With Pankaj Kapur
The veteran actor on being ‘famished’ for roles and working with Naseeruddin Shah
Are you bored of cinema? Do you think you’ve done enough?
Not at all. On the contrary, I think I’m greatly underused. I think there’s plenty I need to do and I’m looking forward to working more. But, all that depends on what is offered to me and what kind of directors I get to work with.
You are Indian television’s first superstar, but you chose to step away from it. Did you lose faith in the medium or did the audience’s taste change?
I think it was a transition. In the 1980s, I could not be a part of cinema simply because the kind of films I would have liked to be a part of were not being made. I was offered roles — the hero’s best friend, the heroine’s brother — that, as an actor trained in theatre, I didn’t want to take up. Hence, television happened. I was offered exciting, character-driven roles. Even though I stopped producing and directing television shows, I kept acting because I could choose the subjects I wanted to work on and the characters I wanted to do. Frankly, for about three years, I just worked on one show [Office Office]. After a certain point, it got tiring, and that’s when I requested we stop. We wrapped up the show with a film. By then, television was becoming redundant whereas young film-makers had started doing interesting work, which I could connect with. So, the tables turned.
But, why did you stop producing and directing shows? You did direct for almost five years.
I did. But, unfortunately, the attitude of the channels started changing. That disappointed me, and I never want to get back to it again. I stopped directing or producing shows because I realised that the director has become a manager. He’s being told what the colour of the walls should be, what should be done to keep the TRPs in place, the writer is told how to change the story. It might work for everyone else, but not for me.
Do you only look out for your role when signing a film? Matruki Bijlee ka Mandola, for example, was heavily criticised, but your performance was lauded.
I always give more importance to the script. Yes, I do consider my role, but I definitely look at what the script is about and where it comes from. Matru left us all amazed. It is based on a Brecht play [MrPuntila and His Man Matti], and I personally think Vishal [Bhardwaj] had done a fantastic adaptation. It was entertaining too. Some loved it, some hated it. Maybe some critic can tell us why. The thing with trying something different is you get the confusion of a mixed reaction.
Do you think the audiences and critics are unkind to risky attempts?
With all due respect, our audiences and critics are quite conditioned. They find difficulty in accepting something that is different from what they’re used to. Also, as a society, we’re given to comparisons. I was appalled, recently, when I heard conversations about whether an actor was like ABC or XYZ even before his film had released. Young creative people might want to do things differently. It’s like a child trying to walk. Do we reprimand the child for making an attempt? We encourage him or her, don’t we? Like The Lunchbox, for example. It isn’t spectacular cinema, it isn’t amazingly made, but it’s an interesting story told truthfully. I’m glad someone recognised the film and allowed it to be different from what is expected of our industry.
Homi Adajania has pulled a casting coup with Finding Fanny — Pankaj Kapur and Naseeruddin Shah in one film. What was it like to work with Shah for the first time since Maqbool?
It’s always a wonderful experience to work with a good actor, especially a seasoned actor like him who takes his job seriously. I have always believed that when you’re in the company of good actors, your performance improves. He’s one of the finest actors our country has, and I hold him in great respect. Also, he’s senior to me, and there’s a lot I have learned from his work. We were still studying at the National School of Drama when he debuted in films. He was a part of this group of great actors. And, as an actor, it has always been a pleasure to work with all of them. It gave me an opportunity to see good work and be part of a scene in which everyone was trying to do something extraordinary.
How have you seen him evolve as an actor?
I don’t think it’s possible for me to comment on his acting abilities or his evolution as an actor. Also, I strongly believe that one should appreciate an actor’s body of work, especially one as substantial as his. No one should have a judgmental attitude or try to comment on the growth of a veteran of his calibre.
What was it like working with Homi Adajania and the star cast of Finding Fanny?
Like I said, it is always a great experience to work with talented young people. When you are surrounded by hardworking people, people who want to make a good film, it feels great.
It’s often said you don’t do enough films. Is there a conscious effort to be picky?
God has been kind to me. A lot of people do say I do little work. Partly, it’s destiny, but it’s also because I like a peaceful life, I like spending time with my family and travelling. That’s the way I like life to be. I have no regrets. Although, presently, I do feel I should engage more because when I was directing Mausam, I didn’t act for three years. So, I want to make up for that gap. My first love is still acting.
So, you are hungry for new roles and challenges?
[Laughs] I’m not just hungry, I’m famished. You can make that your headline.