Saturday, June 02, 2007

I used to love the way Pran Saab rolled his beedi...

What are the kind of films you’re looking for today?

I’m still fond of commercial films but they should be made well. I like the kind of films Mani Ratnam, Rajkumar Santoshi and Priyadarshan are making. Now that Virasat has done well, at least 10 per cent of the directors will be inspired to make sensible, commercial films. Earlier, directors like Guru Dutt, Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Gulzar did a fine job of blending sense with saleability. And of course, one can never forget V Shantaram and Raj Kapoor, two of the best directors in their times. Some of my all-time favourites are Ganga Jamuna, Jagte Raho, Do Bigha Zameen, Do Aankhen Barah Haat, Boot Polish, Pyaasa and Anand. These are the kind of films I wish they’d still make today. I was very impressed with Border though. I really admire J P Dutta who despite a string of flops refused to compromise and make a film only for the box-office.

Do you think that the villains’ role in films has changed over the years?

Films basically reflect what is happening in our society. Society today has gone through a lot of changes and consequently films, the role of the bad man too has changed in many ways. Earlier, the thakurs and money-lenders were the villains, now it’s the ministers, police chiefs and underworld dons who are gunning for the masses and yes, the hero too. I have no grouses about this but I am appalled by the way these bad guys are projected today. It’s obnoxious! Till the ’70s films had one nayak and one khal-nayak. My colleagues and I had important, well-etched roles. But with the advent of multistarrers, one character was split into three and by the time we entered the frame half the film was over. That’s very frustrating.

Danny Denzongpa Yeah, a film like China Gate reportedly has as many as 10 main characters. Are you going to be just a face in the crowd?

China Gate has a strong screenplay and a power-packed script. I play the role of a gurkha army officer who’s the only physically fit guy in the platoon. I train the other old guys. But there’s a catch. I am suffering from luekaemia. It’s an interesting role the credit for which goes entirely to Raj Santoshi. He’s making a lavish multi-starrer. But he has the advantage of a good screenplay and carefully thought out characterisation. Also an undercurrent of humour.

Don’t you think nowadays villains tend to depend too heavily on get-ups?
What if they do? I don’t see anything wrong in that. Sometimes one has to play to the gallery. You need to rely on get-ups... overact. Even I have done it in my earlier films like Chor Machaye Shor.

Who are your favourite villains?

I am a fan of Pran Sahab. I used to love the way he rolled his bidi, taking it from his coat sleeve. It was a gesture the audience loved. He’s also my favourite co-artiste. He’s always on the sets in time, complete with make-up. He’s a big star and a great guy. I also think Amrish Puri and Paresh Rawal are very good actors.

Which were your five best films?
It’s very difficult to rate my five best films. I’ll try. (After a few minutes of deliberation) There was this Bengali film Lal Kuthi which I had written. I play the role of a mercenary who is sent to knock off the lady of the house. But she has this adorable son who reminds him of the innocent boy he was when he was living up in the hills, away from life’s ugliness. The little boy becomes his bondhu, his friend, and he has a change of heart. He dies trying to save the lady he’s been sent to kill. It was a beautiful, sensitive film. It fetched me the the Film Journalists’ Best Actor award. I also did a Nepali version of this film titled Sino for which I won the National Award. It was then remade in Hindi as Ajnabi by Romesh Sharma but since it did not have any takers it was converted into a serial and remained in the top ten charts for five long years. Another film I enjoyed doing was Bulundi, in which I played a double role, a father and son. I even had to dance in that film and I was quite convincing (Laughs). Agneepath also was a great experience. It was after 18 years that I was doing a film with Amitabh Bachchan and I had a strong role. I have enjoyed making films with Mukul Anand. Besides Agneepath we did Kanoon Kya Karega, Aitbaar, Khuda Gawah and Hum. He was a techno whizkid. His films were very stylishly shot.

You entered films as a hero. Why did you switch to negative roles?

I had lots of opportunities to play the hero. But the films didn’t click. Though the Mahesh Bhatt directed film Lahu Ke Do Rang had me in a romantic role, I was only the second lead. This film took a long time to be completed. I was playing the second lead in a lot of other films at the time and not too happy. Meanwhile, I had a string of releases— Mere Apne, Dhund, Laila Majnu and Kala Sona—which were big hits. In these films I played the bad guy. I had nine consecutive releases and after that there was no looking back. In Kala Sona I even sang a song but after that I felt very odd singing songs and running around the trees. I was more comfortable firing the gun and fisting the guys. I stuck to playing the bad guy.

Though you are a good singer you did not record any songs.

Today when every Tom, Dick and Harry is cutting an album
don’t you feel like joining the gang?

I have sung five songs for my films. I even had the opportunity to sing under the baton of SD Burman. There was this pahadi song I sang for Yeh Gulista Hamara. It was aired on Binaca Geet Mala for nine months. After that everybody wanted me to sing in a nasal tone. It was getting very repetitive so I opted out. Recently, before RD Burman died, he had composed two songs which I had recorded with Anuradha Paudwal for T-Series. I’d like to cut an alubum today too. Any takers?

Most film stars have hang-ups about doing television.
But you’ve been doing Ajnabi for five years?

As I said earlier the film Ajnabi did not get any buyers. So Romesh Sharma decided to make it into a serial. Initially, I was very hesitant but I agreed later because Romesh reasoned that the project would serve its purpose only if it reached the audience. Ajnabi was one of the serials to be launched with the Metro channel and within a couple of weeks it became very popular. So much so that even when it was shuffled from one channel to the other it remained on the top. I have to confess that the kind of popularity Ajnabi gave me, none of my films have given me. Wherever I went people adressed me as Major Pratap Rai. It was great.

Are you doing any other serials?

I am doing only one called Usool which is again directed by Romesh who’s a good friend of mine from the FTII days.

Even Amitabh Bachchan is your good friend.

But you haven’t done many films with him.
That was a deliberate decision. I had decided that I would do a film with him only if I got a role that was important as his in the film. That opportunity was given to me by Mukul Anand in Hum. In fact, after that we both acted in three films directed by Mukul Anand. I remember during the making of Khuda Gawah when we were in Afghanistan the then president of Afghanistan Najibullah had invited us for dinner. There he gave us a certiciate for bravery because we had gone there at a time when militancy was at its peak. I also won an award for this film.

Danny DenzongpaHow important are awards to you?
Awards are a form of recognition and appreciation. It peps you up to do better. But ultimately work is more important to me. Hard work is the motto of my life.

Danny doesn’t seem to age at all?
What is the secret of your youthful looks?
My diet. I also sweat it out regularly, swimming and jogging. I also go trekking and horse riding. I’m constantly fighting against laziness but I am not very ambitious. I treat my work as a part of my life. Gardening, painting and wood carving are my hobbies. As far as medicines go, I follow my grandmother’s recipes.