No, I’m not yet old enough to be contemplating a retired life filled with pilgrimages! Kashi comes to me, or rather I go to Kashi, as part of work…bless you and thank you for asking. It’s the title of one of my upcoming movies, and I’m playing the eponymous character. It’s but natural that we are shooting extensively in and around Varanasi. It’s also natural that I have fallen headlong in love…with the place, of course. It happens when you spend a lot of time with someone, or someplace. And Kashi, this town by the river, isn’t just any place. All those images, the stories, all that you’ve heard about the aarti on the ghats, that fabled sense of something being forever, transcendent…even the tug of all that put together doesn’t describe what you actually feel when you’re right there next to the Ganga. The all-pervasive spirituality of the place simply takes you over…like you are being enveloped by something greater. While I was shooting and sort of living the narrative, the film too felt beautifully in sync with that whole vibe. I felt so energised, so charged…that I seriously wish I could recommend it to everyone!
A life in films is not a usual occurrence for people, of course. Nor is it exactly what kids imagine it to be in their hormonally coloured imaginations. If only they knew the more mundane, prosaic parts—the uncertainty and doubts, the tedium, the play of chance that often goes against you—some of them might be less inclined to pursue this dream. I was lucky to get a head start of sorts, having been born into a family immersed in Gujarati theatre. So I had only a smaller bridge to cross to reach the world of films. Still, as I survey my own little budding filmography, I seem to be doing alright. My latest, 3 Storeys, is releasing early this month—I think it’s a pretty little film, revolving around some interestingly written characters, including mine of course. Kashi, my Banarasi detour, I see as part of this journey.
It’s been some journey too, and after Kashi you can excuse me if I wax a little philosophical! Looking back at my career, there’s nothing much that I’d change about the script so far. I have managed to get some really decent movies under my belt. Anyone would consider himself fortunate to have his name rolling up in the credits for 3 Idiots, Rang De Basanti, Life in A Metro…. As films, all unusual and atypical in their own way, and coming at a time when Bollywood was beginning to redefine itself.
As an actor, you also forge a strange relationship with the characters you play. Some performances get you noticed. That’s a real thrill, of course, when it happens! My part of Raju Rastogi in 3 Idiots, for example. Of all people, Mr (Amitabh) Bachchan said he enjoyed my performance. After that, I wouldn’t have wanted appreciation from anyone. But it’s something more than the appreciation. I’m just so glad Raju Hirani was able to perceive that character in me. All the characters I’ve done, I’ve related to that same way. Once you’ve done a role, you cannot undo it from your life.
The films I’ve taken up recently, they have offered a double pleasure: critical acclaim for the projects, plus the sheer variety. Hate Story turned out to be a hit too, so I got my share of spotlight. But 1920 was a genre I’d never done before. Horror is something I’d always wanted to dabble in and now I’ve got something to scare my grandkids with! And yes, there was Golmaal: with the franchise growing, I’m sure characters needed to be changed in the sequels.
Perhaps each era in cinema unknowingly overestimates its own importance...it’s a guilty pleasure that cannot be denied to those in showbiz, whose very being revolves around creating a magnified view of things. There’s a lot of talk these days, for instance, about the apparent change in the taste of audiences. They prefer content-rich cinema today, or at least there’s an assumed consensus that it is so. In my opinion, perceptions keep changing, and so does the fondness audiences have for certain kinds of cinema. Content has never really been absent in this ever-evolving history. I’m glad to go along with my small part, whether it’s plain-vanilla or strawberry cinema. Filmmakers are not afraid to experiment with flavours, and that’s good for actors. But look at past personages—you get such élan, such force of personality! My father-in-law, veteran actor Prem Chopra, has been in the industry for over 50 years. And across countries, whenever I’m travelling, I still meet people who come up to me and talk about him. There’s the mystique right there. We simply cannot have another Prem Chopra!
(The writer is a noted Bollywood actor)