'I slapped Shah Rukh!'
Stage actor Vijay Crishna died 40 deaths in Devdas
The mirror has two faces. So does Vijay Crishna.
One of them is being Managing Director, Lawkim India. A Godrej concern, which manufactures motors, Crishna has under his leadership raised its annual turnover to over Rs 1,000 million.
As actor, Crishna has been performing on stage for the last 27 years --- from Gandhi to Dance Like A Man.
In Sanjay Leela Bhansali's epic film Devdas, he plays Shah Rukh Khan's father. Excerpts from a conversation with Arti R:
How did Devdas happen to you?
I got a call out of the blue from Sanjay Leela Bhansali's production crew. Strangely enough, I was offered both Asoka and Devdas within the same week, both to play Shah Rukh Khan's father.
I don't think Sanjay had ever seen my plays, but I believe it was the age factor that worked in my favour. While I could not accept Asoka because they wanted to begin shooting within three days and I could not fit it into my work schedule, I accepted Devdas. Though not before letting them know that day shoots would not be possible.
I have heard that this story is the last word on unrequited love. Apparently, the earlier versions didn't have much scope for the part I play. But Sanjay Leela Bhansali wanted to focus and dwell on other relationships that surround the trio stars.
I took it up because I thought it would be fun
Was it as much fun as you anticipated?
The shoots were rather absorbing and energising. It was very atmospheric, with huge sets that I believe a lot of money has been spent on, elaborate costumes and a large number of people working behind the scenes.
The havelis were so elaborately done up that sometimes lighting the sets took longer than the time spent on a shot. For instance, if there was a shot where one needed Aishwarya and Madhuri's haveli in the background, all three had to be lit up for one shot which was a mamoth task.
Like in theatre, Sanjay Leela Bhansali spent a lot of time using lighting to create the mood while shooting.
On the sets, the atmosphere was continuously focused on the scene being shot. There was an awareness of the passage of time, because with the impending monsoons, they were trying to can a perfect shot and also wrap it all in time.
What did you think of Sanjay Leela Bhansali?
I don't have much to compare Sanjay with, but he is hugely involved with the film. He control what is happening. He is technically savvy and at any given time involved with setup, lighting, costumes, the continuity, extra artistes, colours in the scene, the background and his actors.
It's easy to fritter time away on so many issues and lose focus on the scene at hand. But Sanjay knew exactly what he wanted us to perform in the scene, what he wanted out of it and how it should look. Binod Pradhan, the cameraman and he were on the perfect wavelength. They didn't even speak most of the time!
I haven't seen his earlier work, just heard about them. While most people might forget the before and after scenes or refer to notes made by assistants, Sanjay has it all in his head.
He would blow up at his assistants if they ever got careless. But that I think is natural considering all that is riding on the success of the film.
Sanjay would often joke about how he taken an adaptation of the story which is famous in Bengal and played around with it. He was worried if anything went wrong, the Bengalis would be baying for his blood and his other Gujarati partner in crime Prakash Kapadia who has helped him with the screenplay, and that he would be crucified.
But anyway, this is his take on the story.
What do you think about the film?
I have not seen the film in its entirety. I know as much about the film as any other film buff that reads newspapers and magazines.
But I do feel it is a tough tale to spin out within the requisite three hours. I like the way Sanjay has invested a certain atmosphere into what I think is a universal tale of love. He has taken the story, added appropriate songs and dances into it, along with the grandeur of costumes, the drama of emotions, on a large scale. It will be a very beautiful, a very good-looking film.
I don't know what kind of response the film will evoke. I don't know how the India of today which is so materialistic will react to a tragic love story filled with love, emotion and sacrifice.
I presume Sanjay is hoping the starcast, story and the buzz around the film will create an interest amongst the audiences.
Did you have any trouble while shooting?
I was given a bound script before we began shooting. There were times when I reached the sets and find the dialogues changed. Learning the lines at the last minute before the shoot did have me in a sweat. But on the sets, there were always rehearsals and the screenplay writer Prakash Kapadia was always on the sets no matter what was being shot. So that was a huge help if anybody needed any clarifications.
But playing the role of stern father, a zamindar [landlord] who is about to be presented with the title of Sir by the British who were in the country then came quite easy. The role is about this father who sons are very successful, except for Devdas. I didn't do much research. Sanjay did not want any mannerisms or complexities to the character. He wanted me to play it as simply as I could.
I remember the scene where I die --- we shot it as many as 40 times. Sometimes there would be words that would go wrong or Sanjay wanted a particular emotion or wanted to improvise on the scene. It certainly wasn't for the lack of trying that we couldn't get it right. But with 40 people on the sets, elaborate costumes and wordy scenes, this was natural.
What was working with Shah Rukh and Aishwarya like?
They were very professional. But there was none of the camaraderie that happens in theatre. Since gaps between shots were long, most people did their own thing. Shah Rukh and I did talk about how to enact a scene or likewise with Aishwarya. But that's about it.
Aishwarya is stunning. Considering she didn't know me from Adam, she was neither very friendly nor was she a prima donna.
My favourite scene was when I had to slap Shah Rukh Khan. I wasn't sure how I would go about it. Just before the scene, I asked him, "So what do I do? How does one fake a slap or should I actually go ahead and slap you?"
He told me coolly to go ahead and slap him. He even mentioned how he got slapped by a lady wearing glass bangles that broke because of the impact and his face bled.
I realised I wearing an ornate and heavy ring, and transferred it to the other hand. But we did do a lot of retakes for this. It was a lot of fun!
How would you compare working in your earlier films as compared to Devdas?
I worked in Richard Attenbrough's Gandhi and Sea Wolves.
Devdas also was a very well ordered set up as compared to many of the film setups I have seen. I was prepared to get bored on a big venture. But it was enjoyable to watch a very good team at work helmed by a very intelligent director.
ALSO READ: The Devdas Special