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'I am a people's actor'

By V S SRINIVASAN
July 09, 2020 17:37 IST
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'If this is how the audience likes me, I will continue doing it.'
Jagdeepsaab, in a Rediff.com interview, 22 years ago.

The twinkle has faded a little, the face is lined, but the voice is as nasal as ever. Which is not surprising, the man has been known for his wit and will to survive.

And for giving Indian comedy a face that was uniquely different from the quiet comedy of Johnny Walker or the more robust style adopted by Mehmood.

Jagdeep, he of the crazy expressions and the khambha ukhadkes, has managed -- over the last 50 years -- to carve a niche for himself in the hearts of the Indian cine goer.

He started out as a barrister's son desperately in need of a job to help keep his family's body and soul together.

"My father died and, after Partition, we were literally on the streets. Jeene ke liye kuch karna tha, par bura kaam karke paise kamana nahin tha (I had to do something in order to survive, but I did not want to earn money the wrong way). So I started selling soap and combs. I even sold kites," he remembers.

It was during this time that B R Chopra's Afsana came his way.

There was an applause scene for which the production house wanted some children.

And nine-year-old Jagdeep was told, "he would get Rs 3 for clapping his hands. The scene was a play, and we were the audience. But the boy who was to say the lines could not mouth the dialogues in Urdu.

"I knew that, for dialogues, one would get Rs 6. So I volunteered. I put on a beard and moustache and got an immediate increment. That's how I joined the industry, because I needed money. I never had any ambitions of playing the lead role or anything."

 

IMAGE: Jagdeep in Hum Panchi Ek Dal Ke.

He acted in the children's film, Hum Panchi Ek Dal Ke, for which the then prime minister of India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, honoured him and the other artistes.

"He also gave me his walking stick," recalls Jagdeep. "I still have it with me."

Hum Panchi... became so popular, and when on to win so many awards, that he was dubbed Laloo Ustad, the character he played in the film.

"Even the Russian children liked it," he smiles. "They sent me a scarf through K A Abbas."

That year proved to be a milestone in Jagdeep's young life.

All the films nominated for the best children's film category -- Raj Kapoor's Ab Dilli Door Nahin, K A Abbas' Munna and AVM's Hum Panchi Ek Dal Ke -- had a common factor, Jagdeep.

Then came Bimal Roy's Do Bigha Zameen -- the film which started him down the road to comedy.

Do Bigha Zameen was followed by Aar Paar, Guru Dutt's first production.

"This," he beams, "was the third time I acted in somebody's first production."

Jagdeep went on to do roles in Aasman, Bhaisahab, Dhake Ki Malmal and Bimal Roy's first production, Dhobi Doctor where he played the young Kishore Kumar with Asha Parekh playing the young Usha Kiran.

IMAGE: Jagdeep in Bhabhi.

Then, with Bhabhi, came the romantic roles.

"I did one of my best roles in Barkha -- it was very emotional and I still value it a lot. Yes, every role has been beautiful, yet I can't compare the role in Bhabhi to that in Barkha."

Jagdeep played hero in five films, opposite heroines like Nanda (Bhabhi), Azra, Amita and Naaz. He soon became permanent with AVM.

"I was the only child star who worked continuously for 45 years without a break. Usually, child actors stop working at around 15 or 16 and concentrate on their studies."

Jagdeep even played the young Dilip Kumar in Shikwa. There were roles with villainish tinges too, like in Ek Masoom and Mandir-Masjid. Meanwhile, the child was becoming a man, and his ambitions were growing.

"Once I started getting a regular income, I wanted a permanent roof over my head."

"Initially, I got a jhopda (hut) near J J hospital (Byculla, south central Mumbai) and later, a kholi (room) in Mahim (north central Mumbai, where Rediff.com's office is located)."

"When I was working with AVM, I got a bungalow in Madras. Ultimately, I bought my own bungalow in Bombay. I sold it later and got a flat. I simply wanted to keep my mother happy."

When his mother passed away (this happened some time ago), Jagdeep went into mourning -- and professional hibernation.

"I was not mentally prepared to work. So I took a break. Now, I am back doing TV serials."

IMAGE: Jagdeep with his wife and sons, Jaaved, left, and Naaved. The little boy is Meezan Jaffrey, Jaaved's son who made his adult acting debut in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Malaal.

Acting, for Jagdeep, was a matter of survival though he did not, at any point, want to be just a comedian.

"But if this is how the audience likes me, I will continue doing it. I don't want to impose myself on them through the roles I want to do. I am a people's actor."

Jaaved (Jaffrey), Jagdeep's elder son, agrees.

"He belongs to the masses. I cater to a different audience, an audience that can understand my dialogue-oriented stuff. But the masses will never like it. They will prefer to watch my father. He is one who can make them laugh," says Jaaved.

