By Utpal Borpujari
Rajpal Yadav, the talented actor whom Hindi cinema very often reduces to roles that require onscreen buffoonery, could soon find his international calling through a film that requires him to perform rather than prance around in outlandish get ups.
Yadav, the ubiquitous funny man of Hindi cinema, has donned the serious hat this time, playing the protagonist in Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain, an English film which has Martin Sheen and Kal Penn as his costars. With a backdrop of the Bhopal gas tragedy, the principal shooting of the film has just been wrapped up in Hyderabad studios, since its makers apparently did not want to shoot in Bhopal to avoid any controversy. So excited is Yadav about this film that he refused a few other English films since he wants this to be his first international film to release.
The alumni of National School of Drama (NSD), who has done around 150 films in last one decade or so, has a proven flair for the comic, but the roles offered to him quite often requires him to be overly in the slapstick mode than doing any cerebral comedy. To break with the monotony, he keeps doing a film here and a film there that gives the actor in him a chance to explore other human emotions too. One such film was Main Madhuri Dixit Banna Chahti Hoon, and this was the film that landed him the role in Ravi Kumar-directed Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain.
As Yadav puts it, “It is going to be my first international film. It has been shot in Hyderabad and Mumbai. It will be a great film and I am playing the lead role in it. I was contacted for the role after they saw me in Main Madhuri Dixit… This is the kind of film with which I wanted to debut in international arena. And I have left quite a few English films because I want this one to be my first international film.” Yadav, who is a journalist’s delight – ask him one question and he shares his philosophies about a whole lot of issues with you – says that acting in this film has been a completely different experience for him. “They (the production unit) are completely disciplined, completely systematic, very dedicated and very passionate about their work. We enjoyed it immensely,” he says.
So, will this film help him break the funny man image? Yadav seems not to agree with the question, and reels of names of films like Main Madhuri Dixit…., Main, Meri Patni Aur Woh and Undertrial to counter-argue. “Yes, I have been doing a large number of comedy films because these are the roles I am offered. But to break the monotony, I have also been essaying serious characters,” he says. To prove the point, he refers to his latest release, N Chandra’s Yeh Mera India, in which he plays the pitiable character of a poor Bihari labourer who has just landed in Mumbai with the hope that he will be able to earn enough to survive and also send back home, but undergoes a traumatic experience before luck smiles on him. “I have 8-12 films where I play different characters, but until they are ready, there is no fun in talking about them,” he says with a matter of fact tone.
But there is something going on in his mind that he does not mind talking about. And that is his plan to act in at least one film in every Indian language in which films are made. He says he has a reason for deciding to do so, but would divulge it only after completes doing at least one film in each language. “Hindi is our mother, but film is not about the spoken language for me. I was born in a Hindi-speaking family and so got into Hindi cinema, but I do cinema in our national language. If that language happens to be my mother, all our regional films are my Mausi (aunt), and don’t we all visit our Mausi’s families?” he says. Yadav has already completed one Marathi, and is going to do a Bhojpuri film soon while talks are on for a Bengali and a Gujarati film.
Quite evidently, Yadav is none too happy if he is described as a comedian. Call him one, and he would reply, “These days Akshay Kumar, Salman Khan, all are doing comedy. I have never been afraid of an image, whether it is of a comedian or not. But I am very grateful to people of this country, because Main Madhuri Dixit… was released three weeks after Hungama, and while my character in the first made people cry, the one in the second made people roll with laughter. I passed in that examination with 100 per cent mark. Whenever there has been an occasion that I would be stuck in an image, by the grace of gods and of my guruji Panditji Prabhakarji Shashtri, I would get one role that would reverse that. That is my struggle – I don’t’ have to prove it to anybody, and I will break the image you want to tie me down with.” And then he proceeds to the name the kind of characters he has portrayed – comic, positive, negative, small, big, guest appearance.
The man, who started his career doing theatre in Lucknow and then graduated from NSD before shifting to Mumbai, strongly believes that nobody can show reality better than media. But in illusion of reality, which is cinema and theatre, the emotions are shown with a touch of entertainment.
“The effort is to give society something through entertainment,” he says, giving the example of “Yeh Mera India”. “Today who will do what is decided by the script, unlike earlier when people would go by image. We would betray our art if we don’t go by the demand of the art. There are two kinds of comedies – one to make people laugh and the other to make people’s minds laugh. How to balance it is important,” pontificates the actor whose upcoming flicks include Do Knot Disturb, Chai Garam, Banda Yeh Bindass Hain and Fauj mein Mauj.