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Punctuality is rarely a virtue common to film personalities. But it seems that Mukesh Rishi (of Gardish and Sarfarosh fame) is a little different from the rest of the Bollywood breed.
"I never like to keep people waiting; it gives a wrong impression about my personality if I am late," says Mukesh when he walks into the Centaur Hotel lobby clad in casuals and dark glasses that looked a little odd.
"Sarfarosh has made people realise that I can act. This film has made me grow as an actor. There was a general impression among the people that I can only play a bad guy without any dialogues. But this film has given me a break and I have proved myself as an actor," he smiles.
Coming from a family into the stone-crushing business in Jammu, Mukesh was the first person in his family to try his luck in the big bad world of cinema.
After doing his graduation from Chandigarh and working for two years in the stone-crushing business in Bombay, he packed his bags and left India to join his wife whose family ran a traditional departmental store in Fiji.
"I was in Fiji for some years. From there I went over to New Zealand to work as a store manager. But I was modelling for various companies at the same time," he says.
However, he could hardly find out time for modelling due to busy job schedule. Also, he wasn't completely satisfied with his modelling assignments and his heart yearned for home. And so, after seven long years, he returned to Bombay and enrolled at Roshan Taneja's acting school.
"I knew I wasn't a good actor and that I had to learn a lot. I told Mr Taneja that I'd only go to producers for roles if he (Taneja) gave me his approval," says Rishi.
Put it down to either luck or talent, Taneja gave him the go-ahead in six months. And comforted by the thought of that kind of confidence, Rishi began haunting the offices of producers.
The first break he got was in Sanjay Khan's serial, Tipu Sultan, where he played the villain, Mir Sadiq.
"I remember I didn't had to struggle as much as other strugglers had to because I had a good personality. Everybody used to ask, 'Who is this tall man?' " He laughs.
However, his tryst with fame came with his role in Priyadarshan's Gardish in 1994.
"That role left a mark in the audience and established me as a villain. However, because I hardly spoke in that film people thought I couldn't deliver dialogues." He laughs again.
He went on to do about 40 films after that, including Baazi, Mrityudaata, Lahoo Ke Do Rang, Sapoot, Kalinga, Gupt and Ram Shastra. In all of them, he ended up playing the bad guy. And in all of them he played negative roles.
It was Baazi's director, Ashutosh Gowariker, who told John Mattan Mathew to try Mukesh out for the memorable role of Inspector Salim in Sarfarosh.
"What I liked about Mathew was his frankness and willingness to take on a challenge. He told me I would have to go for a screen test. And, I wondered at that; I've done 40 films without ever having to go for a screen test. So why now?"
But Rishi made no complaint, just sought a week to prepare.
"I'd nothing to lose even if I didn't pass the screen test. So I went for it." And good thing he did -- he got the role.
Was it difficult playing Inspector Salim, considering the film did stress on the character's Muslim identity?
"No, except the scene where I am offering namaz. I'd never prayed and therefore I had to practice that bit. Besides that, I had no real trouble doing the role. I must give credit to the director and writer Pathik. They were around all the time to guide me. And I performed to their expectations," he admits.
And as for the Muslim bit, Mukesh also feels it wasn't difficult for him to adapt to Salim's character though he is a Hindu.
"Throughout the film, I reacted the way a person will react if he is discriminated in his job. And this was an important thing I kept in my mind throughout," he says.
Mukesh had his fingers crossed for Sarfarosh, in a way he wasn't about many of his other films, probably even Sooryavansham where he returns to being a villain. Fortunately for him, it has had a decent run in quite a few territories.
"You won't believe it. When I was in Jammu, the talk in the town was that if we have to wipe out terrorism in our country we need people like Ajay Singh Rathod (Aamir Khan) and Salim. I really felt good hearing that," he says.
And what does the Muslim community have to say about his role?
He parries that. "Yes, that's a good question?" he says, smiling. Then he goes on to say that though many individual Muslims do good work for the nation, their deeds are never highlighted, never become public, the result being that they feel neglected.
"After seeing Salim in Sarfarosh they are happy that the good done by Muslims too is recognised. They feel they play Salim in their day to day life. That is why I feel proud I played that role.
According to him, people were tired of seeing him play a villain. In fact, even his nine-year old son had begun asking him to stop doing such roles. But he had no option since he wasn't getting other roles anyway.
"Today, any actor has to prove himself in different kind of roles. So I'm happy this role was a positive one," he laughs.
While Rishi is conscientious, he isn't quite a workaholic. He has fixed the number of films he'll do in a year.
"I don't believe in working two shifts and keep people waiting. I have my own lifestyle. I have to have time to my family and that's one of my top priorities. When I can't keep you waiting how can I keep the directors and producers waiting?" he says with a laugh.
Any particular message for strugglers, we inquire.
"I can only say Sar pe kafan baandh kar nikalna padta hai (You have to prepare to be a martyr to the cause).
"In this industry there are many paths you can slip on but just one ladder to climb. So if one has to make it big here, one needs to have the will power." Otherwise you are history, says Rishi.
Solo photographs of Mukesh Rishi by Jewella Miranda
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