October 11, 2001, Chandigarh, India
Meet the Shah of acting
Her talent speaks for itself
Meet the Shah of acting
Though he’s still open to meaningful roles, 50-year-old Naseeruddin Shah has been consciously distancing himself from Bollywood and is devoting his energies to theatre. Now he’s also taking time out to host a cricket show on TV, writes Sanjeeb Mukherjee.
For years now Bollywood circles have called him the alternate sex symbol. A character artist who can rival the appeal of any superstar. Without doubt, there’s something very powerful about the man who feels equally at ease on stage, in films and — occasionally — on television.
There have been few actors as accomplished and versatile as Naseeruddin Shah. His performances in films like ‘Mirch Masala’, ‘Paar’, ‘Aakrosh’, ‘Chakra’, ‘Masoom’, ‘Hey Ram’ and ‘Sarfarosh’ have put him way ahead of other actors. But more than his performances, it is his range that never fails to astound.
He is just back from a nine-month sojourn in Paris where Peter Brooks — "the world’s greatest director", as Shah calls him — cast him as Rosencrantz in his upcoming stage production, ‘Hamlet’. He says it gave him a chance to take a break from Bollywood. "I was constantly living in the fear of turning into one of the characters of Hindi movies," he said in an interview.
But there’s no fear of that, the 50-year-old Shah is now immersed in theatre and is looking forward to re-staging ‘Khel’ with Paresh Rawal and is busy finishing his own home production, ‘Ismat Aapa Ke Naam’.
That he wants to stay away from Bollywood can be seen from the fact that he has agreed to host a cricket-based programme ‘Super Selector’ along with Sunil Gavaskar and Geoff Boycott.
"When I was a child I wanted to be either a cricketer or a film star. I failed to become a cricketer so I chose the easier option!" said Shah at a press conference to announce his small-screen foray. "Nothing can arouse the kind of passions in India that cricket does. After every match, we have 100 million opinions."
Television is nothing new for the actor who’s done over a hundred stage shows and 75 films in the last three decades. The last time viewers saw Shah in a notable TV role was in the mid-eighties when he played the lead role in the critically-acclaimed ‘Mirza Ghalib’.
Back in his school days at St Joseph in Nainital there was nothing to suggest he would become a film star. He was an average student and got no opportunity to be noticed or recognised. After graduation from Aligarh he studied drama for three years. And while doing an acting course the Film and Television Institute in Pune he got his first film break when Shyam Benegal offered him not one but three movies — ‘Nishant’, ‘Manthan’ and ‘Bhumika’.
Shah grabbed the offers. He knew he did not have the Greek God looks to become a Dev Anand or a Shammi Kapoor. So, he decided to trudge the path of parallel cinema along with contemporaries like Om Puri, Smita Patil and Shabana Azmi.
With films like ‘Junoon’, ‘Aakrosh’, ‘Sparsh’, ‘Paar’ and ‘Masoom’, Shah made a niche for himself as an actor and more importantly as the first choice of the leading directors of that era — Shyam Benegal, Mrinal Sen, Govind Nihalani and Ketan Mehta.
Though he never failed to draw accolades from critics for his roles in art films, Shah began pining for applause from the masses. What followed was ‘Jalwa’, his first hesitant step in the world of commercial cinema. Though the potboiler turned turnip at the box office, Shah’s role was noticed. Then came ‘Tridev’ that put him firmly in the Bollywood saddle.
Through most of the last two decades Shah has played many author-backed roles in films like ‘Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Aata Hai’, ‘Jaane Bhi Do Yaro’, ‘Sir’, ‘Drohkaal’ and ‘Chamatkar’ and has also won three best actor Filmfare awards for ‘Aakrosh’ (1980), ‘Chakra’ (1981) and ‘Masoom’ (1983).
However, in the last few years, with age fast catching up and the decline of new wave cinema, Shah has been seeing meaningful offers drying up. Though there’s been an occasional ‘Sarfarosh’ and the critically acclaimed ‘Hey Ram’ and Mira Nair’s award-winning ‘Monsoon Wedding’, Shah has been getting steadily disillusioned with films. He is now devoting his time to theatre and has set up his own company along with actress-wife Ratna Pathak Shah.
"Theatre is my lifeline," says Shah. "Nothing gives me more satisfaction than acting in front of a live audience." And what about films? He just smiles. In fact, a couple of years ago he answered that question in an interview when he said... "If I am needed parts will have to be created for me and my looks."
Her talent speaks for itself
Call her precocious, unassuming or temperamental, the fact remains the Rani Mukherji has established herself as one of the most talented film actresses in an amazingly short time. She started out with a dud ‘Raja Ki Ayegi Baraat’ in 1998 and is today rated among the top three heroines in Hindi cinema.
