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June 29, 1998

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'I am very much attached to my nation'

V S Srinivasan

Nana Patekar. Click for bigger pic!
Face it, unlike Salman Khan, Nana Patekar is unlikely to be dubbed one of the world's 10 most handsome men or whatever it is they called the Bollywood hunk. But Nana Patekar, for all his failings in the beauty, beef and bouffant department, has one advantage as an actor -- he can act.

Bit of a disqualification, that, of course, when the primary requirement in Bollywood is the ability to dance, crinkle an eye, raise a brow while looking suitably macho in designer wear and goggles. Not Nana. Even his deep bass has this rather coarse burr that places him closer to Dharavi than Cuffe Parade.

Nana Patekar, like we said, is not very muscular and not very good-looking. Yes, maybe he's even ugly. Yet that man commands a respectable Rs 10 million per film, high by any standard. But after Amitabh Bachchan's disastrous Mrityudaata, it was he who was lined up to ensure that the Big B's next film didn't flop. Does he need better endorsement of his professional standing?

But the man is moody, shouting obscenities if he feels like it and crying at another. And there is the lurking right-winging conservative in him that shows up the movies he makes. It makes him speak up for the upliftment of the nation, a resurgence of values, conscription... And against corruption, injustice. And many of his angry roles exhibit the cynicism natural of a failed idealist, one who has yet to accept life as it is.

His roles are high on detail, with mannerisms being used to telling effect, even if they tend to be statements. So the villain in Parinda beats his forehead when things go awry, the protagonist in Krantiveer is given to hysterical laughter and telling people not to hit him on the "small brain", pointing in the region normal people have their medulla oblongata strung up, and in Prahaar you have him striking a fighting pose when things get out of hand.

But for all the caricature, he isn't a hypocrite. For long after he became a famous actor, he used to hole up with his old friends in a Mahim bar and drink himself silly, he celebrates his son's birthday in an orphanage and flaunts his middle-class mom at shooting schedules. He used to put part of his paycheck in the prime minister's fund and still spends a lot on charity.

With Manisha Koirala in Agnisakshi. Click for bigger pic!
But Nana hates interviews.

"Why do you want to interview me? What have I done in life? On what subject do you want to interview me?" You hold the telephone off your ear as he keeps up the tempo for a few minutes.

But all that suspicion doesn't mean he's scared to put forth his views. And so, after some cajoling he finally agrees to meet you.

We met him on the sets of N Chandra's Wajood. But before we get to him, the director comes over and urges you to write a positive piece. In exchange, he promises, he'll put in a good word for you. We don't promise but he goes over to Nana and assures him we're all right.

"Chandu told me that you are a nice guy," Nana smiles. Another journalist who has come to cover the shoot pulls in a chair near us and Nana eyes her menacingly.

"Poocho (Ask). What do you want to know? My background? I don't talk much about it. I have always wanted to be an actor. I was just five when I started acting." Nana worked for long on the Marathi stage, acting in various award-winning plays including Purush, Hamidabaichi Kothi before moving to Marathi television and films and then making his foray into Bollywood with Chandra's Ankush. Discussing his past finally, he starts with the most recent events first.

"I was acting and doing a lot of things at the same time. I did a Commercial Arts diploma from J J School of Arts and even worked in an advertising agency for sometimes. When I was just 13 years old, I even painted cinema posters. I used to get one meal and 35 rupees as my pagar (pay). It is a time I can never forget, because everyone seemed to forget you at that time. A person who does not have anything in life is considered a burden. But I have no regrets and no grievances against anyone. People have been unkind to me, but I do not want to swear vengeance. I am a simple human being..." Then he goes on to discuss himself as he is now.

"Mein jaanta hoon ki mein khoobsurat nahin hoon (I know I am not beautiful). But I wanted to make my performances beautiful. They should talk for you. Always let your work talk for yourself. No matter how much you give interviews, or how much you are written about, it is always the performance which counts."

He loves talking about his roles, raving about his films and the makers no end. And if he once used to criticise the Filmfare jury for the way it managed the awards every year, he publicly admitted his change of view when he won the best actor award for Krantiveer in 1995. He humbly accepted the award, cried in public and told the gathering that he had thought the awards were a farce till he himself won one.

A still from Khamoshi. Click for bigger pic!
"I knew I would get the award at the Screen function because my role was appreciated by many. But I was quite sceptical about the Filmfare awards. I used to think that the entire awards were bought and sold like vegetables and hence I did not stand a chance of getting it. But when I won the award myself it was seventh heaven for me. I could not control myself. It was a great moment for me. I also remembered somebody very close to me. I could not control myself. I wept."

Nana says it is the human being in him that prompts him to make such pronouncements.

"I am an ordinary mortal. I have feelings like a human being because I am one. If I am an actor, it does not mean that I am relieved of all emotions. I emote in reality, and act on the screen. That is the difference.

"That was the reason I let out my emotions on the day of the awards." Nana's wife Neelkanti had long hoped he would win the award. Nana is separated now and when he remembered what she'd dreamt of, he wept on stage.

Nana had won other awards, including best villain awards for his roles in Parinda and Angaar. But the best actor award provided the icing on a fabulous record.

