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Guess appearances are like return gifts. You didn’t go to the birthday party for it, but it’s always nice to get one. It’s almost always a pleasant surprise, a big tiny treat in the movies. Indian cinema, with our obsession of stars, has no dearth of guest appearances. We picked some of our favourites. 

Deewangi Deewangi song from Om Shanti Om

What’s better than one star popping up suddenly in a film? A dozen stars, dressed to kill, popping up in a song.  The set-up is perfect – superstar Om Kapoor (Shah Rukh Khan) is having a party.  Of course, Bollywood shows up. The song begins with Rani Mukerji dancing with Om and ends with Om, Sanjay Dutt, Salman Khan and Saif Ali Khan dancing on top of the bar.  In between, everyone from Kajol to Dharmendra to Rekha, drops by to shake a leg.  It’s a dazzling celebration of stardom – much of the pleasure is guessing who will show up next. Bollywood lore has it that director Farah Khan also requested Dev Anand to make an appearance.  The legend reportedly replied that he only plays leading men!

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Ranbir Kapoor in PK – (Disclaimer: conflict of interest)

PK ends with an emotional goodbye between Jaggu the journalist and PK the alien.  PK, played with bug-eyed intensity by Aamir Khan, has shed tears and told her that it’s not like he loves her.  Of course, it’s a lie. She’s crying too because she knows this. Neither verbalises it but both understand that this relationship can only go this far. That end would have been too downbeat.  So director Raju Hirani and co-writer Abhijat Joshi attached a coda – PK returns to earth to further study the codes of human beings.  He brings with him, a colleague.  Ranbir Kapoor, presumably naked because that’s how PK arrived when he first came, steps out of the smoke swirling around the spaceship.  It’s at once, funny and delightful, because it’s so unexpected.  And Ranbir’s expressions of fear and bewilderment are priceless.  I would love to see a sequel in which Ranbir’s alien tries to make sense of the world.  Anupama Chopra

Shah Rukh Khan in Luck By Chance

Superstar cameos tend to be an accessory in Hindi films: Surprise, surprise! Look what we pulled off. But Zoya Akhtar‘s excellent debut, Luck By Chance, turns the very notion of a cameo on its head by being based within the Hindi film industry. Faces come and go as themselves in a matter-of-fact way, but one of them actually defines the entire arc of the struggler-to-star protagonist. Once Vikram (Farhan Akhtar) makes it in B-town, he bumps into SRK at a party, and the older star – after noticing Vikram shoo away his friends for this moment – warns him about how seductive the industry is, and why familiar faces are a good leveller. This little chat transforms and humbles Vikram, who then goes to apologize to his ex-girlfriend, Sona, even though it’s too late. Out of all the SRK cameos in Hindi cinema, this was by far the most meaningful.

Juhi Chawla in Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa

It’s the context of Juhi Chawla’s lovely cameo in the final scene of Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa that makes it special. Shah Rukh Khan’s gentle loser, Sunil, is heartbroken after attending Anna’s wedding. Darr, where SRK was a psychopathic character obsessed with Juhi Chawla’s, had released only three months earlier. The KHKN climax felt soothing because it spiritually corrected Khan’s Darr persona – here he was obsessed with Anna, too, but he lets her go for the sake of her own happiness. In a way the same man seems to be coming of age over two separate films in the same universe, and the SRK-Juhi moment here becomes therapy for all the souls scarred from the Rahul-K-k-kiran nightmare. She arrives in Goa at the perfect time, giving audiences some hope for a broken Sunil – as well as new-found respect for his “un-toxicated,” beta-male hero. Rahul Desai

Akshay Kumar in Om Shanti Om 

Akshay Kumar’s badass cameo in OSO demands a movie of its own. In Farah Khan’s spoofy love letter to Bollywood, we see him in an imaginary movie—Return of the Khiladi—in an imaginary Filmfare Awards, playing an action star who is the gunslinger from Westerns, Rajinikanth, and the actor’s own Khiladi persona all rolled into one. The action is outrageously innovative—and Akshay does it in style. He chews multiple bullets and converts them into a bomb, but doesn’t use it on the bad guys. Instead he throws it behind so it makes for a killer backdrop. What he does with his gun is better watched than described. That’s just about as much you need in order to stand out in what is perhaps the most guest starring Hindi film of all time.

Irrfan in Haider

In Vishal Bhardwaj’s adaptation of Hamlet set in Kashmir, Irrfan plays the ghost of Kashmir itself. An ominous soundtrack plays to vistas of an eerie, snowed-in landscape even before we see Roohdar (it’s a guest appearance, so we don’t know yet that he is in the film). The first glimpse is a distant figure made blurrier by a deliberately out-of-focus camera, before he shows up, wrapped in a white shawl, with sunglasses and a topi. It was surprising enough that a serious film like Haider could have a guest appearance; what was even more surprising is that it also had an ‘entry scene’. Sankhayan Ghosh 


Sri Devi in Zero

Perhaps it is the circumstances of the cameo, as opposed to the cameo itself – Sri Devi’s last on screen appearance– that makes it so special. No one will know. When she laughs at Bauua, “Oui Oui Oui it’s okay- next time,” as he swipes across the skies to make the stars fall, and fails, something meta, something silly, something yearning was felt. Prathyush Parasuraman

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‘Naughty’ in Bangalore Days 

If there was a measure to calculate the effectiveness of a cameo appearance, it would have take into account the total screen time that character gets. For instance, if a character changes the overall mood of a film, we would have to see how many scenes they took to bring about that effect. In such a case, Naughty, the lab from Bangalore Days, is right up there with the greats, managing to really tear you up with just a couple of scenes. And when you consider that he didn’t even have lines or star persona, what he managed to do becomes a lesson in how to write cameos. Vishal Menon


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