Govinda may still laugh loudly at a joke, but there is a shadow hiding behind his sunny smile.
Not a media friendly star, it is difficult to make Govinda talk about his career. Subhash K Jha finally catches up with the actor on the eve of his latest film, David Dhawan's Ek Aur Ek Gyarah.
How is life treating you?
Very well. I have cut down on my workload. I need to start afresh. I want to get away from my comic image. Not that I won't do any more comic roles, but I won't opt for the usual 'Govinda' type of comedies. When people shake your foundation at one immovable place, it is better to build your base in another place.
You have been repeatedly nominated for Best Actor in a Comic Role.
About five-six years ago when they got tired of nominating me in the Best Actor category, they conceived a new category for Best Actor in a Comic Role for me. Why do you think there is no category for Best Actor in a Romantic or Tragic Role? They just wanted to separate me from the regular heroes. I don't attend popular award functions any more. No point going where you are constantly humiliated.
What or who do you blame for the impasse in your career?
Myself. I should have mended my ways when I realised things were going wrong, when I was constantly categorised as a comic actor.
To a large extent, I would also blame the quality of my recent films, though I don't think films like Chalo Ishq Ladaye were bad. I liked [director] Aziz Sejawal's work. But the film was sabotaged. Its music was released long before the film.
After the producer's death, it became an orphan. But I cannot forget the experience of working with Zohra Sehgal in the film. She is a legend. And what a lovable lady. Arre baap re [Oh my God]! She had to slap me so many times during the film.
Each time she would inquire, "Tujhe lagaa to nahin [I hope that did not hurt you]?" I would tell her, "Mujhe bilkul nahin lagta. Le-dey kar ab sirf do-chaar buzurg ke haath hain mere oopar [It never hurts me. There are only a few elders who can bless me]."
Do you count Ek Aur Ek Gyarah as something to look forward to?
I hope so. To begin with, I was not very happy with the music [by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy]. Gradually, it grew on me. Now I think the songs are its USP. It has producer Subhash Ghai's imprint on it. Woh bahut guni aadmi hain [He is a very talented man] and I am happy to finally work with him.
He had offered me a role in Taal. But I did not do it because it was a character role [the role eventually went to Anil Kapoor].
Is the David Dhawan-Govinda magic at work in Ek Aur Ek Gyarah?
A lot depends on how Subhashji promotes the film and how the audience receives it. I would say David has recaptured the likable quality of his early films like Shola Aur Shabnam and Aankhen in Ek Aur Ek Gyarah. I think it will work. We have no more films on the floor. He kept re-working the script and re-editing the film. He is very sincere.
You know, when I saw Shola Aur Shabnam and Aankhen, I did not anticipate that they would become such hits. They looked like B-plus projects.
That is because your B films with David Dhawan like Raja Babu hadn't been released then.
I will tell you something about Raja Babu. It was deliberately made into a B film. Had there been some classy songs, Karisma [Kapoor] and I would have looked more dignified.
Do you feel embarrassed by those films when you watch them now?
Kya kharaab lagna [Why should I feel bad]? Nowadays, when I watch television, I feel I was a babe in the woods then. I feel like covering my children's eyes when they watch television. It's better that they spend their time doing something constructive. Jismon se uth ke rooh ki teraf badhen. Aaj kal to jism pe aakar hum log atak gaye hain [We should think of enriching our soul. But, nowadays, we cannot see beyond the body]. When I am reminded of all the supposedly vulgar things I did, I want to tell today's generation, "Look at what you're doing. Live and let live."
Is Ek Aur Ek Gyarah a new beginning for you?
No, I would not say that. It is another entertainer. To tell you the truth, even if the film succeeds, I am too detached from the wheels of success and failure to be swayed.
I have told David that even if Ek Aur Ek Gyarah clicks, I will not do comedy. Apne dil ki tassalli ke liye dekhna hai kiss terah se apna daaman bachaaye rakhen [I have to keep a clear conscience for my own sake].
Would you be happy not doing comedy?
An artiste can only be happy when he is true to his art. I have big plans for my career which I will not reveal right now. No one will know what I am up to. After Ek Aur Ek Gyarah, I am going to travel for five or six months and take care of my physique. Get rid of the lard. Until I take care of myself, how can I hope to rectify my career?
Are you unhappy?
Who isn't unhappy today? If I am unhappy, let me get to the root of it. Let me find a reason to make the audience laugh once again.