We ask him about Parinda, directed by Vidhu Vinod Chopra, produced by N Chandra.

"Chandra had earlier produced and directed Ankush which is very close to my heart. The song Itni shakti hame dena daata, man ka vishwas kamjor ho na still runs through my six senses, urging me towards my goal. The song and the film (Ankush) have a lot of meaning. The film says there is no end to violence. Violence breeds violence and hatred breeds hatred. When doing the bit about the young boy trying to kill us at the end of the film, I was really moved. That strengthened my resolve to work for the country," says Nana.

If that sounds a little na´ve, it must also be asserted that that touching faith in state and country is truly part of Nana, not an artificial add-on. Which is why his films often involve some soap box proselytising, some ranting about the system and a heck of lot of violence, the villains often being killed, rarely arrested. Even when he felt his old friend Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray was crossing the line, he didn't hesitate to speak up, earning the Sena chief's ire in the bargain.

Similarly, he also got involved with the Citizen of Peace movement during the 1992 riots in Bombay, despite his close links with the Shiv Sena. In fact he even went to the house of several people alone to reassure them. Ghar pe baite baite ghutan si ho gayi thi (I used to get frustrated sitting at home). How long can you tolerate this? I went to the streets and implored people to stop the violence. We cannot kill each other mindlessly."

It was his experience during the riots that he poured into his Krantiveer. We had approached him for an interview while the film was being made. "Write about the film and you will write about me," he'd told us. And there too he wasn't being arrogant; he was just stating what he felt to be the truth. And, after all, he had faced a risk to his life during that period.

Click for bigger pic!
"I do not mind getting killed if I am able to do good for some people," he says, admitting that he does not endorse some opinions of the Sena. Including, perhaps, goading Hindus to homicide.

"I don't belong to any party. I am very close to Balasaheb. He asked me to stand for elections on a party ticket. I have even campaigned for some Sena members but I do not belong to any party."

He goes back to discussing Parinda. Nana feels his role as the eccentric villain has given him more mileage and publicity that any other role. He feels his dialogues helped him win the award and helped him make his presence felt in the Hindi film industry.

"Everybody still remember my dialogues in the film. Jao apne bhai ko samjhao. Nahin samujha to goli mar do (Go and make your brother understand; if he does not understand, shoot him) has become a favourite line with the youngsters of today," he says.

Nana then begins talking about Shashilal Nair's Angaar where he was pitted against Jackie Shroff.

"Angaar earned me the best villain Filmfare award. That year I was expecting another award -- for the best supporting actor -- for Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman for which I was nominated. But I guess one can't win them all."

Nana loves talking about his films. Probably these constant shifts are a way to avoid the interviewer asking him something personal. Like his alleged closeness to actress Manisha Koirala. So he cuts again quickly to Ankush.

"Ankush is a very hard-hitting film. It is a great film with a social message. Reality has been depicted clearly and cleanly. There was this rape scene in the film, yet it was so cleanly portrayed that the sanctity of the film was upheld. N Chandra is a genius. He can say many things by just showing a scene without a dialogue," says Nana.

Shift again to his own directorial venture, Prahaar.

"Prahaar was an experience in itself. It focussed on the difficult life of the people guarding our frontiers. How the soldier is forced into action even during the most difficult of family situations was depicted in this film. Pity it did not do well with the masses. The Indian masses are not used to war films. No war film with an Indian background has succeeded. Moreover some people may have felt that it was a semi-documented form with their heroines seen without any make-up."

Cut again to Tirangaa. It is said he got drunk for one shot to make it look authentic.

With Seema Biswas in Khamoshi. Click for bigger pic!
"I have answered this question many times. I have never been drunk on any sets. I can't work when I am on alcohol. It is a compliment to me that people found that scene so realistic. I have noticed how drunkards behave and that is what I projected in the song, Peele Peele with Raaj Kumar.

"Raaj Kumar was a pleasure working with. When Mehul Kumar, the producer and director of Tirangaa signed both of us for the film, people said, 'Mehul Kumar ne apne pair pe kulhadi maar diya in dono ko lekar (By taking on these two together, Mehul Kumar has struck his foot with an axe).' But that was not to be. I got along with Raaj Kumar and the film and our pairing was an unprecedented hit.

"The film ran well and that settled the issue. My role as the honest inspector and my fiery dialogues helped me. I always like doing something patriotic, because I am very much attached to my nation. That last scene in Krantiveer was almost impromptu though the dialogues were written. I did not spend much time by-hearting (mugging up) the dialogue. It all came very easily," says Nana, with a bow in the direction of scriptwriter K K Singh.

Nana says he is equally fond of all his roles and that he cannot compare one with another. "If you ask me whether I like my left eye or my right eye what can I say," he counters.

And the future, as far as Nana is concerned, is for his son Malhar. So does he plan to get him into acting now?

"He will become an actor if he wants to. He did act in Prahaar as the young me. But at the moment he is fourteen and interested in joining the army. I want him to go into farming and I'll support him in whatever he wants to do. I want him to be the best in whatever he does. But let us see what fate has in store for him. I cannot dictate terms. Fate does."

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