Jackie Shroff, who plays Sai Baba in Maalik Ek, admits that he had to be pursued for six months to play the role.
Reportedly, the film was supposed to be released in 2008. It couldn’t have been. I kept the producer-director, Deepak Balraj Vij, hanging for six months. The film only went on the floors in mid-2009. So, how could it have released in 2008?What took you so long to make up your mind?
I wasn’t convinced how I would look as Baba. I agreed only because I felt that Baba was calling out to me. To play the part, I changed my lifestyle and food habits. I went to work on my body. After I got into the get-up, I had people touching my feet and asking for my blessings in the village where we were shooting. It was a humbling experience.The industry is apprehensive about you pulling off the character given your party boy image.
I don’t drink! I never did. I did this film because I felt Baba’s spiritual force. I agree I’m usually dressed in western clothes and have a flamboyant appearance. But you’ll be surprised when you see me in the film. I look completely different. I didn’t know how to sing but for this film, I have become a playback singer. I have a song with kids. Baba loved children.
Have your children seen the film?
No, they haven’t but I want them to. They’re going to be my greatest critics.
You’ve stopped taking on films. Why?
Who says that? I’m shooting everyday of the month. Right now, I’m starting on the sequel of Bhoot Unkle. I’m also doing World War 3 and Dilip Shankar’s next film. Subhash Ghai wants to launch your son Tiger in a remake of Hero. Comment.I’ve been hearing this rumour for a while now. My son is interested in playing basketball and taking it up professionally. He wants to act too but only two years later. So long as he stays away from drugs and drink, I’m okay with his choice of profession.
What is your daughter, Krishna, up to?
She’s studying. And has absolutely no interest in acting. It was rumoured that you had sold off your stake in Sony TV. No way! I’m still the promoter of the company. I don’t know where all this talk comes from. I have never commented because I don’t feel the need to do so. It is also being said that your marriage with Ayesha is on the rocks. (Laughs) I don’t think she and I need to prove our love to each other in the media. We’re together and will always be together. I still see the same warmth and affection in her eyes for me that I did when we were dating.
Have you been following the career of your friend and co-actor Anil Kapoor over the last four-five years?
Yes, I always follow his work. We’ve worked together in so many films. We were youngsters when we met and now we are the fathers of grown-up children. He was excellent in Slumdog Millionaire. I think he’s going great guns.
Has his production company offered you any role?
No, because Anil knows what kind of work I will and can do. Unless he has something meaty and really worthwhile for me, he won’t buzz me. The day he calls, I’d be there.
Don’t you want to make your own films like him?
Yes, documentaries and public service films. But I don’t know when that will happen.
‘Jackie will do a good job’
When I was offered Sai Baba’s role 32 years ago, I didn’t know anything about him. Neither did I have faith in him. Manoj Kumar and Pandurang Dixit approached the project very objectively.
When we started, we had no expectations from anyone. Shirdi Ke Saibaba was produced by a charitable organisation, not the Shirdi trust. We didn’t even screen the film for the trust.
As part of my homework, I met Dixitji’s parents and several other old people who had met Baba and knew him well. Dixitji’s parents had lived for three months with Baba and he had blessed them.
I even watched a black-and- white film, made by Dixitji in Marathi back in 1955 on Baba. That, with a lot of inputs on my looks and mannerisms, turned me from Sudhir Dalvi to Sai Baba on screen.
The portrayal of the character was so convincing that I had people falling at my feet, believing that I was Baba. I didn’t get work for over a year because of that film but I didn’t really mind.
From whatever I have read and understood about Sai Baba after emulating him twice, I think he was more than just a godly figure.
He was India’s greatest social reformer who tried to bring two warring faiths together. He laid the foundation of national integration at a time when the society was fragmented.
I’ve seen a lot of actors play Sai Baba and have felt that most of them were quite convincing in their portrayal. I’ve been hearing for a while that Jackie Shroff is playing the Sufi saint in a film. I’m sure he has done his homework well and will will do a good job in passing on Baba’s message to the present generation.
‘I didn’t make this film for monetary gains’
It’s rumoured that producer-director Deepak Balraj Vij’s Maalik Ek, toplining Jackie Shroff as Sai Baba, has been funded by the Sai Baba Trust of Shirdi. When asked, Vij denies this and says that the organisation was not involved in any way with the project.
“They guided me the last time I attempted a film on Baba. This time, when I was doing a different take on the life of the Sufi saint, they provided me with their inputs. That apart, they were never involved in the production,” he adds.
Vij, who made a film on Sai Baba in 2005, says that he was warned against making Maalik Ek. “Some of my well-wishers had told me that a film like this won’t work in today’s times. Someone even asked me why I was attempting a film on Sai Baba again. I told them that no one has ever explored that side of Sai Baba that sang with children and spent time frolicking with them,” says Vij.
He points out that Baba did a whole lot of other things as well. “I did a lot of research and worked really hard to get Jackie (Shroff) in shape for the film. It was a risk casting him but the experience has been worth it,” he asserts.
Ask him how confident he is of recouping his investment and Vij says, “I didn’t make this film for monetary gains. It’s my way of educating the younger audience. I see them following their parents to Shirdi but knowing nothing about Baba.”