Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge? may have started slow at the ticket counters, but Paresh Rawal has made his presence felt. The actor, who started as a villain in Arjun (1984), today, is one of the highest paid character actors. The string of laugh-riots, since Hera Pheri (2000), have catapulted him to the status of a King, in the comic genre.
Devang Sampat, VP Cinemax multiplexes, feels that Atithi… is an "out and out Paresh Rawal film." He says, "There are many people who see a film for him alone. When people come out of theatres talking about him, there’s no doubt about the value he adds."
In the same vein, Manoj Desai, Managing Director of Maratha Mandir and G7 cinemas, says, "Paresh plays the character with conviction. His presence gives people the assurance that the film will be entertaining."
However, veteran trade analyst Amod Mehra feels that the "highest paid character actor" should explore his versatility before he gets repetitive, and avoid films like Na Ghar Ke Na Ghat Ke. "The audience associates him with a certain quality of movies. He should do meaty roles in good films and not tar his image. Of course, money is an important factor and I believe he did Buddha Mar Gaya because he was getting Rs 65 lakh for three days of work," he says.
Nonetheless, Vinod Mirani, Managing Editor, Box-Office India, feels that Rawal justifies the fee he charges. "People go to see a film only for him. He’s saleable as far as the multiplex audience is concerned too. Every big star gets repetitive after a point. So why single out Paresh?" he says.
For someone whose name has become synonymous with comedy over the years, returning as a villain in Rann (2010) was challenging. "The audience comes to see him to be entertained. It’s too early to say how they will react to Paresh as a hardcore villain in Garam Hawa," says Desai.
Adding to that, Mehra feels that an actor as versatile as him, should not be put in any category.
"Character actors never fade. If Paresh resists un-flattering cameos and guest appearances, it will only further consolidate his position in the industry."
‘Money does matter’
After Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, Amrish Puri earned the status of the only one crore-character actor, as he changed his image of a villain. You seem to fit that vacuum perfectly.
I can say, that from a very good character actor, I’ve become a star character actor. For a heroine, uski jawani tikni chaahiye (the actress’ youth matters the most). But we character actors are famous for our versatility, so we need substantial roles.
Right now, we’re in the golden period of cinema. We have directors like Rajkumar Hirani, Vishal Bhardwaj, Anurag Kashyap and even Pankaj Advani, who made Sankat City (2009). They are good writers and work ethics, too, have changed for the better.
Apparently, you’re the highest paid character actor, pocketing around Rs 3 crore per movie. That’s supposedly more than some of our younger stars.
Yaar (friend), I think I was a good actor from the beginning, when I was doing theatre. At the cost of my modesty, I frankly feel that I am a star now and I should be paid the money for that stardom.
But I am not the highest paid character actor. There is only one: Nana Patekar. He deserves his fee and he won’t compromise. And why should he? I don’t compare fees. I think I’m worth the amount I ask for. If the producer is okay, fine. If not, no problem. There’s no hard and fast rule that I won’t do a film for a lesser amount.
I did Naseeruddin Shah’s Yun Hota Toh Kya Hota (2006), Nandita Das’ Firaaq (2008) and a new producer’s Road To Sangam (2010), because the roles appealed to me. I felt my popularity would do well for these films.
Do you feel the stress when a film like Na Ghar Ke Na Ghat Ke (2010) is sold on your and Om Puri’s credibility, since the hero is literally unknown?
Never. My job is to play my role to the best of my ability and get out. The commercial aspect doesn’t bother me. I know that the film has been made within the designated budget and all the concerned parties have made their money. So there’s no need to scrap around.
Do you feel the pressure to justify your fee when the film is promoted on the strength of your name alone?
No. The only pressure I take is to justify the script and my role. You will pay me a certain amount only if I deserve it. If I ask for one rupee, the producer will negotiate to pay me 91 paise. That’s his dharma (duty). I think it’s futile to get into that.
