Neil Nitin Mukesh opens up about his film Lafangey Parindey, his legendary grandfather Mukesh and his passion for cinema.
Pradeep Sarkar’s earlier films were different from this one. Was it a big challenge for him too, considering his earlier film was a weepy social drama?
To answer your action, he was rather nervous when we were shooting the action sequences, in terms of how to treat it. He is also very strong with emotions and gets his actors to pull that off naturally.
You were not nervous with how the director would handle the subject?
No. Not at all. There aren’t many films that have been shot in a local set-up and this one is. You can literally count the films on your tips. There is Tezaab, Vaastav,Rangeela and Ghulam.
This is not your first Yash Raj movie right?
No this is my third one, considering the fact that I had done a film when I was a child star. That was my debut film, in a movie called Vijay. I was four years old. I was very nervous at that time. But I was very excited. I was very naïve at that point. In fact I still am very naïve. I haven’t matured a lot. I think its time I work on that. Looking at the kids today, I get a complex. I was like my God! What are these guys going to be like when they are 28?
So at four, did you know that this is what you wanted to do?
It started for me after that movie. I used to spend a lot of time with my grandmom (Mukesh’s wife). She passed away two years ago. She opened the world of films for me. We used to live in the same building. We used to stay on the first floor and my grandparents lived on the seventh floor. So I used to be in her house all the time. I used to see a lot of trophies, placed on shelves along the walls of their apartment. I used to constantly keep asking her questions, because I was very excited looking at them.
She would then tell me stories about my grandfather and that he won these trophies. He was a singer. And I was surprised, because I had never heard of anyone winning trophies for singing. I didn’t even know at that time that that could be a career option. This, considering the fact that even my father was a singer (Nitin Mukesh) I hadn’t bothered about it probably till then, because I was three years old at that time.
I grew rather curious then when I realised that my grandfather and my father were famous singers. That’s when I started watching all Raj Kapoor films, in which my grandfather has sung. They were entertaining films all and that was the bribe for me. I used to go sleep with my grandmom on Fridays and she would tell me one story about my grandfather, watch a Raj Kapoor film and take something from his wardrobe. I was only too happy, because I wouldn’t have to sleep early that night. And my sister and I used to always pick Mera Naam Joker, because it was the longest. It’s a four hour film. That is where my journey started.
So how did you land up doing Vijay?
Yash Uncle (Yash Chopra) and Papa are very good friends. Yash Uncle had seen me playing around at that time. And he just mentioned to my father that he needed some kid to play a young Rishi Kapoor and would Neil play it. My dad was very excited, not knowing the fact that I was nursing the same desire to enter films. That’s how it happened.
We shot for the film in Bangalore in Windsor Manor Hotel. It was rather exciting. I remember this one incident that not many people know of. I didn’t know swimming at that point and I jumped into the pool in just a pair of swimming trunks. If you see the film there is a continuity jump in the shot. I jump into the pool without arm-bands and a float and the scene cuts straight to me again wearing arm-bands or a float. That’s because I had started drowning. And I was so scared about getting back into the water again that I refused to swim. I forced Yash Uncle to count till 100 and buy me a box of chocolates to get back in front of the camera.
So that was my first experience of acting. I came back to Bombay (Mumbai) and I sang Akar Bakar Bambey Bo, for which I lip synced in the film. After that I went back to my grandmom and told her, now I know what my grandfather does. I told her to play one of my grandfather’s tracks and I lip synced to Ik Din Bik Jayega. That was my sister’s and my favourite song.
Did you get paid for the role?
Of course not. I didn’t even get paid for Johnny Gaddar. I’m glad that the film released and it got completed on time. That was a big payment for me. For me, films are not about payments and profits, considering the fact that I’m the third generation Mukesh in the film industry. So I’m just make sure that I earn enough that the family is living happily.
Most people would expect you to grow up to be a singer right?
I do sing and I compose as well. I have sung three songs and am composing as well. I’ll sing you a song I’ve composed. It’s very dummy, because I am not a writer. (sings) Jaane Jaa...
The coolest thing I’ve read about you is that you are named after Neil Armstrong?
Actually on my naming ceremony, Lataji (Lata Mangeshkar) had come. My grandfather and Lataji were very close. So Papa had decided that he would call her to name me, because she was someone my father really looked up to. We had a ceremony and the Punditji took out N to be the auspicious alphabet to name me. Papa had already shortlisted some names, out of which Neel was one of the names. When Lataji saw me, she said that I am very fair and that I should have an English name. So she consulted the list and said Neel was fitting, but it should be Neil, after the first man who went to the moon.
After doing a movie like Johnny Gaddar, which was a rare film noir you do a movie like Aa Dekhen Zara, which is completely commercial. How was that transition?
For me, films are larger than life. They are meant for the 70mm. They have to have that certain cinematic power to it. Aa Dekhen Zara is, infact, one of my favourite films because it’s make-believe. It’s catering to an audience that likes to live in a fictitious world. It offered my audience and me that form of entertainment. Something that was completely make-believe. Something that showed an idea of the future. If you see half of the Hollywood films, that do better business in India, are all futuristic films. They are all fictitious and make-believe. I do like and enjoy that kind of cinema as much as I like a Amores Perros or a Cinema Paradiso, which I connect with.
But Aa Dekhen Zara worked for me as an actor. The song, Aa Dekhen Zara (which he sung in the movie) happened after we had shot for it as a promotion for the film.
There are films, which have scripts and some that are proposal pictures, which is more like a producer finalising the cast and then selecting the director and the script. So was this one of them?
For Aa Dekhen Zara, the script was the first thing I asked for before anything else. I read it and liked it a lot. It was written by Shantanu (Ray) and I thought it was very interesting. Secondly it was directed by Jehangir Surti who has assisted Sriram Raghavan. So I knew that he would have some sort of sensibility in making this film, because he’s learnt cinema from a director whom I consider God for me, who set out my career. Other than that, the music was great. Bipasha was good. I don’t understand the business part of it and I don’t want to get into it. I’m not going to knock on my producer’s door on Friday morning and ask them how much the movie made. I just see this that is my audience chasing me with adulation or curses. That is interesting.
You haven’t been linked to anybody in the industry. Why is that?
No agenda really. The agenda is to go make films. If there would be something happening, I’m sure people would anyway know of it. Maybe people find me a boring person to talk about or don’t try to link me up with someone is because most of the time I’m only talking about my films. It’s rather not interesting for an actor to only talk movies right. I am single.
Are there scripts in town that everyone wants to get a hold of?
I don’t think so, because films are announced when they are cast for already. It’s all very in house. Mostly what happens is that a director works on a particular subject, the script is readied and then casting is done. Only Sriram Ragahavan had auditions for Johnny Gaddar, which I went mad preparing for. It was a nine-hour audition.
In Hollywood, there is a lot of streamlining. There is a script analyser who will read through the first draft. There are production houses that will scour for ready scripts. Then they pitch for the scripts. Then agencies are involved for casting directors, who go to talent agencies for talent. That does not happen here.
In Bollywood, the writer, director and producer sit together and decide on the film and the cast. Unfortunately, half of the times that I get really interesting subjects from new filmmakers, their only plea is for me to sign on for the film. Because the moment I would do that, they would get a producer who would eventually make the film. It’s always been like this. Most of the leading production companies in Bollywood have their in-house directors.