Riteish Deshmukh is a living example of a dichotomy. A trained architect from a political family, Deshmukh changed tracks and tried his hand in Bollywood. In 2003, he made his debut with Tujhe Meri Kasam with Genelia D’Souza. It was not his turn as a romantic lead, but his antics in several ensemble comedies, including Masti (2004), Kya Kool Hain Hum (2005), Heyy Babyy (2007) and Housefull (2010) that gave him hits and fans.Just when he’d seemingly settled into that groove of the leave-your-brains-at-home cinema, Deshmukh sprung a surprise. In 2013, he turned producer with movies in his mother tongue, Marathi. Balak-Palak, a comic drama about sex education, was followed by Yellow (2014), the story of a child with special needs, which won a National Award.
“As a producer, your choices are different from those you make as an actor. I am capable of producing certain kinds of films and also the ones I’d like to watch,” says the 35-year-old actor. And then he opened up a new chapter when he acted in his first Marathi film, Lai Bhari (2014).
EARNING HIS SPOT
In the past, critics have panned Deshmukh’s acting but praised his productions; appreciated his comic timing and dance moves, but scathingly questioned his place in Bollywood. They’ve accused him of leveraging his father Vilasrao Deshmukh’s erstwhile position as Maharashtra’s chief minister. None of this has deterred Deshmukh.
Eleven years later, he’s seen one of the greatest successes of his career as a dark character in Ek Villain. His wife D’Souza and he are expecting their first child and he has three films in production. So would the real Riteish Deshmukh please stand up?
THE HERO’S JOURNEY
So what prompted him to play a murderer in Ek Villain a decade into his career? Or rather, who did? “Genelia was the first to suggest that I do a negative role. And interestingly, this was the first dark role I’ve been offered,” he says.
He disagrees that his turn as a romantic hero has found limited acceptance, countering the suggestion with mention of his rom-com Tere Naal Love Ho Gaya (2012). “That film did well and I shifted back to comedy. Maybe if I do romance now, I might be better at it.”
But no one can fault him for experimenting with genres. Between 2007-10, those experiments resulted in “five flops in a row,” he admits, referring to films like Aladin (2009), Rann (2010) and Jaane Kahan Se Aayi Hai (2010). “Then, Housefull happened.”
Riteish Deshmukh is the hero in Ek Villain
Comedy seems to be his forte. All three of his upcoming films – Bangistan, Bank Chor and Housefull 3 – are aimed at delivering laughs. “They are all different kinds of comedies,” he clarifies.
Still, there exists a stubborn image of Deshmukh as a poster boy for cross-dressing in Bollywood. “I don’t know why, considering I have only dressed in drag in Apna Sapna Money Money..? (2006)and Humshakals (2013),” he says. He’s hoping that the impact of Ek Villain will translate to a variety of interesting scripts, and he’s open to the occasional Marathi film too. “I would like to act in a Marathi film with Genelia,” he says. “Only if it’s a good story, obviously.” This idea would have to wait till after their baby comes along, of course.
D’Souza and Deshmukh were reportedly dating from their first film itself. After keeping the media guessing about their relationship, they finally wed in 2012. But the celebrity couple offer no secret formula for keeping their relationship under the radar. "Just keep lying!" says Deshmukh, laughing. "Look, each individual knows how they want their relationship to be perceived – whether they want it to be open or under wraps."
He says he wears both success and failure lightly.
“I think not coming with the pressure of being from a film family helps and being from a political family helps one understand how to deal with pressure too. If you carry success on your shoulders, you get weighed down. My wife is also not from a film family and she is my biggest leveller,” says Deshmukh.
There is a lesser-known side of Deshmukh: he’s also a partner in the architectural firm, Evolution. While he is not active on a daily basis, he does take keen interest in key projects. One assignment he gladly took on was designing friend Karan Johar’s new apartment. “I did it because Karan is a dear friend who gave me full freedom and a great budget! It was fun.”
But Hindi films remain his mainstay.
“This is my career. For now my goal is to produce interesting content and keep trying to do better as an actor.”
From HT Brunch, July 27
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