'I am related to Azad'
Akhilendra Mishra on portraying the martyr in Santoshi's caper
It is a little known fact, but Akhilendra Mishra [last seen as Arjan, the blacksmith, in Aamir Khan Productions' Lagaan] is related to Chandrashekhar Azad. The actor who shot to fame as Mirchi Seth in John Mathan Mathew's Sarfarosh shares his experiences about playing the legendary hero in The Legend Of Bhagat Singh which hits theatres June 7.
When I was offered this role by director Rajkumar Santoshi, I could not believe it. My immediate reaction was that I would not be able to play the part. How could I even have been considered? I never thought my looks or personality matched that of Azad. I always perceived him to be a fair, handsome man. But Rajji said he'd show me a photo. He did and I said, 'this is my picture, is this Azad?'. The similarity was uncanny.
The experience left me bewildered but I agreed to a photo shoot. That was shown to the Tauranis (the producers of the film) and I was approved.
I then began working on the physical aspects of the character. Contrary to general belief, Chandrashekhar Azad, was a very tough man with the physique of a pehelwan [wrestler]. I also began reading up on him. Books written by his contemporaries -- Shiv Varma, Bhagwan Das Mahore and Sadashiv Malkapurkar were my resource material.
As I believe in astrology, I even got hand a horoscope of Azad and tried to discover what made him the man he was. The role deserved that kind of involvement.
His horoscope predicted that he would be a fearless man, unafraid of death. He already knew that he could die at any time and that knowledge gave him a risk taker's fearlessness. Even the English were petrified of him. After the Kakori Conspiracy, when all the senior party leaders were arrested, Azad was let off.
Though his birth name was Chandrashekhar Tiwari, he took on the name Azad to reflect his passion for freedom. Even the way he wore his moustache was a symbol of his will to be free.
When Gandhi began the Non-Cooperation Movement in 1920, Azad was only 14. When arrested he was asked for his name by in a court of law; he replied that it was Azad, he gave his father's name as Swadhinta [sovereignty] and his residential address as the jail. This infuriated the judge and he was flogged 15 times before being set free. At 14, he tolerated the flogging but swore no one would ever touch him again.
Bhagat Singh and Azad, who formed the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association, were different yet alike in their ideologies. Bhagat Singh was a socialist and Azad believed in socialism but had not been educated in it. Azad was a sharpshooter; he would not think twice about shooting anyone. Bhagat Singh never wanted bloodshed.
I discovered that I was related to Azad by chance. I was discussing my work with my father (who lives in Bihar) over the phone. I told him that I was playing Chandrashekhar Azad in the Rajkumar Santoshi film and he immediately asked me if I knew anything about the fighter. I told him I knew that he was great hero of our country. That is when he revealed to me that we were actually related to the martyr. Our family, the Tiwaris and his, the Pandeys, originally hailed from Kanpur. But we parted ways 100 years ago when we migrated to Bihar and when Azad's family moved to Madhya Pradesh. That bit of information became a driving force and though it was now more challenging to play the character, it egged me on.
The Legend Of Bhagat Singh is my sixth release after Veergati, Sarfarosh, Lagaan, Tarkeib and Lal Salaam. My next project is Yeh Dil where I play Tusshar Kapoor's father.
With inputs by Bharati Dubey