‘In my days of strug­gle, I didn’t have enough to eat’

The Sunday Guardian - - Masala Art - BUL­BUL SHARMA

Ac­tor Yash­pal Sharma, known most no­tably for his role in La­gaan, speaks to Guardian 20 about his ca­reer in main­stream Bollywood and re­gional cin­ema. In

your al­most two decades in the in­dus­try, you have donned many roles. How dif­fer­ent was your char­ac­ter in your re­cently re­leased film,

from the ones you have played in the past? A.

While I was do­ing this film, I re­ally missed La­gaan (2001). Panch­lait is a story of the era when there was no elec­tric­ity, there was no manchin­ery, so­cial me­dia or tele­phone; noth­ing is there. To fea­ture those peo­ple or to be por­tray­ing a char­ac­ter from that age is a chal­lenge in it­self. I have only done a few films from this genre. The char­ac­ters in this movie are also very in­no­cent, there are no vil­lains… The plot of this movie is also dif­fer­ent be­cause it is a cult story. The story has been in­spired by one of Hindi lit­er­a­ture’s prom­i­nent writ­ers, Phan­ish­war Nath “Renu”’s fa­mous short story “Panch­light”. One of his sto­ries has ear­lier been adapted into movies like Raj Kapoor’s Teesri Kasam (in­spired by Renu’s “Mare Gaye Gul­fam”). It is after 51 years that some­one has dared to bring a story by the writer to the world. The story be­longs to a world which we have com­pletely for­got­ten ow­ing to our busy sched­ule. This is why I did this film. It was a very dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter. I have played the role of the vil­lage sarpanch.

Q. Adapt­ing a book for the screen comes with great re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. So when you first watched the movie post­pro­duc­tion, were you thor­oughly con­vinced that the essence of the orig­i­nal had been re­tained? A.

The orig­i­nal story con­sists only of three pages, and it had to be con­verted to 120 pages for the film. For that we also wanted to en­sure that the essence and the soul of the film were in­tact. Rakesh Ku­mar Tri­pathi, the writer of the film, has done a won­der­ful job on it and for an en­tire year he has writ­ten just this story. This sort of hard work was im­por­tant as well and of what­ever I have seen [of the film] I be­lieve that we have been able to re­tain the soul of the orig­i­nal story. We have achieved a sort of that in­no­cence in the film as is re­flected in the orig­i­nal work. The ex­tra ef­fort that has been put in di­a­logues, char­ac­ters, cos­tumes and shoot­ing at a lo­ca­tion where there is no elec­tric­ity will def­i­nitely ap­peal to the au­di­ences.

Q. Be­ing a Na­tional School of Drama grad­u­ate ( 1994), and hav­ing done the­atre ex­ten­sively, you first got no­ticed in Govind Nih­lani’s film, (1998). How do you look back at those years when you were strug­gling to find your place in the in­dus­try? A.

I don’t see Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa as a big break. I didn’t play a ma­jor role in the film. My big break came with La­gaan. It was in 1996 that I moved to Mumbai. I have a strug­gled a lot dur­ing the pe­riod. I didn’t even have enough to eat then. It was quite frus­trat­ing and I al­ways used to think about leav­ing the in­dus­try. If you don’t have any­one from your fam­ily and friends in the in- dus­try, it of course be­comes a chal­lenge to sus­tain. How­ever, if you get work on merit it boosts your con­fi­dence. I haven’t got any­thing easy I have strug­gled a lot for it.

Q. Com­ing from a non-film back­ground and hav­ing grown up in Hisar, was it dif­fi­cult for you to ad­just to the ways of the in­dus­try in Mumbai? A.