Jagdeep recalls a postcard he once received, "The person had written 'I did not have any will to live, but seeing the way you do comedy even when you are sad makes one feel that we have to live.' I was moved when I got the card."

Jaaved interjects, "Dad can play serious roles very well. He is excellent in tragic scenes. But he got typecast, just like I did. I began as a dancer and people started looking at me only as a dancer."

Jagdeep rues the way comedy has changed over the years.

"In my time, we had writers who knew how to create comedy purely through dialogue. But that is not the case today. People wonder why comedians, today, tend to gesticulate and make faces. The fact is, there is nothing in today's scripts that can make people laugh," he says.

"Maybe the writers pen these dialogues after a few pegs and, in their intoxicated state, find it funny. But, the next morning, no one on the sets will laugh."

"This is the state of the writers today. We do not even have a script ready when we reach on the sets. And we are accused of making faces and gestures to make people laugh. What else can we do?" he asks.

"People should understand what I do. In a country like India, where so many languages are spoken, it is essential that we rely more on gestures. Moreover, during my time, this was how we made people laugh. Which is why I am still known for my funny faces and gestures," says Jagdeep.

As a veteran of 400 plus films, what does Jagdeep feel about the emerging trend of vulgarity in Hindi films?

"It is pathetic," he rues. "In those days, art, culture and sentiment inspired film-makers. Films were entertaining then. Unlike today, they did not portray vulgarity."

Which brings one to Soorma Bhopali, the only film Jagdeep produced. "I completed half the film before realising no one wanted to buy a film that did not have a heavy star cast. Yet I did not resort to asking my heroine to dance in wet clothes. Instead, I asked my friends in the industry do guest roles and the film ended up as a variety entertainment show," he says.

Jagdeep is proud of the fact that he is a people's actor.

"My comedy will not be appreciated by the elite, or by a group of press people who watch a film with a pen in their hands. But it will be appreciated by the masses."

Something that was either not noticed, or not appreciated, by Director Pankuj Parashar.

"Vinod Khanna asked me to do a guest appearance in his film, Himalayputra. But I was not comfortable with the scene written for me, so the script was changed. But when I reached the set the next day, I found that the script had been changed again. Parashar told me he did not like my comedy," says Jagdeep.

IMAGE: Jagdeep with Mehmood and Salman Khan in Andaz Apna Apna.

He is still appalled by the way times have changed.

"People like Mehboob Khan used to respect every artiste. Once Nargis was not giving the required expressions for a shot. So he hit her hard on her face. Nargis was shocked and began crying. He captured her expression, then fell at her feet and said, "Meri maa, mujhe maaf karo. Mujhe scene ke liye aisa hi expression chahiye tha (Please forgive me. But this was the expression I needed for this shot)."

"I have had the pleasure of working in two of Indian cinema's greatest films, Sholay and Mother India. But, then, the old-time directors were never arrogant as the ones today."

"The kind of performance you deliver depends on the director," continues Jagdeep. "During Do Bigha Zameen, Bimal Roy made Balraj Sahni change every movement of his because he felt that Sahni was not being as humble as required."

"Bimalda acted out the scene and showed it to him. Though Bimalda had a problem with Hindi, he still got the best out of Sahni. A director does not need to rude or arrogant. Such people only end up making flops like Pankuj Parashar's Raajkumar. Why did he ask me to do his film if he did not like the way I act?"

This brought to mind another hurtful memory -- when he, along with I S Johar and Mehmood, was nominated for best comedian at an awards ceremony organised by a leading film magazine.

"They said the level of comedy was not good that year and did not give an award in that category. What do they mean by level of comedy? And who are they to give awards?" asks Jagdeep.

"It is very sad that our awards ceremony is not organised by a film body. And you can never have a benchmark for acting or comedy," flares Jagdeep.

He rues the fact that there is no National Award for Best Comedian.

"Even today, if they have a best supporting actor award, it is not given to a comedian. Does this mean that comedy is not acting?"

Jagdeep takes his role as an actor and human being quite seriously.

"We are not just actors. People have a lot of respect for us and believe in what we say. So we have a responsibility towards society and must say the right things for them to absorb," says Jagdeep. "It was only when Mohammed Ali addressed a huge gathering that he realised the impact a public figure could make with one speech."

Talking about Mohammed Ali, Jagdeep recounts an encounter he had with Ali in a boxing ring.

"In a comic scene in Qurbani, I challenge Mohammed Ali for a fight. So when some people were raising funds for building a mosque in Chicago, they invited me and we had a mock fight. And there I was, trading blows with Ali. Thank God it was a mock fight. Else, I shudder to think as to what would have happened to me."

Jagdeep admires Amitabh Bachchan, Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor and Shah Rukh Khan and rates them as actors whom he has liked working with.

"I still have many more years to go," he says.

And realising he cannot sign off on a better note, signals the end of the interview, khambha ukhadke.

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