When talent reigns

It is the fear of possibly being unable to play a character well that motivates me. What is easy is not thrilling any more...

When talent reigns
He’s known to be a chameleon as an actor. The multi-awarded Padma Shri Paresh Rawal has done it all — cinema, television and theatre with roles of every kind — villainous, dramatic and comic. His many cinematic milestones include his turns as the evil Veljibhai in Sir, as the eunuch in Tamanna, as Sardar Patel in Sardar, as the now-iconic Baburao in Hera Pheri, as the henpecked husband of a shrew in Awara Paagal Deewana, as the buck-toothed village simpleton in Malamaal Weekly, as the shopkeeper who fought for a cause in OMG-Oh My God! among many, many others.

A diverse portfolio

A hit actor in Telugu movies as a villain in the 90s, Paresh has had a very successful run in Gujarati theatre and has also done television. That said, he is now a BJP MP and is also planning to play Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a biopic that he will produce. Production, of course, is not new to him — he has produced TV serials as well as the suspense thriller Maharathi.

Of course, on sheer public feedback, his dominating image today is that of a comic performer, and like his other work, he is outstanding in that too. In his last release, Guest Iin London, he was the sole redeeming point!

How does he look back at his career, which began in 1984? “Whatever came my way, I did my best,” he says humbly. “I was not a star’s son and had no relatives in films, so it was perhaps my good luck that I was good at every kind of role,” he explains.

But, did he not consciously move away from villainy to comedy after Hera Pheri became a hit in 2000 and his Maharashtrian character of Baburao Apte achieved cult status? “I did not try and change anything,” he says. “The combination of a great role and a great director can create wonders. Priyadarshan has always extracted the best from me, even in other films like Hungama, Garam Masala, Malamaal Weekly and Bhool Bhulaiyaa.”

Dharmendra, as revealed by director J P Dutta, wanted more time to prepare when he had a scene with Paresh in Hathyar way back in 1989, when Paresh had yet to achieve real fame. This was simply because the senior star had sensed what a powerful actor Paresh was and did not want to come off as inferior and spoil the sequence’s impact. What does Paresh have to say about this?

“It’s the greatness of such people,” is how the veteran actor interprets this with a smile. “You feel nice, of course, when we hear things like what you said now. Even before I became a star, a few directors like Rahul Rawail and J P Dutta would repeat me, and I thus had the satisfaction of knowing that whatever I was getting was only because of my talent!”

He smiles again and quips, “After all, I had no ‘Greek God looks’ or a great physique, and I could not even dance like Michael Jackson or Mithun Chakraborty!”

We ask his views on numerology, which was used in the titles of a couple of his films (like his last) and has been used by colleagues in their names as well? Does that show a deficit in confidence, which clearly the actor has in sackfuls? “I do not understand numerology,” he replies. “But then, no one leaves any stone unturned to get success and so they will use the maximum things to help. Having said that, I must say that success can never make anyone secure,” he states.

What does he look for in his roles now? “A challenge!” he answers simply. “It is the fear of possibly being unable to play a character well that motivates me. What is easy is not thrilling anymore. In fact, even taking money for doing such roles is no fun at all. If mann ka santosh nahin hai (if the mind is not satisfied), what is the use of just money coming in?” he wants to know.

How is he approaching the Modi biopic? “We are still brainstorming on the script, though it is 75% ready. With a leader like Modiji, it may be clear where to begin, but where will the endpoint be? Will we stop at his Lok Sabha victory? Or will it be on his later achievements? It is indeed a tough call,” he reveals.

What is the single quality he admires most in the Prime Minister? The answer comes instantaneously. “Iraade (goals)! He is a born leader, and you have to understand that leadership cannot be forced upon you. Look at JRD Tata, for example.”

To return to films, we have been hearing a buzz about the OMG-Oh My God! sequel. What is happening there? “We have been making a lot of effort, but we must have a good story. We don’t want to just cash in on a brand and make money. And we are also wondering which god to take up now after Lord Krishna,” he smiles broadly.

When not on the screen

Now that he has become quite choosy, what does he do in his spare time? “I have always read a lot, and I watch all kinds of good films and keep searching for good stories to dramatise,” he says. “But in cinema, I am glad to be working in this era. I truly call it the golden era for Hindi films,” Paresh says.

He further explains, “We now get bound scripts that were never there earlier. We have fantastic actors like Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Irrfan Khan and Rajkummar Rao, and even a star like Varun Dhawan who, early in his career, experimented with films like the wonderful Badlapur. Among the big stars too, there is Aamir Khan. He’s made of some different kind of clay.”

Paresh makes a special mention of the Sanjay Dutt biopic in which he plays Sunil Dutt’s role. “To work with writer-director Raju Hirani, his co-writer Abhijat Joshi and an actor like Ranbir Kapoor is so satisfying that it is like a Chaar Dhaam ki yatra,” he exclaims.

Had he ever met Sunil Dutt? “No, but I always respected him as a father-figure and knew him through his work in films and politics. He never had any mannerisms as an actor, and that is why I had to catch his spirit and his emotions to portray him. In any character, you have to catch what you cannot see. You must have the strength to blend into the character.” Among other films to come of the actor are Manto and Tiger Zinda Hai — clearly, the spectrum could not be wider for any actor.

What does he have to say about never doing a film with his wife, ex-Miss India, film, television actor and educational activist Swaroop Sampat? “We tried a lot. But as of now, we have never got a good enough script to work together,” he says seriously. “The search is on. Without a good script, our chemistry will never bloom on screen.”

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