- in Industry

We aren't an Industry now, just a Mandi

He broke the mould as an actor much ahead of his time with path-breaking films like Satyakaam and became an action hero later, setting the template for someone like Salman Khan. He straddled genres, proving his versatility much before today’s young stars made meaningful films a conscious choice in their filmographies. Yet for all his early superstardom, he seamlessly eased into multi-starrer films with the likes of Amitabh Bachchan, taking a step back and leaving an indelible impression at the same time, the drunken Veeru sequence emulated in many films that came after Sholay. But then Dharmendra is a living legend only because of his impassioned zest for life. So at a ripe old age of 82, when he prefers to be a poet or tending to animals at his farm, he returns to promote his comedy franchise Yamla Paagla Deewana. Impeccably turned out, he has no qualms about educating the assembled photographers the art of using the lights effectively to get the best frame, teaching them that a digital device is no substitute for the good old rulebook. This typifies the gentleman actor, the last of his tribe, who shares his insights about the changing world, rationalises his success and shortcomings with equal elan and is still willing to stake his all in an industry which has given him, in his words, dard andmohabbat in equal measure. By Rinku Ghosh

Yamla Pagla Deewana is now a successful Deol family franchise. Yet you have never done a franchise before as an actor. Is this a conscious business decision?

First of all, people think of business when the word franchise comes up and I won’t deny that there are expectations of renewing the appeal of a cult hit; it’s something that attracts people. But I will say this, we do this simply because the three of us (himself and sons Sunny and Bobby) have the dogged determination of Jats, have great fun between ourselves when we do comedy and can bounce off our chemistry on the screen as we know each other so well. It is a three-way communion that works well and we are looking for stories that allow us to do that as artistes. When we do chance upon one, we get rolling. I am practical enough to understand that a franchise has its own risks. If the original is a hit, then that doesn’t automatically mean people will give the same amount of love and adoration to its sequel. It happened with us too, the first did brilliantly while the second one didn’t. Contrary to my image, comedy is my favourite genre. I loved doing films like Chupke Chupke. So when we chanced upon a good script again after a long gap, we three decided to have a go at it and revive the franchise. This one has a fantastic screenplay with some amazing punches. Comedy is the most difficult to execute because you throw a gag or punch out there and have to make sure that you have looped everybody in to your bandwidth, aap lapet lete ho. There’s a delicacy of subtlety involved if it has to be seamless. So there’s a lot of weightage to script and dialogue. In this third film of the series, the relations between the characters are strong and different from the earlier versions. Here I am not the father of the sons played by Sunny and Bobby but their tenant. And the three of us negotiate many challenges that are thrown at us and become a team. Yamla…allows me to be a bit indulgent with my wit and humour; I always improvise and like to be spontaneous on the sets. An element of surprise elicits natural reactions. And this I learnt from nobody else but Hrishida (Hrishikesh Mukherjee) who was a one-take director when it came to capturing the comic timing. Pratigyawas a revenge drama but I played my part using a lot of humour. Watch out for our hilarious “court scene.”

You have never been into aggressive film promotions either. Yet this time you have a special teaser video with Salman Khan, your co-star Rekha and Shatrughan Sinha and have been touring cities non-stop. What made you change tack?

Promotions are a big tool these days and sometimes I feel if we had promoted ourselves a bit more, films would have worked out better for us. So much has changed now. In my time, there was a saying, “Kadar kho deta hai roz ka aana jana (Value is lost in the frequency of familiarity).” But that has completely changed, now it is “kadar badha deta hai roz ka aana jana (The more visible you are, you are valued that much more).”  Your relevance is decided by how often you are invading people’s consciousness on a daily basis, which channel you are on, what you are speaking about on a platform and people figuring you out on the basis of these isolated bit moments. People have evolved so much that they now need a starter before lunch or dinner. And now that they are so used to it, we have no option but to give them what they desire. So though reluctant, I have even taken the plunge into social media.

People are busy and self-absorbed these days. They have neither tehzeeb nor tameez (culture or manners). We were more connected in flesh and blood and the way we respected women was different too.

Do you think there’s too much of noise around, particularly with the explosion of new media platforms? Is the essence of truth getting lost in a swirl of views and counter-views?

Life is too much of a machine nowadays, there’s no individuality or path-breaking ideas. Films are a reflection of this society. Once we were the Hindi film industry setting benchmarks, now we are Bollywood, a mandi where every vendor assembles to sell his wares by screaming and drawing attention. And whoever markets himself best is considered successful. It is about prices and commerce, not about creativity and vision. Once I wrote — and I have been writing for quite some time now —Chal rahe ho toh batane ki zarurat nahi/ ruk gaye jis din puchega koi nahi/ jaante hain jo dhol woh peet te nahi/chalte rehte hain bas, mudkar dekhte nahi. People who want to move ahead and further in life are already on their journey and are self-confident about their purpose. They do not stop or look back. But these days we are eager to announce our presence by blowing a trumpet, flaunting each moment of our lives. If you are not a part of the tribe, it will make sure that you conform or blow your chances. I have lived through this.

