A Ganesh Nadar
The ready smile is ever so forthcoming.
Underneath it, you realise Raghuvir Yadav is someone who takes himself very seriously. Perhaps as serious as the writer in M F Husain's Meenaxi, which releases April 2.
In his comfortable apartment overloooking the Aarey Milk Colony in suburban Mumbai, Yadav spoke at length about his career spanning four decades now.
Raghuvir Yadav was born in Ranchipura, a small village near Jabalpur. "There is satellite television there now," he says, "but no theatre."
His first appearance on stage was when he was in Class VI. The play was titled Adha Kirayedaar.
In those days, acting, singing and nautanki were looked down upon by people in his village. Yadav knew his father, a farmer, would beat him up for appearing on stage.
Frustrated, he ran away from home after his schooling. He joined a theatre company that also did puppet shows in Lalitpur, and travelled with them for six years. "Even Prithviraj Kapoor worked with these touring theatre companies," he says.
Touring with the theatre also meant putting up sets and providing the background music for the plays. He toured Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Bihar. "I like to travel," he says. Much later, when Yadav was in Delhi, he says, "I used to go for a tour every time I had saved Rs 5,000. I used to roam around for a month or two."
Later, he moved to Lucknow, and continued to act on stage. There, he heard about the National School of Drama in Delhi. He applied and was selected for the three-year course with Rs 250 scholarship per month.
He visited his family. They were now reconciled with the fact that he was going to act.
The Basics of Acting
The NSD was not only about acting. Students were also taught stagecraft, which included costumes, sets music, lighting -- pretty much everything connected with the stage.
He landed his first film while at NSD. Pradip Kishen's Massey Saheb (which also marked the debut of an actress named Arundhati Roy, later to become the famous novelist) fetched him two international awards: one at the 11th International Film Festival of India in Delhi and the other at the Venice International Film Festival.
You would not have seen Raghuvir Yadav in too many movies. "If I had acted in every movie I was offered, I would have burnt out long ago. I always choose what I like and also feel the audience will like."
He prefers to act in one movie a day, even when he has more than one movie in hand. He likes to concentrate on one role at a time. "During the shooting of Mullah Nasruddin, I had to go to two sets a day. I felt I couldn't do justice to the roles," he says.
You would know Yadav from Mira Nair's Salaam Bombay, Shekhar Kapur's Bandit Queen and, more recently, Ashutosh Gowariker's Oscar-nominated Lagaan.
Lagaan was a film he enjoyed working on, he says. "The unit was like one big family. We were together for five-and-a-half months. There was no tension nor were there any arguments. [Producer-actor] Aamir Khan was brilliant. He has such a clear vision."
Yadav says he has always wanted to work with M F Husain, the director of Gaja Gamini, starring Madhuri Dixit. Though he confesses he has not seen the film: "Husainsaab called me and told me not to see it. Because if I did, I would refuse Meenaxi! I still haven't seen Gaja Gamini."
"I met Husainsaab and his son Owais to discuss the role and script. My character was to end in Hyderabad. As the film went along, [the length of] my character also increased. I was not supposed to go to Prague earlier but I did because my role increased. The story was given a new twist.
"As the writer [my character] writes his story, his characters change as the story changes. That is a big problem for him. He gets worried. The kashmakash [conflict] that he goes through has been portrayed very well.
"I remember there was a qawwali sequence [Noor-un-allah] to be shot in Hyderabad. The song was to be shot over five days. But when we got there, it rained continuously. We waited for a couple of days with no luck. So Husainsaab decided to go ahead and shoot in the rain. You will see it in the song. We did not use artificial water, it was all natural.
"I remember I would discuss our characters with Tabu. Our characters were such that we were treading a thin line. If we were not careful, the characters would be ruined."
An Artist of Character
What happens when his views differ from those of the director? Yadav says, "I tell the director the way I see the scene. If he listens to me, cool. If he doesn't, I listen to him."
His days begin with yoga exercises. Evenings are spent playing around with music and reading books. He doesn't drink and avoids parties.
When he has had enough of Mumbai, he heads off to the Kaivalyadham health commune in Lonavla.
In this age of formula films, he doesn't feel out of place: "Formula films will run for some time. And then our time in the sun will come. No technical brilliance nor scientific progress can take up our slot or space in cinema."
About his most famous character, he says, "In [the television serial] Mungerilal Ke Haseen Sapne (1988), I played a comic role. That became like a scar.
"I acted in 13 episodes. Now, over a decade later, they still identify me with that character. I am not a comedian. It is time to go beyond that character. I don't know when that will happen, but I want it to happen soon."
He is now working on Prawaal Raman's Gayab, Gaurang Doshi's Deewar and Mahesh Manjrekar's Deham.
Yadav admires Om Puri and Smita Patil. It does weigh on his mind that people expect him to do a great job, but he says that tension goads him on positively. "I like doing complex characters and would love to act as Muhammad Bin Tughlaq."
Among the things on his tasklist are an album on folk music, directing a movie, writing his biography, and setting up a web site. He says, "I have acted in over 60 plays, movies and serials, but don't think I have done what I set out to achieve. I think I will die trying to attain it."
A warm smile comes over Yadav's face when he talks about his 14-year-old son, who is studying at Pilani, Rajasthan: "He sends me e-mail regularly. He is in a boarding school there. He was very happy when I spoke to him last. He has hosted some programme at school and was very proud about it."
Additional reportage: Ronjita Kulkarni