Jack of all trades

Jack of all trades

Despite a string of flops, Neil Nitin Mukesh is one of the most sought after actors in the industry because of his versatile performances and professionalism. The actor talks to Rajiv Vijayakar about his films, music & family.

He is to today’s cinema what Shashi Kapoor was at one time: his films so far have flopped consistently, but he always gets movies because his performances and professionalism can never be faulted, and his good looks, especially among the ladies, score high.

Kickstarting his career with the 2007 quasi-masterpiece Johnny Gaddaar, Neil went on to do assorted movies, the better ones including Yash Raj Films’ New York (his only hit to date) and in terms of his work, Yash Raj Films’ Lafangey Parindey, Madhur Bhandarkar’s Jail, Vishal Bhardwaj’s 7 Khoon Maaf and Abbas-Mustan’s Players (in both of which he stood out in a crowd of heroes) and finally Bejoy Nambiar’s David.

His new film, Shortcut Romeo, a remake of a South hit, releases on June 21. This is the first time that Neil stars solo in an unapologetic entertainer-cum-thriller, and Neil is gung-ho about the film, its music, and his role in it. “I have changed gears now. I will do only mainstream films, but I am still averse to no-brainers,” he says. Clearly, Neil has learnt the right lessons from movies like David, as well as his other flops, and has begun to respect his fan base.

An unconventional choice

“I want to put this on record,” he declares. “I am proud of Shortcut Romeo and the way it has shaped up. We have all heard of entertainers where we are told, ‘Leave your brains behind to enjoy the film.’ But I would say this about Shortcut Romeo: ‘Please take your brains along to enjoy this full-on commercial thriller!’ And do enjoy the music, which is probably the best-ever in any film of mine.”

Neil is so impressed that from now on, he will insist on at least one lip-synched song per film. “For starters, I am the son of Nitin Mukesh and the grandson of Mukesh, so music is in my blood. My fans, as well as friends and family, wanted me to lip-synch songs, which I had almost never done before. And Himesh Reshammiya is so strong in his sense of melody, with an old-school charm that still appeals to audiences today. His melodies have a haunting quality that is missing in most songs today, and I can say that with authority, being a composer myself.”

Not many are aware that Neil’s bloodline has ensured a flair for singing and composing songs. “Himesh made the song Khaali salaam dua for me to sing,” reveals the actor. “I told him that it was not mine but Mohit Chauhan’s song, and to please give the fabulous composition to him. In these matters, one cannot be selfish. I could have made sure of singing one song in every film, but that’s not what I believe in doing. Besides, it is going to be enacted by me, and in that sense, it will still be my song.”

The film’s name, says Neil, is apt because he plays an out-and-out kameena (scoundrel) with a heart, who believes in taking all kinds of shortcuts to make money, but still believes that he will find his Juliet one day. “Puja Gupta is that girl,” he says and quips, “My film has another hero — Ameesha Patel. Her character is so nasty, you will love her. But there is no romantic angle between us in the movie.”

Neil stresses that the director of the original, Susi Ganesh, has made this an almost new film. “The original of Shortcut Romeo was very dark and most of the twists and turns were different,” he points out.

What is the progress on his dream project, Paidaar (which means ‘Eternal’)? “I am now working on the final draft. It’s a love story with a powerful revenge angle and an out-and-out commercial film that I am producing, writing, acting in and singing in as well. The surprise for my fans is that I am also scoring the music.”

Two other films in which he is acting currently are Ishqeria, a simple musical romance set in Mussoorie with Richa Chadda and the action film Dussehra, in which Tena Desae is his love interest. “These young actresses of today surprise me with their talent and maturity, and the yen for taking risks,” he says. “Tena’s actually playing a cop.”

But, is he averse to multi-star movies, or to top-bracket leading ladies? “To answer your second question first, haven’t I worked with Priyanka Chopra (7 Khoon Maaf), Bipasha Basu (Players), Katrina Kaif (New York) and Deepika Padukone (Lafangey Parindey) already? Films that I sign need to be on a specific budget and top heroines will come in only when they are needed. The best of films can go wrong because of the economics.”As for multi-hero films, Neil is cautious but clear. “Either the role should be very good, as it was in Players, or I should prove my solo selling power first,” he says. “Otherwise, how can I add value to such a film? I do not want people to think that I am taking recourse to them because my solo films have not done well.”

Family first

As our telephonic interview is delayed by a transatlantic call to him by his parents, we move on to his family, always a topic close to Neil’s heart. How is his relationship with his parents, especially after becoming a star?

“Nothing’s changed because of that,” he says. “As for my father, it is very fashionable to say nowadays that ‘My father is my buddy’, but no, for me, we are still father and son in our relationship. My father will always remain the person who has looked after me since birth, nurtured me, is the pillar of my life, and has made me the man I am today with all the right values. I have seen him go through terrible times with a smile on his face. Mom, on her part, has always de-stressed me and is always so relaxed — it is so important to have parents who understand you.”

He adds, “Both my parents have taught me to smile during this long struggle of mine. Even today, if I am troubled about something, I go and lie securely between them and sleep off like a small child.”

On a serious note, he adds, “It is now my turn to pamper my parents since they are old now. I want them to relax and be happy.”

He notes that his mother has also played a key role in his career. “I can never read a script — that’s a kink I have, and so mom reads them out to me so that I can visualise the film and understand it and my role.” says Neil candidly.

Neil is also proud of his younger brother Naman, who has just completed his fourth film as an assistant director. “He is a whizkid technically, and very focussed. He will soon make a mark as director. As an elder brother, it is my duty to channel his talent in the right way.”

Son, brother, man and star — Neil would rather have his priorities set right — in that order.

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