Does it bother you when a Road To Sangam (2009) finds no takers at the box-office, despite receiving acclaim at international film festivals?
It was produced by a first-timer, Amit Chedda. He had no knowledge of how to market or promote the film. The media should have supported and lapped it up. The media does that for big stars’ films or those that receive raving reviews. It’s sad that a film with actors didn’t get the support. What can one do after a point of time?
Do you feel discouraged when the film fails commercially, because it wasn’t promoted well?
No. When I do such films for a lesser fee, I assume that the money is being spent in marketing and promotion. Unfortunately that doesn’t happen, I don’t know why.
I felt UTV was doing a good job by making films like Mumbai Meri Jaan (2008) and Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! (2008). I thought working with that team would be a good experience. But they didn’t market or promote it as aggressively as Jodhaa Akbar (2008). Agreed that it was a big film with a big star cast and an even bigger budget, but that doesn’t mean smaller films shouldn’t be promoted.
I do wonder what’s the point of producing such good, sensible films if they can’t back them up. I don’t let that discourage me from taking up such films either, but I do mention it when the same producer comes to me with another film.
You’re very inaccessible since you don’t attend your films’ promotional events. It’s believed that you’re superstitious and feel that the film will do well if you’re absent from the events.
Firstly, it’s boring to attend those events, to say the least. Secondly, I must have something to talk to the media about. I’m not bidding for the IPL nor am I drinking and driving and causing any accidents. I’m not a dramatic person either. I believe the media is as powerful as a nuclear weapon and should be used with a lot of care.
‘It will be a joy to see Nana play Baburao’
You and Om Puri have become an attractive combo. Talks on a sequel to your hit together, Malamaal Weekly, have been taking the rounds for some time now.
To work as a combo, me and Omji, have to be offered something substantial. The Malamaal Weekly sequel is on. Priyadarshan has come up with a wonderful subject. Me and Boman (Irani) have worked well, so have me and Naseeruddin Shah, but we have to have some substance to enjoy as a combo. Just as the audience has expectations, we too have expectations.
Talking of sequels, you’ll be missing in Golmaal 3, second time after your much-acclaimed act in the first Golmaal.
I was to do Golmaal 3, but there was an issue of dates. It’s a big film and you need a clear diary, you can’t run around between Golmaal 3 and other films. Mithun Chakraborthy is playing that role.
The buzz is that you won’t be playing Baburao in Anees Bazmee’s Hera Pheri 4 either. The character won’t be the same without you.
Again, the dates aren’t working out. If the film is to go ahead with other actors, so be it. It’s not such a big deal.
Nana Patekar is being roped in for your role. Do you think he will be accepted as Baburao?
If Nana does that role, he will call me. Not to seek my permission, but because our friendship goes back many years. We’ve done a lot of theatre. He’s a terrific actor and it will be a joy to see him play Baburao.
‘Agreed, Atithi… was a little overboard’
You’re one of the very few actors who is at par with the lead actors in the publicity and promotion of a film. Yet, why do you think Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge? opened slow?
Even big stars don’t guarantee an opening. Neither does aggressive publicity. One can never predict the reaction of the audience. Atithi… picked up during the weekend. When a film does good business by positive word of mouth, it’s a good sign.
One complaint is that there is too much farting and burping by your Lambodhar Chacha in the film.
I understand that. I haven’t seen the film in its entirety yet, but while shooting, the character was required to do it a couple of times. Yes, people have told me it’s a bit too much. I agree that it has to be in proportion. Overdoing something is not in good taste.
Considering that collections usually drop on Mondays, are you hopeful that the film will make its money in the end?
Today, the producer Kumar Mangat and Ajay Devgn called to tell me that the response to the film has been good. The audience likes it and the business increased over the weekend. I asked Kumarji if he really meant it or was he saying it just for the sake of it. And he replied that he was certain we have a hit on our hands. Besides, my friends from Delhi, Indore, Punjab, Gujarat and even Mumbai, have called to say that the audience is enjoying the film.
