Photographs: Hitesh Harisinghani Sonil Dedhia in Mumbai
Jackie Shroff may not be signing as many movies as he used to but that doesn't mean his passion for the movies has died.
The actor seems to be content in the space that he is in now, even as he hails his colleagues like Anil Kapoor, who is still in the limelight. After all, the measure of success according to him is not how many Hollywood projects he has at hand right now but how much his life has changed from his chawl days in Teen Batti to his present home, a luxurious, sprawling appartment in the posh Bandra Bandstand.
When Sonil Dedhia met up with the actor at his residence, he found Jackie in his usual bindaas attitude, talking about his three decades in the film industry with much enthusiam.
In a frank and candid conversation, Jackie spoke about his long career, struggling days, his children Tiger and Krishna, and how his wife Ayesha has always been a support system for him.
Are you happy with the kind of work you are getting today?
Yes. I've just finished dubbing for Ananth Mahadevan's Life is Good. My Telugu film Panjaa, which released last December, got fantastic reviews.
My recent Tamil film Aaranya Kandam won National Awards. It was my first Tamil film and I was getting a lead role in it. I played a negative character -- an aging don whose powers are fading away from him. People accepted me and loved my role.
I am also doing a Marathi film Hridaynath, directed by Amar Gupte. I have dubbed Duryodhan's voice over in an animation film Mahabharat.
You have spent three decades in the industry. How has it changed over the years?
There is no sanity left in our lyrics. If you see the lyrics in the songs are dying. Today we listen to songs like Munni Badnaam and Chikni Chameli. These songs are instant wonders. If a new item number comes, the previous one goes into the dumps. No one likes to remember these songs. We can't do anything about it because the audience likes it. Today films are collecting Rs 100 crores at the box office.
Is it difficult to find original stories in Hindi films today?
Indian cinema has completed 100 years. How many new stories can you bring every time? It's not possible. There are so many original films that are being made today but that is not possible all the time. Nowadays, it has become so difficult to register a title for the movie because the title already exists or someone has already blocked it.
'Salman got his first film Biwi Ho Toh Aisi because of me'
Photographs: Pradeep Bandekar
You have had a good releationship with your contemporaries like Anil Kapoor, Govinda, Sanjay Dutt. Are you still in touch with them?
Yes, very much! I also like to spend my time with Danny (Denzongpa). We have a lot of things in common. When we meet, we go for long drives and cook amazing food.
I recently met Anil Kapoor at a party and we had a blast. He is doing a lot of Hollywood films. I remember after the release of Slumdog Millionaire, he had called me to say, 'Hollywood pahoch gaya hun Hollywood, koi nahin gaya... main gaya hun, main (I have reached Hollywood. No Indian actor has ever reached here). I'm the best'. Acha lagta hai apne yaar acha kaam karte hai (It feels good when my friends are doing some good work).
Salman Khan is doing really well in his career. I know him since the time he was growing up. Do you know Salman got his first film Biwi Ho Toh Aisi (1988) because of me?
I have constantly been in touch with Sanju Baba (Sajay Dutt). He is an amazing person. Sab apne dost hai bhidu (All of them are my friends).
Don't you feel jealous or bad when you see them doing well in their respective careers? What's stopping you?
Tu pagal hai kya (Are you mad)? They are my buddies. As I said earlier, it feels nice when you see them doing good work. Anil (Kapoor) has opened the doors of Hollywood for all of us here. I never thought I would become an actor. When I started out, I never thought I would come so far. Acting was not my passion. When I experienced the highs of being an actor, I started liking it and it gradually became my passion.
Don't you get tempted to work in Hollywood?
Woh log mereko bulana chaiye na (Hollywood should offer me films). Anil's role in the film (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) was very small. If I get something good, then I will do it. I don't want to do a Hollywood film so that I get a tag that Jackie Shroff has worked in a Hollywood film. I rather do a Tamil lead role (referring to Aranya Kandam), which goes on to win a National Award.
'Just because you have given five successful films doesn't make you God'
Do you regret when you see your contemporaries are still doing well in their careers?
Mereko pagal kutte ne katta hai kya? (Have I been bitten by a mad dog?) (Laughs). I don't regret anything.
When I was staying in Teen Batti (in south Mumbai), I had one washroom and we were 10 people. Today I have three washrooms and I am the only one using all of them. Can you see the quantum leap that I have taken in life? I was staying in a chawl which had seven small rooms and we were 28 people staying in it. Today, by God's grace I have sea facing flat at Bandra.
I have noticed that when you come to attend events or parties, you just walk in like a common man instead of stepping out of a fancy car.
I don't care about all these things. Just because you have given five successful films doesn't make you God. There are so many superstars who have come and gone. I have seen this lot of times. There are people who haven't seen glamour. Suddenly when they become famous, they get wings. They fell they are the only ones present. Two bodyguards in the front, two at the back. You are not a Rajesh Khanna or Dev Anand or Amitabh Bachchan.
