The unstoppable Neil Nitin Mukesh

The proud father, son, actor, producer and writer wants to continue making films for his audience and family

There was a loud screech from a little girl in the background when Neil Nitin Mukesh answered the call with a ‘hello’. It was his one-year-old daughter Nurvi in the background.

“I’m sorry about the noise. I’m on babysitting duty today. She knows I’m busy but still needs all my attention. I’ve come into the cabin now but she’s watching me from outside. She knows she’s the boss,” he says, laughing.

He’s not complaining though. He’s enjoying all the roles he has had to play in the last couple of years — actor, producer, writer, son, husband and father.

The little one has started to recognise her father on the big screen now. “One of my songs came on TV the other day and she immediately screamed ‘papa’. And then she turned around, pointed at me and screamed ‘papa’ again. She couldn’t believe it,” Neil says.

He realised that he needed to tell her that the person she sees on screen is an actor and her father is the real person. “To make her understand, I showed her videos of me on other devices. I even took videos of her and showed it to her so that she’s not confused.”

The biggest screens Nurvi can see papa on are now showing his new ‘Bypass Road’, which is scripted by Neil and which is his brother Naman Nitin Mukesh’s debut directorial. He believes this is the film he has worked the hardest for.

In Neil’s first movie ‘Vijay’, made 34 years ago in 1988, he played Rishi Kapoor’s younger self, but he says every new movie feels like a first.
He tells Showtime how it all began.

“I want to take you further back before I get into that story. My grandmother, whom I called badi mummy, lived in the same building. My sister and I spent our weekends there since we didn’t want our mother to send us to bed early. At badi mummy’s, we’d get to watch movies on the VCR and ‘Mera Naam Joker’ was my favourite. It was four hours of uninterrupted television.”

Being at grandparents’ also meant that he’d see a display of the awards his singer grandfather won.

“I used to wonder where all these awards came from. I mean, I used to take part in school competitions but I never won any awards, so how is it that there are so many of his?”

A while later, when he got a call from Yash Chopra to work as junior Rishi Kapoor, he slowly started to understand.

However, during one of his scenes, he got scared and didn’t want to do it anymore.

“Yash uncle being the sweetheart that he is, took me to the side, bought me a whole box of Dairy Milk chocolate and made me count from 1 to 100 and gave me a bar of chocolate after each count. When I was finally ready, we started shooting again,” he says.

Even at this time, he didn’t understand how playback singing worked or that this is what his father and grandfather did. “We were shooting in Windsor Manor in Bangalore at the time. I saw Anupam (Kher) uncle doing a scene where he was singing but only moving his lips. A tape recorder was playing the song. Then I was told to do the same thing. The first thing I did after I got back to Bombay was tell badi mummy that I finally understood what grandpa does.”

Nineteen years later, when he made his lead debut with ‘Johnny Gaddaar’, he was prepared to be an actor. He started preparing for it when he was a teenager.

His father, Nitin Mukesh, once told him that he had to start working sooner than he had planned to if he wanted to become an actor. “He explained to me that I have an older sister who needs to be married off and a younger brother whom he wants to educate. And if I wanted to become an actor, dad would not be able to fund it. So I had to start working.”

After his 10th board exams, he joined Yash Raj Films. He attended classes in the morning and would head to the office after. He also joined Anupam Kher’s acting school with Hrithik Roshan, Uday Chopra, Abhishek Bachchan and Jugal Hansraj.

Twelve years since ‘Gaddar’, his performances have been critically appreciated, especially his South Indian films.

“When I decided to work in the Vijay-starrer film ‘Kaththi’, I was told by everyone to not do it. Everyone thought that I had a good thing going and I shouldn’t jeopardise it. But I’m in it for the craft and I wanted to continue learning,” he says, proudly. 

Though he is from a family of singers, he never wanted to make a career out of music.

“I’m not a trained singer like my grandpa and dad. If I had become a singer like them, I would have been terrible. The comparison would have been so high.”

“In my own home, I know how much my dad works to keep up with his father’s legacy. And honestly, I don’t think people would have wanted to listen to me sing,” he laughs.

Neil wants his daughter to be proud of him. “One day if Nurvi decides to become an actor, I know that she won’t be compared to me because she’s a girl but there will be some kind of expectation,” he says. He isn’t sure that is the road she would go down, though.

“She’s all of one but her interest in music is amazing. She loves sitting with dad in the morning and doing ragas. She’ll reply with ‘aaa’ if you ask her how daddu sings. She might be good at it — you heard her vocal chords earlier,” he says, laughing. 

Apart from two films coming up under his production house, Neil is writing a script. Also, he has a South Indian movie coming up, which he is not allowed to talk about.

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