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What does it take to be an underworld don?

Pankaj Kapur | January 28, 2004 17:19 IST

My journey as an actor has been interesting.


The most fortunate part of my acting career is that I did what I always wanted to do. I never compromised on my career. I might have lost good money and popularity with the masses. But to be in Mumbai for so many years and doing what I wanted to do is an achievement on its own.


When people tell me I am still a popular actor, I tell them it is God's grace. I am happy that my audience accepts me in different shades and is ready to see me in different roles. I am very lucky. I should have done more, but at the end of the day, I am not unhappy.


It is important for Maqbool to succeed because it is a well made film. It has been made with a lot of conviction; Vishal dared to make this film.

I play the underworld don Abbaji, who is almost retired. He is not physically active, but he has a lot of love for life and has old values. People who work for him are like his family members. He trusts people close to him.


People ask me how difficult it was for me to play the role of a don after being associated with comedy for so long. Frankly, every role you play is difficult. Nothing is easy. It looks easy on screen but it is to the credit of the actor who plays the role. Each part is a challenge to the actor. You have to look at it afresh, as a student of cinema.


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You have to understand whatever the script says, not just the surface value of the character. That would be untrue. I believe in playing people as they are. Ultimately, you have to understand the script and the mind of your director. 
You have to understand your writer and director's outlook. Then your preparation as an actor begins. When you act in a film, it is like you start from A, B, C, and then graduate to first grade and mature as a complete character. That is how any actor must progress. 


I didn't watch any film to get inspired to act in Maqbool. I just dug up the script and final nuances of the character before shooting the film. These are important things to me as an actor.


You don't get this kind of opportunity every second day, so you try your best to deliver. That was very fulfilling for me. People like Irrfan Khan, Tabu, Naseeruddin Shah and Vishal are very professional and it was great experience for me to work with them.


Most of us come from a similar training ground -- drama. So on the sets, it was like working at home. A lot of credit goes to Vishal and the production house; they never made us feel uncomfortable. The whole thing was planned very well and executed extremely well. You don't find this kind of work in our country many times. A lot of people can learn from the way Vishal has made this film.


Maqbool has been compared with the [Shakespearean] drama Macbeth. The film's essence and basic storyline is similar [to Macbeth]. For example, the adaptation of the witches. Because the film deals with the underworld, Vishal created two policemen [Shah and Puri] who know what is going to happen. They make predictions in the film as the witches do in the drama. It is a marvellous adaptation of Macbeth. I would really say the movie is inspired by Macbeth, not based on Macbeth.


In Macbeth, Shakespeare looks into various aspects of human nature. If you are over ambitious; if you betray, what is your end? Where do you go from there? He answers that. Betrayal is human nature but if betrayal comes out of ruthless ambition, then you have to be prepared to face the end. His wife dies and Macbeth suffers from mental pangs. So if you want to go through that agony, go ahead and become over ambitious.


I think if you betray any relationship, you will go through agony. I think that is the superior statement Shakespeare makes.  

Tabu plays my mistress in the film. In Macbeth, Lady Macbeth is lawfully wedded to Macbeth. Here, Tabu is the underworld don's mistress. So the added angle here is lust, apart from ruthless ambition. Tabu becomes Lady Macbeth after plotting the murder of the underworld don.


The film has been made on a small budget. I am sure the producers will recover their money. It is a well-made film.


Pankaj Kapur spoke to Chief Correspondent Syed Firdaus Ashraf

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