Dancing his way into hearts
It’s been long since he was seen on screen — his last appearance being a cameo in his wife Shobha’s and daughter Ekta Kapoor’s Balaji Telefilms production Kucch To Hai, as his real-life son Tusshar Kapoor’s reel father.
With his vast experience, huge goodwill and uncanny business acumen, he is, today, the backstreet driver of Balaji Telefilms, one of the biggest empires in the entertainment business. “I take all the macro-level decisions on the policies of Balaji,” he informs.
Jeetendra is the evergreen screen legend who first broke through with Farz (1967), and was a part of blockbusters like Jigri Dost, Jeene Ki Raah, Khilona.
His home productions include Humjoli, Himmat, Caravan, Parichay, Bidaai, Khushboo, Dharam Veer, Priyatama, Apnapan, Swarag Narak, Aasha, Judaai, Ek Hi Bhool, Meri Awaaz Suno, Himmatwala, Sanjog, Swarag Se Sunder, Khudgarz and more. His biggest hits were mostly solo leads, with a consistent box office record spread over 20 years.
As an actor, he went through a variety of phases. There was the ‘Jumping Jack’ era that began with Farz, the serious phase with Gulzar’s films, the Chennai phase that took on a new energy from Himmatwala, and of course, a brief multi-star phase. All through his screen innings, the actor maintained physical fitness, strict professionalism and a terrific rapport with co-stars and filmmakers.
“One day, I told my dad that I want to watch a film shooting and he requested V Shantaram-ji. Shantaram-ji was strict about visitors, but he suggested that I do bit roles to get on the sets! So, I was cast as one of the many princes in the song sequence Tu chhupi hai kahan in his Navrang.”
“Films were a good, zero-investment way of earning. I was given a small role in Sehra,” recalls the actor. “I made a mess of my first scene that needed 30 retakes, and I thought that I was finished before I began, but Shantaram-ji took a liking to me and he cast me in the lead opposite his star-daughter Rajshree in Geet Gaya Pattharon Ne.
The film was a jubilee hit, but after that, all the films I signed with big names like Mohan Kumar, Mohan Segal and Pannalal Maheshwari never took off. It was back to square one.”
Recognition eventually came with the espionage thriller and musical, Farz, a film he was offered after “all the top heroes had rejected it!” The film became one of the biggest hits of the year, and established Jeetendra as a top-bracket hero and a favourite with Chennai producers.
After Shantaram, however, it was another Dadasaheb Phalke award-winning laureate, L V Prasad, whom the actor considered as mentor and guru. “Our association began with Jeene Ki Raah and continued till Judaai, produced by his sister banner in 1980. I believed he was my second father, treated him that way and called him ‘father’ too. It was he who taught me so much about ethics, work principles and even life.”
Farz was also the beginning of about 70 films with composers Laxmikant-Pyarelal. “I was very comfortable with them, and stuck to them, though some others also tried to get close to me.
Later, when they were too busy and producers would get irritated waiting for them, Bappi Lahiri would come all the way to Chennai with his harmonium.
After he kept producing hits, for some time, he became the composer of most of my films.” He adds with a laugh, “But let me tell you that I owe all my hit music to my composers and filmmakers. My music sense was very poor, though I was good at dancing.”
Unlike his contemporaries, who had hit pairings with one or two heroines, Jeetendra formed successful teams with Babita, Mumtaz, Hema Malini, Raakhee, Rekha, Neetu Singh, Sridevi and Jaya Prada. “I am very grateful to them all,” he says simply.
“Nanda-ji was that person whom struggling heroes approached for that crucial break with a big heroine — we had three hits together in Parivar, Dharti Kahe Pukarke and Badi Didi. As for Neetu, she worked with me first as a child star in Waris, became my leading lady in so many films including her own production Chorni, then my best friend Rishi Kapoor’s wife and finally the mother to my favourite actor today, Ranbir Kapoor.”
Jeetendra points out that he has acted in every genre. “I have done socials, romantic films, musicals, action-dramas, comedies and political thrillers,” he says.
This is also the reason why he is very happy with the varied films that are being made today. “But I do not respect the pseudo-intellectual brand of cinema, which existed in my time too. It is very difficult to make any kind of commercially successful film,” he declares, expressing his admiration for truly good, out-of-the-box films like Kahaani and Vicky Donor.
The actor, it would also seem, is also a family man. “My wife Shobha is my biggest support system and the pillar of Balaji. Ekta started work to earn pocket money in the stuffy basement of my home where our cars are parked, and came up the hard way, while Tusshar has proved himself in varied roles.” Clearly, the approach towards establishing a perennial mass-connect is shared by one and all in the family.