Descending from an illustrious family of actors, boasting of the likes of Joy Mukherji, Debashree Roy, Tanuja and Kajol, she has played a number of roles, ranging from Vikram Bhatt’s ‘Ghulam’ and Kamal Hassan’s ‘Hey Ram’! to Karan Johar’s ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’ and Shankar’s ‘Nayak’.
The odd part however, is that Rani never really intended to make a career in films. While in school, she did a cameo role in her father’s Bengali film (she was 14 then) and thereafter, continued with her studies till she got her first Hindi offer from a family friend, Salim Akhtar.
"I was in my first year at Mithibai College in Mumbai when Salim uncle offered to give me a break in ‘Aa Gale Lag Jaa’ ", she recalls. "I was against it as there were already too many actresses at home and I wanted to be someone different. So the role went to Urmila (Matondkar)."
Later, Salim came up with another offer and this time her father put his foot down. "My dad said I was very young and that I could wait a little longer. But Salim uncle argued that by the time the film was complete two years would have gone by. That sounded logical and he relented."
The film was ‘Raja Ki Ayegi Baraat’. It bombed and Rani was back in college. But the hurt of having proved a failure — particularly, when her cousin Kajol was going great guns — made her rethink her career plans. And when Karan Johar offered her a bit role in ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’, she accepted it.
"Karan had gone to Twinkle Khanna, Tabu and even Raveena Tandon (who was committed to ‘Bade Miyan Chhote Miyan’, as she told me later) before approaching me. There were other big names, but they all refused the film on the ground that the role was too brief. But I just followed my heart and said ‘yes’."
In between, Rani pulled off an unexpected hit with the ‘Aati Kya Khandala’ number in ‘Ghulam’, opposite Aamir Khan. Then came ‘Hey Ram’! ‘Bichhoo’, ‘Badal’, ‘Har Dil Jo Pyar Karega’, ‘Hadh Kardi Aapne’, ‘Chori Chori Chupke Chupke’, ‘Bus Itna Sa Khwaab Hai’...
"All along, it has been a learning process for me," she points out. "My first lesson as an actress was to be committed and adaptable. You have to get rid of your hand-ups and be ready for all kinds of situations. You cannot be fussy. You cannot get irritated, tired, hungry or homesick if you want to survive in films!"
And what is the worst part of being an actress?
"Getting up at odd hours to catch flights. I hate the long hours of waiting. There are times when one is continuously travelling, from one city to another, hopping from one studio to another or changing from one costume to another. It is annoying, but after a point, one learns to be immune to one’s surroundings."
Lest she be misunderstood, Rani adds that she has no regrets being an actress, as she manages to take a break once in a while and "freak out" with friends. "I try to remain the same person I was before I joined films," she explains. "Besides, I firmly believe that all work and no play makes one old and weary!" — (MF)
The Mumbai film industry has made an unlikely celebrity out of a balding 60-year-old, bespectacled man who dabbles in numbers. Ever since he added that extra ‘a’ in the ‘Naa’ of last year’s blockbuster, ‘Kaho Naa Pyar Hai,’ all roads from Film City lead to his Ferreira Mansion home in downtown Mahim.
Bansilal Jumaani is a numerologist who specialises in changing names of film stars and titles of films. He was the one instrumental for christening Jeetendra’s son Tushar Kapoor as Tusshar and adding an extra ‘c’ to ‘Kuch’ in his launch vehicle ‘Mujhe Kucch Kehna Hai.’
Similarly, he suggested the title of ‘Yes Boss’ for the Shahrukh Khan-starrer, the only successful film in Aziz Mirza’s career as director. He has also asked Abhishek Bachchan to drop his surname if he wants to succeed and recommended ‘minor changes’ in the names of Manisha Koirala, Tabu and Sunil Shetty.
"Hrithik Roshan requires no change," he declares. "He was born on January 10, the most auspicious day in the month of Saturn. He is a number 1, which is associated with honour, faith, self-confidence, fame and universal accolades. It cautions, alerts and protects him from numerous rivals and hidden enemies!"
His observations on Raveena Tandon are equally revealing: "Her psychic compound number, 26 is not fortunate as it has fatalistic tendencies and foreshadows treachery, deceit and betrayal. On the positive side, it promises advancement in carrer. Ideally, she should change her name to Raavveenaa and drop Tandon."
Clearly, not everybody is abiding by what he has to suggest. As Shobha De remarked in light vein: "I am prepared to add any number of Ss to my name if it would bring me more fame, success and money." Jumaani did his calculations and dashed off a letter to De, saying that all she needed was an extra ‘a’ and no ‘s’ for a brighter future. De is now Shobhaa! (MF)
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