Unmatched star

Bollywood buzz

Unmatched star

It was the mid-90s and a Nana Patekar wave was there with blockbusters like Tirangaa, Krantiveer and Agnisakshi. What towered as a memory however (after also watching him in the 80s in Aaj Ki Awaz, Ankush and Parinda) was one news item that described how the actor had asked for a fat amount (by cheque) for formally inaugurating a commercial establishment. When the cheque was handed over to him, the actor had smiled and told them to write it in the name of a specific charity.

This, in a nutshell, is what Nana (real name Vishwanath) Patekar has always been, even when he was a part of the Marathi theatre scene, and then moved on to struggle (beginning with a bit role in the 1976 Gaman) and later became a superstar in Hindi cinema — both mainstream and offbeat.

Social responsibility

Active socially at all times (notably during the Mumbai riots), Nana was that fiery simpleton, which seemingly seems a paradox in terms, who was ironically known in film circles as a temperamental actor with unpredictable moods.

But Nana thinks nothing of going to his farm near Wai in Maharashtra, waking up at dawn, and in the early morning, selling vegetables along with other farmers in the village market, squatting on the floor, hollering about the wares and haggling on the price with villagers, most of whom know him well.

Our first meeting with this brilliant actor of many other films like Thodasa Roomani Ho Jaaye, Hum Dono, Khamoshi — The Musical, Ab Tak Chhappan, Vadh and the director-writer-actor of the brilliant Prahaar, was during the pre-release publicity of a small comedy that never released. His attire was spotlessly white, and he radiated complete warmth and composure. The vibe was like sitting in front of a spiritual soul.

By that time, of course, Nana the actor had nothing left to prove, having proved his comic flair too with brilliance in Hum Dono, Bluffmaster! and Welcome. Our second meeting saw him in a similar outfit in a five-star suite, for his new movie Welcome Back, full of naughtiness and humour amidst his innate sobriety.

Even then, he did not mention the scale of his service to the widows of farmers who had died or committed suicide in Maharashtra, and now for the drought-affected — Nana never believes in chest-thumping about his deeds and, but for the omnipresent media, his latest phenomenal deed would not have been known.

We recall another recent, heartfelt statement made to a newspaper by the actor: “I couldn’t sit at home while farmers were dying!” His Naam Foundation account was opened and within a day, he collected almost Rs 80 lakh. “When they trust me and know that the money will not be misused, people are willing to contribute for such causes,” he says quietly when asked about this.

Coming to the happier topic of his movies, he is indeed tickled by the fun quotient of Welcome Back. “In the 2007 original, Anil Kapoor and I were dons pretending to be nice people. Here we have reformed, but this time our sister’s suitor is not a simpleton like Akshay was then, but a crooked guy trying to show he is straight. All the humour came from there.”

About his famous style of dancing, he jokes, “I rehearse only to get the confidence to make mistakes.” An amused laugh follows as he adds, “I had three dances in Welcome Back. But everyone knew that if I did a step once, I could not possibly replicate it in the next take of the same shot. The director had to give me freedom, because I cannot predict how my limbs will move each time.”

Behind camera

It has been over 24 years since he wrote and directed Prahaar. Off and on, we kept hearing that he will return to direction. What is the truth? “Oh, I have unofficially directed so many films!” he laughs with a wink. “But I am directing a film now. That’s the reason why I have not signed any film as actor. It will be a love story, but different — about my kind of love.”

We tell him that Prahaar was a path-breaking film, in which it was shown that the internal enemy — corrupted or evil Indians — were as dangerous as the external one. Nana explains another layer of what he had meant by the ‘internal’ enemy: “It’s the bad thoughts within us, our wrong way of thinking. We should first clean ourselves instead of advising others.”

The actor explains that he postponed directing a second film because he was busy making money to buy a house and be secure, but adds, “I ended up earning much more than I thought, and now I wonder why I wasted time and did not direct earlier.”

He is thrilled that his recent Marathi film, Dr Prakash Amte — The Real Hero, on the Magsaysay Award-winning social worker he knows personally for 42 years, became a success and ran for 18 weeks. “My director Samruddhi Pore wanted to make it even if it ran only for a couple of days, and I supported her passion. Its success proves that the audience is evolving.”

Conviction and freshness always works, he feels, and adds, “People run after stars, but the biggest hero is the story. Stars can rise or fall, but the good story will always be strong.”

A lesser-known fact about Nana is that he never watches his own movies, and barely anyone else’s. “My films always make me regret that I could have done certain scenes better,” he explains.

A staunch proponent of genuine secularism, Nana says, “All the communities need each other. This is our society, not just mine or yours! And I firmly believe that we should follow our own religions only inside our homes.”

Has he not signed an English film? “Let me see how much they pay me. Then I will decide.” A laugh follows. “As it is, my English is not good, as I was a 5th-standard-pass Marathi student. My kind would have an inferiority complex and compensate for our ignorance of ‘is’ and ‘was’ with aggression. But now, I think I will manage.”

Finally, what is his son Malhar doing? Was he not supposed to come into films as well? “Malhar can look after himself, but at his age, he should now think for me,” says Nana. “He is educated in London. He wants to be a producer, but I have suggested that he become a distributor instead, so that he can choose to promote good cinema.”

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