'I DID NOT want to play Krishna in Mahabharat'
Nitish Bharadwaj is one of the most successful and recognisable characters on television, thanks to Doordarshan's hugely popular serial Mahabharat and of course his character, Krishna.
Bharadwaj, then 23, became an overnight star, and people would touch his feet wherever he went.
Twenty five years later, Bharadwaj's life has changed quite substantially. After taking a break from television, he tried movies and then politics, with little success.
Today, the actor is directing his first Marathi film, Pitru Roon, starring Tanuja.
He tells Patcy N how his life changed after he became Krishna, and what he has been doing since.
Everyone in my family wanted me to become a doctor. I did not want to become a human doctor so I became a veterinary surgeon because I love horses and tigers.
I joined the race course as an assistant veterinarian but I found the job monotonous.
I used to act and direct plays in college, and had even trained in a children's theatre organisation called Little Theatre. In the acting sphere, every new play gave me something to do and you find yourself after every new project.
I decided one day that this is my passion and want to live this for the rest of my life.
Image: Nitish Bharadwaj in Mahabharat
'My father was very skeptical about my choice to become an actor'
My father was very skeptical about my choice, as such professions need a godfather in the industry and I did not have one.
My father, Janardan Upadhyay, came from a priestly family but he chose to break the chain and became an eminent lawyer in Mumbai. He broke from the stereotype and therefore supported me.
I started acting in Marathi theatre. I acted in Sai Paranjpe's play called Soiree with her daughter Vinnie. Actor Ravi Baswani urged me to join Hindi theatre. He took me to Dinesh Thakur and I joined his group called Ankh.
When I was in school I had been on several film sets because my neighbour was ex-FTII. He would take me to Filmistan, Filmalaya and RK Studio.
I saw Meenakshi Seshadri's shoot of Painter Babu. When she became my heroine in Nache Nagin Gali Gali, I told her about the shoot I had seen. She was shocked that I knew the whole scene she had shot that day.
Apart from doing plays with Ankh I became an announcer and later newsreader for Bombay Doordarshan. In 1987, I acted in my first feature film in Marathi called Khatyal Sasu Nathal Sun with Varsha Usgaonkar.
Then I acted in the Hindi film Trishagni and Marathi film, Naseebvan.
After that, Mahabharat happened.
Image: Feroz Khan with Nitish Bharadwaj in Mahabharat
'I flatly refused the role of Krishna'
I auditioned for the role of Vidhur in the Mahabharat in 1986. Then they told me that Vidhur was going to be an old man in most of the episodes and I won't look good as I was just 23. I was offered the roles of Nakul and Sahdev but I refused because there was nothing to do.
B R Chopra, Ravi Chopra, (screenplay writer) Pandit Narendra Sharma and (dialogue writer) Rahi Masoom Raza were not happy with whoever they had chosen to play Krishna. Raviji had already done two or three ads with me, like the Philips transistor and Allwyn watches, along with Govinda and he knew me as an actor. Even Gufi (Gufi Paintal who played Shakuni mama in Mahabharat) knew me as an actor, so they called me for another audition for Krishna.
I flatly refused.
I came from a Maharashtrian household. My mother was the head of the literature department at Wilson College. She had her own library at home so I had read a lot of literature already on Krishna.
I had seen many plays in Marathi, including the sangeet nataks, so I knew the possibilities of Krishna's character. I was sceptical about whether a film house would allow me the freedom to create the character the way I wanted.
I had reservations about myself as I was too young to play Krishna, who was the fulcrum of the whole story.
I told this to Raviji, but they told me to do the screen test. I did and I was in.
B R Chopra told me 'you are the fulcrum of the serial. If you fail, I fail.'
I told him he had given me too much responsibility. I thought I was too immature and young to perform the role. But he assured me that I would do it well.
Image: Nitish Bharadwaj in Vishwapuran
'Even today, Jackie Shroff calls me Krishna and joins his hands when he sees me!'
I shot eight episodes. After the first episode went on air, BR uncle called me and said, 'Beta, bahut phone aaye hain aur negative bol rahe hain. Yeh Krishna to fail hogaya.' (Son, I have received many phone calls and they are all negative. This Krishna has failed.)
But he said he had faith in me, and that we should just wait and watch.
I told him that from the Subhadra haran episode, Krishna will be loved (the episode where Krishna helps Arjun kidnap his lady love Subhadra). And that is exactly what happened.
Even today, Jackie Shroff calls me Krishna and joins his hands when he sees me! I think I have got lots of adulation because of this one role.
The experience on the street changed. It was different in mega cities, towns and villages. It was like a fever. This was a mythological, watched by the entire nation.
Even in cities like Mumbai it was a craze. We were living in Goregaon (a western suburb in Mumbai) and I remember rickshawallas would point to my building and say, 'This is where Krishna lives.' Like people touched the feet of Sudhir Dalvi after the film Shirdi Ke Sai Baba, and Arun Govil after the serial Ramyana, they touched my feet too.
I was not sure how to deal with it. I knew I had to have humility and faith. I had to respect the person who was touching my feet. I never let that go to my head.
People would offer me money to wear the costume and go to corporate functions and bless people. I found this funny and declined all those monetary offers as it would degrade Krishna's character.
I was not typecast after Krishna. I did get films, but I left and went to UK. I blame only myself for whatever happened in my life. I was too young and didn't listen to my parents. I got married and went to London.
The reason was that a couple of films didn't do well. In one big banner film, Sangeet, my role was chopped. I got disillusioned. I should have stuck around but I took the wrong decision of going to the UK and that put the breaks on my career.
Image: Nitish Bharadwaj in Yaksha
'Tanuja went bald for my film Pitru Roon, as she plays a widow'
In London, I started doing French theatre in English. I was also doing Bhagwad Gita and Ramayan for Radio 4. I toured a lot with my plays.
I came back after four years, in 1995. Those days India's image on British news channels was gun-toting politicians from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
While I was there, the 1992 riots happened and India was not projected in a positive light. I thought I can't keep on criticising, I have to be proactive. So I joined the BJP to do my bit, in 1995, and was a part of it till 2007.
I won one election (Jamshedpur) and lost one from Rajgarh in Madhya Pradesh.
I directed the television series Geeta Rashya and Apradhi, and directed a documentary called Karamyogi, and acted in television serials like Vishnu Puran and Ramayan.
I decided to focus on cinema. I started working on my own script. Now I am directing my first feature film in Marathi, Pitru Roon.
Tanuja, who took a break from Marathi cinema, will be brought back after 33 years. The last Marathi film that she did was Shreeram Lagoo's Zhakol.
Tanuja went bald for the film as she plays a widow. It is basically her story and the story unfolds through Sachin Khedekar.
Yaksha is my next film. It is a psychological thriller, produced, directed and written by Mukul Abhyankar. I play the title role.
These days, I like the mythological show, Devon Ke Dev Mahadev. It is extremely well presented. The actor (Mohit Raina) fits his character of Shiva to a T. The only thing is sometimes I feel the character is too sugar syrupy. Someone should work on the dialogues.
Image: Nitish Bharadwaj explains the scene from Pitru Roon to Tanuja and Sachin Khedekar