'I am against any kind of violence.'
Paresh Rawal helped to complete Rishi Kapoor's last film Sharmaji Namkeen by stepping in and playing the titular character in the portions shot after Kapoor's death.
"I was directed by him (Rishi Kapoor) in his first directorial Aa Ab Laut Chalen," Paresh tells Rediff.com Senior Correspondent Roshmila Bhattacharya, "and I still remember his bubbly, infectious energy, his passion for cinema, food and life in general."
Your tweet, 'Comedians are in danger everywhere, be it Chris or Zelenskyy' posted on March 29, after Will Smith shocked the world by slapping Chris Rock during the Oscar ceremony, has gone viral. What was the underlying message?
I meant exactly what I said, nothing beyond that.
Chris Rock is a stand-up comedian, as was the Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy before he got into politics.
One was slapped, the other is at war.
How do you view the Oscar Slapgate?
It was very unfortunate.
Will Smith bagged the Oscar for Best Actor for King Richard later that evening, a big moment for him as an actor, but tragically, this incident overshadowed that moment.
Would you say his reaction was justified given that Chris Rock took a jibe at Will Smith's wife Jada Pinkett Smith's shaved head when it's common knowledge that she was diagnosed with alopecia in 2018?
It was a tricky situation.
A person can take anything said against himself, but not against his family and his loved ones, and most certainly not when it's said on their face.
One needs to be careful when they crack a joke or pass a comment like that.
It's understandable that he was provoked because wife ke upar joke kiya.
And what is your opinion on the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war?
War is never a solution. It's nothing, but real estate business.
I am against any kind of violence.
What prompted you to take up Sharmaji Namkeen?
As a colleague and a fraternity member, it would have been a sin on my part not to complete Director Hitesh Bhatia's beautiful dream when so much of time and effort had already been invested in the film.
Plus, it was a tribute to Rishiji who was a fantastic human being and a much-loved actor.
But more than anything else, it was a win-win situation for me as an actor because I ended up bagging a unique script and a lovely character that everyone will be able to relate to.
What are your memories of Rishi Kapoor?
I was directed by him in his first directorial Aa Ab Laut Chalen and I still remember his bubbly, infectious energy, his passion for cinema, food and life in general.
Rishiji was always jovial, a straight-from-the-heart kind of person.
No malice, no designs, no hidden agenda, which is very uncommon in any industry.
One franchise which has become synonymous with you is Hera Pheri. One can't think of it without Baburao Ganpatrao Apte. When is Part 3 happening?
I honestly don't know.
Would you be interested in playing Babu Bhaiya again?
I believe that times are changing, and so are the audience's tastes.
So instead of just cashing in on a hit franchise with a run-of-the-mill comedy, whoever makes it should take the three characters, Akshay Kumar's Raju, Suneil Shetty's Shyam and my Babu Bhaiya, and put them against a different backdrop.
It might work better...
Remember Munnabhai M.B.B.S. which took a quantum leap and instead of just another sequel, and gave us Lage Raho Munna Bhai.
Is that why Hungama 2 didn't work? Because there was a sense of déja vu…
Hungama 2 released on Disney+Hotstar on August 23 and got 7.6 million plus views in just over a seven-day span so I wouldn't say it didn't work.
But yes, sometimes you think more are more involved and even the audience's expectations are more.
The same thing happened with Hera Pheri 2.
What are your plans as chairperson of the National School of Drama?
We have ambitious plans.
We want to decentralise NSD, affiliate it to universities and colleges so we can draw the best talent in the country.
We also want to open NSDs in all the major centres so that a student from Bihar doesn't have to travel all the way to Delhi. He can enroll at the NSD in Patna.
There is an NSD in Patna now?
Not yet, but there's one in Kashmir which has a rich history of music, drama and stories and the response to it has been fabulous.
Now, we plan to open NSDs in other states like Gujarat.
Definitely one in Mumbai, which is the culture capital of India.
The theatre scene in Kolkata was once very vibrant too...
I'm speaking from Kolkata right now and yes, it was the land of theatre giants like Shambhu Mitra, Arun Mukherjee, Kumar Roy, Badal Sircar and Utpalda (Utpal Dutt).
We must have an NSD in Kolkata too.
We also have plans to open up many much-needed theatre spaces across India.
Even Mumbai has just one Prithvi Theatre. Shashi Kapoor deserved the Bharat Ratna for building it on prime land that sells for Rs 1 lakh per square feet when he could have built a tower there instead and minted money.
We should have had four-five Prithvi Theatres in the city by now and we will.
Talking of Kashmir, what is your assessment of Vivek Agnihotri's The Kashmir Files?
I've yet to see the film, but the predominant reaction of whoever has seen it is: I didn't know this happened in India.
An entire generation, maybe a generation-and-a-half, had no idea something like this had taken place in our country because of distorted history.
Now let the truth come out.
There's nothing wrong with that, but when you see it, you should not direct your anger and frustration towards a particular community.
Whoever was responsible should be brought to book.
At the same time, I reiterate, we should not direct our anger against people who had nothing to do with all this.
You mentioned you were in Kolkata, are you shooting there?
Yes, we are filming Ananth Mahadevan's The Storyteller.
I couldn't work with Raybabu (Satyajit Ray) but I feel blessed that I'm doing a film based on a short story written by him, Golpo Boliye Tarini Khuro.
Apparently, you were initially offered the role of the Gujarati businessman, but you insisted that you would rather play the Bengali storyteller, Tarini Charan Bondhopadhyay aka Khuro who is as much of a household name in Bengal as Satyajit Ray's Feluda and Professor Shonku.
Yes, that's true. I hope my Bengali friends will like me as Khuro.
He is an amazing character, not abusive and obnoxious, but subtle and creative, getting back so smartly.
Adil Hussain, a very fine actor whose work I admire, is playing the Gujarati businessman while I'm overwhelmed to be playing a character penned by Raybabu.
Your first Gujarati film Dear Father is doing extremely well. Do you plan to do more work in Gujarati cinema now?
Oh yes, they have some terrific stories in Gujarat.
It's very satisfying and fulfilling to work in your mother tongue, it gives me so much joy.
As a father, you must be really proud of your son Aditya who made a sparkling debut in Bamfaad. What did you think of his performance?
As a father, I was very anxious, but two things stood out when I saw the film.
First was Aditya's control over the language.
He's a Mumbai boy from a Gujarati family, who has gone to an English medium school and lived in the US.
Yet, in his first attempt at acting, he adapted to the Allahabadi language and dialect so effortlessly.
Also, despite him being a debutant, I did not find him to be gawky, awkward or self-conscious.
His next is the Hansal Mehta-directed thriller Faraaz, which should be out in June-July.
Can we hope to see Aditya, Swaroop Sampatji and you together in a film someday?
If a good script comes along, we would definitely love to be a part of it.