sunny Deol! Dimple was already separated from husband Rajesh Khanna, while Sunny Deol’s wife Pooja remained secure in her position as wife. The Dharmendra-Dimple pairing is proof of the fact that the two are better actors than we probably gave them credit for!