It was and it still is dif­fi­cult. I am not filmy yet and nei­ther do I con­sider my­self a part of the in­dus­try. I pre­fer stay­ing aloof. I don’t like be­ing part of Bollywood par­ties and award nights. I never at­tend any of it. And in case I have to at­tend any so­cial event, I try leav­ing the place at the ear­li­est. That’s be­cause I still haven’t been able to in­volve my­self. I work on a project and once I am done with it, I don’t be­lieve in main­tain­ing re­la­tions with the peo­ple I had worked with. I be­lieve in mov­ing ahead. An ac­tor should treat ev­ery project like his or her first project…

Q. After Rowdy Rathore (2012), you took a break from Hindi cin­ema un­til

(2017). But you con­tin­ued with act­ing in sev­eral re­gional films like (2013), (2013), and (2014) among oth­ers. So, why that break par­tic­u­larly from Hindi movies? A.

It was a con­scious choice. For the last one-and-a-half years I have been work­ing in Haryanvi cin­ema and have been re­search­ing about a project. I will be di­rect­ing a biopic on a Haryanvi folk artist. It will be an in­ter­na­tional project. Bud­get is low but our vi­sion is quite wide and I am busy with it. So, I will ded­i­cate an­other year to Haryana. Rest, I only work to have enough funds to sus­tain my fam­ily.

Q. Your work in Haryanvi cin­ema has also got you many ac­co­lades. Films like

and have won Na­tional Awards. What are your thoughts on the ris­ing po­ten­tial of re­gional cin­ema? A.

The films I have done in Haryanvi cin­ema are mile­stones in the in­dus­try and are also a turn­ing point in the Haryanvi film in­dus­try. Haryanvi cin­ema is now en­cour­ag­ing bet­ter con­tent. And now I have also took it upon my­self that I want to raise the stan­dards of Haryanvi cin­ema and want to put it at par with Pun­jabi and Marathi cin­ema. I want to de­velop cin­ema which is both entertaining and also pro­motes good con­tent. And the re­gional cin­ema has fi­nally caught the at­ten­tion of the world. Hindi movies are also tak­ing in­spi­ra­tion from re­gion spe­cific films these days be it the ac­cent, sto­ry­line or char­ac­ters. Gangs of Wassey­pur (2012), Dan­gal (2016), Sul­tan ( 2016), Tanu Weds Manu (2011) and oth­ers are some prom­i­nent ex­am­ples of the change that is com­ing about. I be­lieve if you want to make good cin­ema, you need to take the sup­port of re­gional cin­ema.

Q. While your act­ing has been ap­pre­ci­ated in neg­a­tive roles, you have also played many pos­i­tive char­ac­ters and the au­di­ences have loved those as well. Did you ever fear be­ing type­cast? A.

I was scared after Gan­gaa­jal (2003) that peo­ple will limit me and will type­cast me. But I feel very happy when I think that to break an im­age, you first have to make an im­age. So, first I made my im­age and then I broke it. Rowdy Rathore, Wel­come to Sa­j­jan­pur (2008) and oth­ers had pos­i­tive and comic roles and I am happy that I am known for those roles as well. And it def­i­nitely was a con­scious de­ci­sion. I want chal­lenges. There are so many films that I have done which haven’t reached to the masses and are screened at sev­eral fes­ti­vals. I have at least seven films as a lead. An­other film of mine is also com­ing up and it will be re­leased in I 12 dif­fer­ent lan­guages. It is ready and is ti­tled Muham­mad.

Q. You have also been a part of a few short films, like

and What are your thoughts on the for­mat? A.

Short films to­day have be­come the soul of cin­ema. When you don’t have much fi­nances, a short movie is the best way to con­vey your ideas. Kaag­panth (2017) is a 35-minute Haryanvi short film and it is a bril­liant movie. An­other short film of mine — Mukti (2017)—is cur­rently run­ning on YouTube. It is of 17 min­utes. An­other film Car­bon ( 2017) which also stars Nawazud­din Sid­diqui is a great film, too. Lakhs and lakhs of peo­ple are watch­ing these films and the re­sponse is vis­i­ble too.

Yash­pal Sharma.

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