Upside of fame

Yesteryear tales

Upside of fame

Known for his unusual dance moves and masala films, Jeetendra set new records in Bollywood. RAjiv Vijayakar talks to the former star about his contribution to the film industry & more...

Jeetendra, aka Ravi Amarnath Kapoor, remains the background force as shrewd businessman and (officially) chairman of his wife Shobha Kapoor’s and daughter Ekta Kapoor’s production house, the iconic Balaji Telefilms. Ergo, he is one of the richest names in showbiz. That was true even earlier, for the star never splurged his hard-earned income, but invested wisely in a diversity of businesses.

However, in these days of 100 crore clubs and the number games, Jeetendra is one person for whom numbers never mattered — when applied to him. Consider this: he is 72-plus, has acted in over 200 films in a career spanning four decades — from his debut film, Geet Gaaya Pattharon Ne (1964) to Balaji Telefilms’ Kucch To Hai in 2003!

Setting high standards

A record number of jubilees, several home productions among them, long associations with heroines from different generations, like Mumtaz, Babita, Hema Malini, Rekha, Reena Roy, Neetu Singh, Sridevi and Jaya Prada stud the actor’s career. Jeetendra has also done multiple films with big filmmakers and his music record, through his favourites Laxmikant-Pyarelal as well as Bappi Lahiri and others, is indeed enviable.

Not for nothing has Jeetendra earned the tag of “Jumping Jack”, the first original dancing star after Shammi Kapoor, with his patent all-white outfit from head to shoes offsetting his jet-black hair.

His mansion at JVPD Scheme in Mumbai resembles a mini palace, but the owner always was and is humble and grounded, this impeccable breeding now passed on to children Ekta and actor Tusshar. Though he dismisses it smilingly, this is the real secret behind both his long innings and his physical fitness.

But at a time when colleagues are still facing the camera successfully, why is he averse to acting? “I played Tusshar’s father in Kuchh To Hai because it was our own film. But, I do not want to act for the sake of acting. I know no great roles are waiting for me, though I have not closed that door. I am busy enough anyway making the macro policy decisions for Balaji.”

The actor is rightly proud of his family. “Shobha, the air-hostess I loved and married, has proved a brilliant businesswoman, and Ekta has slogged her way up from starting a company in my stuffy basement garage with just one table and a table fan. Imagine, her initial idea was just to make pocket money! My son Tusshar has been consistent too.”

The self-effacing actor says that he considers himself “extremely lucky to have had the support of my filmmakers, co-stars and music makers. The three reasons for my long innings are first, God, second, God, and third, God. Though I have not been rated high as an actor, I explored every kind of role. Acting wohi hai jo public enjoy kare. That’s why cinema is called commercial art — it is commerce plus art.”

He goes on, “I have done socials, romantic films, action dramas, political thrillers, comedies and costume dramas and all kind of roles, even different kinds of old men. I even did the mythological Lav-Kush. And the strange thing was that I became an actor by default.”

The actor’s father Amarnath supplied artificial jewellery to the film industry, and Jeetendra was the delivery boy to the studios after school. “One day, I told my father that I want to watch a film shoot and he requested V Shantaramji to allow me. Shantaramji was strict about visitors, so he suggested that I do bit roles so that I could get on the sets. And so he cast me as one of the many princes in the song “Tu chhupi hai kahaan” in Navrang when I was in my teens.”

But soon after, his dad’s business ran into trouble and since Jeetendra was not interested in higher studies anyway, films were a “good, zero-investment way of earning”. The actor was given a small role in Shantaram’s Sehra, and recalls, “My first scene needed 30 retakes. I thought I was finished even before I began, but Shantaramji somehow took a liking for me and cast me opposite his star daughter Rajshree in Geet Gaya Pattharon Ne. The film was a jubilee hit.”

But it was still not easy — big names like Mohan Kumar and Mohan Segal among them, signed him, but though he was to make and deliver hits with them later, these films never took off.

The final breakthrough

Big name Devi Sharma wanted to make a small movie, Gunahon Ka Devta, but Jeetendra suggested a top set-up with Rajshree and Shankar-Jaikishan, even forking out money from his own limited remuneration so that those top names could come in. The film did modest business, but hard work and perseverance are always rewarded, so when a South project that was a spy thriller was rejected by all the top heroes, Jeetendra accepted it because he needed money for his sister’s marriage.

“They only needed a 35-day start-to-finish schedule. And Farz became one of the biggest hits of the year,” smiles the actor.

About his stunning musical record, he laughingly adds, “I had no knack for music and usually disliked songs that later proved major hits. But during Farz, I hit it off with Laxmikant-Pyarelal from day one, and they did over 70 of my films.”

How did he develop his trademark white shirt, trouser and shoes? His reply: “A man looks slimmest in black. Fitness was always important to me, so I thought that if I could look slim even in white, I was truly healthy. As for the shoes, I think black ones on white would have looked ridiculous when singing to my heroines in gardens.”
Those special names

Jeetendra’s most special film remains Bidaai (1974), which bailed him out after several flops. “L V Prasadji was always like my second father, and I even addressed him that way — he taught me so much about life, work ethics and cinema during the many films we did together from Jeene Ki Raah in 1969 to Jay Vejay in 1978. Bidaai was also special because I had told Shobha that if it proves a hit, we would get married on the same day. And we did. On my wedding day, I also signed five films.”

Jeetendra also mentions his special affection for Nanda among his leading ladies. “We had three hits — she was that big junction where all we struggling heroes would go for that crucial break with a big heroine,” he says affectionately.

And while applauding “the amazing current films”, the actor is clear that he does not like “the pseudo-intellectual brand of cinema which existed in my time too. It is difficult to make any kind of commercially successful film and it is high time we accepted that,” he warns.

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