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Rediff.com  » Movies » Prateik Babbar on the mother he has never known

Prateik Babbar on the mother he has never known

Last updated on: November 16, 2010 19:29 IST

'I need to make a name like my mother Smita Patil'

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Arthur J Pais in New York
A few months ago, Prateik Babbar walked the red carpet at the Toronto International Film Festival with Aamir Khan and director Kiran Rao at the premiere of their film Dhobi Ghat.

It could well be a career-making film for the actor who received a standing ovation at Toronto for his work as a dhobi (washerman) with a glamorous career in mind.

But as he said later, he 'did not know what to make out of the excitement.'

"He is a very shy person," his aunt Anita Patil-Deshmukh tells us helpfully. "But if you give him time, he will talk."

"This (Dhobi Ghat) is his second film," she adds. "After a cameo role in Jaane Tu Na... Jaane Na. People should not mistake his reticence."

Anita is his aunt, the elder sister of Pratiek's famous mother Smita Patil.

Prateik was in New York last week to attend the movie retrospective Bhumika: The Roles of Smita Patil and an exhibition of photographs and memorabilia connected to the actress.

The experience of people who knew his mother speaking about what she meant to them clearly overwhelmed the 24-year-old actor at the event.

The retrospective was organised by the Film Society of Lincoln Centre, the distinguished arts centre in New York city, and the Mahindra Indo-American Arts Council Film Festival.


Image: Prateik Babbar, the resemblance to his mother is so evident
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi/Rediff.com
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'I am discovering she was an extraordinary artist'

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For many years, Prateik did not want to watch his mother's films, his aunts say.

She was this mythical, larger than life figure and he was overwhelmed," Anita says. But a few years ago, he began watching her films whenever they were shown on television.

"I did not know the importance of watching those films," says Prateik. "But I do know now. I was always aware Mom was someone who was recognised, admired and loved. Now I am discovering she was also an extraordinary artist."

Watching Smita and his father Raj Babbar together on screen was also an experience, he adds.

"Now I am seeing these films on the big screen and it is quite an amazing experience," he continues. "When she is on the screen, you don't feel like looking at anything else."


Image: A portrait of Smita Patil at the festival's photo exhibition
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi/Rediff.com
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'I have no choice but give my best, even if it is a small role'

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Smita's younger sister Manya Patil Seth, a former costume designer for films and an executive producer of the Irrfan Khan starrer Dubai Return, is responsible for the photo exhibition.

The exhibition has dozens of images of Smita at work, receiving a national award for Shyam Benegal's Bhumika from then President Giani Zail Singh, and a few pictures taken by Smita herself.

"I postponed working on these archives for many years because I wanted Prateik to be involved in the effort," says Manya. "Frankly, all this belongs to him. Now that he is older and is watching her films, he is glad to be associated with the exhibition. We have a lot more material to be archived, and he is very keen on it."

Bhumika, her third film, is one of Prateik's favourite films. "I also like Chakra," he says. "And then there are one or two mainstream films like Namak Halal."

As he charts his own career, what thoughts come to him?

"I know I must be true to myself," he mused. "I have no choice but give my best, even if it is a small role. There are a lot of expectations from the family and industry."

"My grandparents and my aunts tell me that I need to make a name for myself like my mother," adds Prateik. "Their thoughts really motivate me."


Image: A portrait of Smita Patil at the festival's photo exhibition
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi/Rediff.com
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'I am lucky my family is guiding me'

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He is aware how demanding and unpredictable the film industry is.

"I am lucky my family is guiding me," he says, especially referring to his aunt Manya. "She has told me not to be afraid, to explore myself, and not be afraid of taking risks. She said as I learn along the way, I must also grow as a person."

He is fully aware that he should not be taken for a ride, he adds, chuckling. "You have to think twice about everything not only in the film industry but also in any career. Honestly, I am not a great judge and I indulge myself quickly. Fortunately, my aunt is there looking out for me all the time," he says.

Manya says his grandmother Vidya Patil and his aunts have been very strict with him.

"It may sound funny," says Manya whose son is a few months younger than Prateik, "but I would ask him, 'What do you think your mother would have done if she saw you now? (when Prateik was mischevious or did the wrong thing)' I would say, 'Your mother would have trashed you, she would not have tolerated this nonsense. And in no time he would be doing the right thing'."


Image: A portrait of Smita Patil at the festival's photo exhibition
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi/Rediff.com
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'Films would be a big learning curve for Prateik'

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His grandmother Vidya Patil lived "48 hours a day for Prateik," says Manya. "He is her baby. She has been very strict with him and yet at the same time, she has given him unlimited love. She is also a big motivating factor in his life."

How did the Patil family react when Prateik decided to get into the movies?

"He actually strolled into it via Jaane Tu... Ya Jaane Na," says Manya. "(Writer-director) Abbas Tyrewala was keen on casting Prateik in a small role. My mother was very worried as she had no idea what the project was, and who was behind it."

"My own reaction after meeting Abbas was, 'Good that Prateik has taken the decision himself for an offer that came without any influence.'

"I felt he will learn that films is like any profession. It requires hard work, discipline and sacrifices, but is fun as well. It would be a big learning curve for him. So I was very very happy that it was his decision."


Image: A portrait of Smita Patil at the festival's photo exhibition
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi/Rediff.com
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