Filmmakers feel that the box-office will be lukewarm from March 12, since the Indian Premiere League (IPL) Season 3 is starting. So why release Na Ghar Ke… at the same time?
I don’t understand how much of the IPL will people watch. I’m not a keen follower of it. I think T20 is not a game… aaye, thak thak maara aur chal diye (players come, hit around for a bit and walk out). It’s not cricket anymore. Tomorrow we might have two innings of five overs each. For me, it’s like a porn film… there’s no foreplay, no romance… it doesn’t excite me.
‘A villain has to be convincing’
About your role in Garam Hawa; Priyadarshan says that it marks your return as a villain, after many years in comic and strong character roles.
I played a villain in Rann. Garam Hawa is a very realistic hard-hitting film and I’m playing the police chief, like the ones you see in villages. They’re worse than dictators.
But its our strong basic value-system that has helped us survive. Otherwise, considering the kind of problems and the people we have, be it in politics, judiciary, mafia etc., it would be very difficult for a country to survive all that.
You’ve done so many successful comedies over the year. What do you think makes a comic film work? Do they need to be zany like a Malamaal Weekly or intellectual like a 3 Idiots?
Comedy soothes your nerves. A good message packaged well with the laughter also works. It has to be a sugarcoated film. Comedy has a better edge because people love to be entertained.
If you ask me, I’m a die-hard fan of Vishal Bhardwaj. I loved Kaminey. Vishal makes the kind of films he wants. It does dampen one’s spirit to see some stupid comedy become a bigger success, but he’s not swerved by market diktats. His Ishqiya was a winner too.
From comic roles to villains and many other strong characters, what satisfied you the most as an actor?
For me, the most satisfying role is a well-written one. It challenges me and scares me to begin with. And the price should also motivate me to work hard. After doing the role, I must improve as a human being; I should know myself more.
With heroes playing negative roles, are villains a forgotten breed?
No. When I did a villainous role, my focus was that it has to be a believable character. You should feel that the person actually exists.
Mogambo khush hua is not my game. Fateh was not my scene either. But it’s an exercise for me as an actor to apply myself to the role and pull it off, because villains, in reality, have a very different ideology.
‘Gujarati plays are ahead of their time’
Considering you started as an Gujarati theatre actor, has the community audience changed their perception about you over the years?
The Gujarati audience thinks forward, since their theatre scene has always been way ahead of its time. No one has dared to think of path-breaking subjects like we have.
We Gujaratis didn’t really lobby; we just did our work and moved on, without blowing our own trumpets. Unfortunately or fortunately, India hasn’t paid that much attention to them. In 365 days we have 700 to 800 shows.
At any given time, one Gujarati play is on at some part of the world. One can’t say the same about Hindi theatre.
So why haven’t more such plays been translated into films?
It’s not like there haven’t been any. Vipul Shah’s Aankhen (2002) was based on Aandlo Paatlo. His upcoming film, Action Replay, is also based on the play by the same name.
I made Maharathi into a film. If I’m producing the play, I’ll see how it can be turned into a movie.
After Maharathi, are you planning to produce or direct another film?
Yes. I have plans to make two. I’d like Nandita Das to direct one and Dibaker Banerjee to make the second. But it’s still early to say for sure. I’m still working on the scripts. I’ll be in a better position to talk once things are finalised.
‘My wife is my sounding board’
Your wife, Swaroop, has been an actress. What does she think of your performances?
Sometimes I do ask her to check out a particular film. Mostly you are known by the choices you make, so she knows why I take up certain roles. She gives a good analysis, because my choices also throw light on my work in some way.
What about your sons? Have they shown any inclination towards the performing arts?
Their feedback is more or less similar to that of my wife’s. One is in hospitality management and the other is into sports management. So far, they’ve not shown any inclination. But you can never say.