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That Dabhol power plant!

He's Mr All-rounder. An actor, playwright, director and ad man, Bharat Dabholkar talks to Sonam Savlani about films, theatre and ads.

india Updated: Jun 16, 2007 18:06 IST

His tongue-in-cheek voice mailbox recording asks you to leave a message in English.. and also an SMS so that he can put the two together.. "to improve the language."

Is that one of his attempts to keep off nosy reporters like me from asking him the same question for the umpteenth time:

"Just how difficult it's been for a Marathi medium-educated guy?" May be yes, maybe no.. so I carefully avoid the treaded territory Cut straight then to my . chat with Bharat Dabholkar:

How's your new ad agency (Zen) doing in Tanzania?
When I had announced that I'd be setting up an ad agency in Africa, I was laughed at. But trust me, business is rather brisk there.. it's growing.

Tell me how do you manage to do itsy-bitsy roles in films like Ta Ra Rum Pum, Karam and Company?
(Laughs) It's for the love of acting.. nothing much. Ordinarily, if I were to stick to advertising, I wouldn't have had the chance to work in Ta Ra Rum Pum, Company, Corporate and other films.

I've worked with Rajnikant in Baba... do you think I'd got an opportunity to star alongside the great man if I hadn't stretched my wings?

For me, working in films means meeting new people, fresh talent.. and yeah, I don't have any hangups about falling flat on my feet if things don't go well. Some critics argue that your plays lack class appeal. I don't think so.

<b1>Tell me how do you define classy or massy?
The English speaking, South Bombay crowd, who are regulars at the Willingdon Club, are classy aren't , they? Subarbanites are not.. they are looked down upon.. aren't they?

May I ask why?
I'm not bothered about what others have to say. I'm concerned about what my audience has to say .

Critics are detached and far removed from what is happening.. so what they say doesn't mean much.

I've always believed in creative freedom and not hurting anybody. If a member of the audience asks me to effect some changes for the betterment of my play, I‘ll readily do that. In Monkey Business, there was a song mocking Jain food.. a Jain lady wrote to me saying that she liked my play but wasn't happy about the song.. I asked her to give me some time and come back for the show. When she did, the song was replaced.

For seven years, you've been denying your relationship with Ananya Dutt. Why?
(Laughs) That's because I'm not seeing her. Ananya and I work together.. and there's a healthy friendship.

How did you meet her?
She had come to act in one of my plays about seven years ago. I noticed that she looked like a model but she was more like an encyclopedia of sorts. She is extremely well-read.

Seven years, by Bombay's social circuit standards, is a lifetime. We'd go to parties and people would ask, "Nothing is happening between you guys even after seven years?"

You've studied law. Do you ever feel you are in the wrong profession?
It's the other way round.. law teaches one to be practical.. it doesn't really help much otherwise. Trust me, I would have been a terrible lawyer.

What did you initially think was your true calling?
I wanted to be a police officer.. that was an unwavering ambition. I even gave my IPS exam.. I hadn't thought of life seriously .

Even as an agency head when people called me and asked me what plans I had for the next fiscal year, I'd say "No plans, buddy" .. other sensible agency heads would say, "With the market opening up by at least 50 per cent we're looking at growth in the industry by about 20 per cent..." I could never bring myself to use such jargon.

Acting, direction, ads.. you've dabbled in different media.. what is it that you want people to know you for?
Neither of those, actually. I just want people to remember me for the time I made them laugh. I'd be happiest if they come up to me and said that a certain show of mine had them rolling in the aisles. That's why only theatre is an honest way of judging how well you've performed.

You can tell by the look in someone's eye if they've liked the show or not. If you ask people point blank what they thought of it, even if they were bored to death, they'd say, "Ahh brilliant job. Real nice!"

Has it been difficult to break from the shackles of the brilliant Amul campaigns you designed?
Amul wasn't necessarily my best work... it was perceived as one. It was upfront and made people curious to know who was behind those hoardings.