It is already known that you got your first film when Dev Anand saw you in a print advertisement. How did you get your first advertisement?
I was waiting at a bus stop when someone approached me and asked what I was doing. I told him I was working in a travel agency called Trade Wings at Kala Ghoda, in south Mumbai. He introduced himself as an accountant from an advertising agency and asked me to do modelling and offered me to pay money to get my pictures clicked. I got very excited. The next day during the lunch break I went to the ad agency.
'Ayesha and I still love each other and trust each other blindly'
When was the first time you saw Ayesha?
I haven't told this to anyone. Ayesha was in a bus and I had taken my friend's bike and was returning after I finished my swimming session at Breach Candy club. I followed her. When she got down, I introduced myself and she too responded by telling me her name. She was going to her friend's place and I used to play pinball opposite her friend's house.
The next day she sent her friend and asked her to tell me that I looked like a hero and I should audition for the lead role of an upcoming television series Ashoka the Great. I borrowed Rs 20 from my mother and sent my pictures to the production office. Role nahi mila but Ayesha mil gayi (I didn't get the role but I got my wife Ayesha) (Smiles).
How has your wife Ayesha supported you all these years?
It's been fantastic. She has been a very strong lady. There were so many things that were written about me. Right from Meenaxi Shesadri to, Dimple Kapadia, Madhuri Dixit and a lot more, I have with some of the top actresses.
Filmmakers used to make me kiss almost every actress and I guess almost all my films had a kissing scene. I was known as a serial kisser. I can say I am the original serial kisser. I remember my first magazine cover was Zeenat Aman where I am kissing her. No actor had done that before. Ayesha she never uttered a word nor she has complained.
Recently there were reports of your strained equation with Ayesha?
(Laughs) When the media people don't have anything controversial to write they target your relationship. People have a lot of vivid imagination. Ayesha and I still love each other and trust each other blindly. Ayesha and I laughed this off by saying good news or bad news so let's be in the news.
'I remember rats used to bite off the edge of my fingers'
Photographs: Hitesh Harisinghani
Talking about good news or bad news you were recently in the news for being gay?
(Laughs) I was reading all this and laughing over it. I remember when this rumours had come out Virender Sehwag had scored his double century and had scored the highest individual runs in One day cricket. People forgot him and were all behind me. There were so many blogs running on my name. It is so funny.
How do you take these rumours?
Just with a pinch of salt. How does it matter? In fact after the gay rumours the husbands started feeling safe if their wives wanted to come out with me (Laughs).
Ayesha and I have so many gay friends who are all creative and artistic in their profession. If I take all these things to my heart I will get a heart attack (Laughs). The day I start bothering about all these, I will quit the industry.
What are your memories of Teen Batti, the place where you grew up?
I still go there whenever I am in South Mumbai. I go to my room where I stayed with my family. We don't own it as my mother sold it off after my brother passed away there and she didn't want any bitter memories. I remember rats used to bite off the edge of my fingers. I have lived a very tough life but I am always grateful to it.
As an actor do you feel you have got your dues?
Kyun, aur bhi milna baaki hai? (Is there anything still remaining) (Laughs loud)
You have to keep yourself fit, maintain your sanity and be disciplined. I rather prefer to lay low, take it easy, enjoy your work and do not blow your own trumpet. If you think some due is left, toh utna bhi milega (you will get it).
'Tiger still has 2 years before he makes his debut'
Your son Tiger is planning to make his debut in films...
Tiger is just 21 years old. He still has two years to go. Subhash Ghai and Aamir Khan have not offered him a film yet. They both came up to me and told me if I needed help with Tiger they are more than happy to help me. They have shown so much faith in him and I guess that in it speaks a lot.
Do you think it will be tough for him because he would be known as son of Jackie Shroff?
Yes, you are right. He is a son of celebrity and there will be an added pressure on him. I am sure he is going to be completely different from me. He has his own style and I am sure he will create his own identity.
What about your daughter, Krishna?
Krishna is currently studying and she is very clear that she wants to become a director. Karan Johar's father Yash Johar would call me Tiger. My wife has a cordial equation with Karan so maybe I'll send Krishna to assist Karan.
'There are no plans to revive my production company'
Photographs: Hitesh Harisnghani
More than three decades in the industry. You have had a successful career. Is there anything that you feel you haven't achieved?
I don't think I have achieved anything. Amitabh Bachahan has spent more than five decades and still going strong. He is a huge inspiration.
My mentor Dev Anand loved cinema till his last breath. He was so passionate about films. Even at 88 you could see a child in him who wanted to learn so much.
I am just a kid in front of them. I still have a long way to go. Yeh toh sirf shruvat hai. Abhi toh bahot time baki hai (This is just the start. I have a long way to go) (Laughs).
Lastly, any plans to revive your production company?
No there are no plans to revive my production company.