In my whole life I haven’t given importance to money but love. Maine paisa ko darja nahi diya, naahi shohorat ko, sirf mohabbat ko di hai. Love is passion (jo ghar kar jata hai), whereas money is addiction (jo chadta hai toh utar bhi jata hai). Money can never stay true to anyone ever but love can. And this love and compassion can span all kinds of relationships, be it with your parents, siblings, partners, friends, well-wishers…Without mohabbat, there can be no happiness.

Does the surfeit of comedy films and shows being made now show that we have lost happiness from our lives?

Nowadays, we don’t laugh from the heart. We laugh like a mad person at something that is full of stupidity. Mujhe unki hasi pe hasi aati hai, they look like duffers. I do not talk much myself because again everybody’s questions are about strengthening the stereotype rather than listening to what I have to say.

These days the industry has opened up to content-driven films and different character-oriented roles for heroes. But you actually broke the mould much ahead of your time doing films like Satyakaam and Anupama and became an action hero much later. Yet this fact is never emphasised in discussions about your filmography. Does that bother you?

I have never taken stress on this account simply because I think I never gave credit to myself. I did not force myself ever on the media or seek fame, it just doesn’t suit my personality. I cannot even say I was choosy about my scripts. Back in the day, I couldn’t afford to be so, as I had to earn money. As head of a family I had to be responsible for both the home and the film. So I was very focussed about my work. Therefore, I consider myself blessed that great stories came to me and that every director and producer wanted to cast me. My secret is very simple. Acting as an art is a form of human reaction in an imagined situation and to an emotional man, it comes real fast and easy. Your edge as a performer comes from how you can bring the feelings out. I haven’t learnt acting, it comes naturally to me as I organically respond to the stimulus. That I guess has kept me versatile.

Sometimes I feel you haven’t been acknowledged enough for your body of work or you perhaps just came ahead of your time. Your take?

I do not like to boast and brag about the things that I have done. I have always thought if I’m doing something great and worth complimenting, people will automatically recognise it and praise it. So it means a lot that people noticed and felt my bit role in a film like Life In a Metro. That’s their call not mine. Mine is to move ahead with my work.

Let’s talk about superstardom, you were much more a superstar in that sense but you never quite played that card?

See I have been in this industry for more than 50 years now and people still love me, both you and your parents still relate to me. So I don’t know what a crafted mechanism called superstar is. I haven’t called or pampered media to prolong my legacy, never strategised my image. I’m living so deep in the hearts of people, they can’t throw me out now. Hum 3 mein hai naa 13 mein hai/ magar khuda ke bando ki uss ginti mein hai jo khuda ko mohabbat, mohabbat ko khuda kehte hai/ zor-e-mohabbat bana liye hai ghar dilon mein/ ab dilon se nikaale hum kahan nikalte hai? (You cannot categorise me but I am among those god-created men who consider god is love and love is god. And once I have made a place in your hearts with my love, who will throw me out?). No amount of well thought out intervention could have given me this status. This love has kept me very grounded as I am careful about treasuring it.

You write such beautiful lines, have you never thought of writing a book or memoirs?

I’ll do it now because very few people know that I have been writing all my life. But people’s attention span is so short nowadays, I may do an audio/video book. It will be easier then to establish a relatable context. I may also consider using my social media tool. I think if it’s used in the right way, this medium is excellent and can create unity in society.

If you write, then why have you not considered writing scripts and screenplays till now?

I have never thought of it. Besides, story-telling requires great skill and emotional involvement and that intensity is difficult to develop. Even now, with so much creativity, a good story takes time to find. I am glad that stories are finding their way back in the industry. I loved Dangal a lot. I feel very happy when our girl athletes from heartland India get their moment of glory on a world arena. It makes me proud about India.

Having been among the first actors to turn producer, what is your involvement now with your production house?

I just did it to launch my son. I never wanted to be a producer, don’t want to continue it any more. Sunny insisted he wanted to continue, so it is pretty much him at the reins now.

There is much talk about nepotism in the industry. You launched Sunny and subsequently Bobby also joined the industry. Have you ever felt that they needed or wanted to do something else or that you pushed them into it?

I do not think they considered other choices because, whatever the challenges and difficulties, showbiz is so beautiful. It’s human nature to be loved, liked and admired and this is one industry where you can earn that in a lifetime. As I said, I joined the industry not because of money or power but the sheer grace of love, respect and aura that Dilip Kumar sa’ab commanded. I thought how someone could mesmerise people with his performance and screen presence like him. I started imagining being part of that world where you could touch lives with the power of emotion. And this is the only industry that can make that possible.

It’s addictive and when you are growing up in a home of a star or a filmmaker, every member of the family is somewhere connected to it. For my children, therefore, the attraction was obvious. It dominated their choices. Having said that, the world knows that their trajectories have been very different and they are pretty much decided about what they want and don’t. Acting, I insist, is a natural talent and no fatherly tips can work in this field. So both have crafted their own space despite me. You know how both have struggled too.

Finally, what has been your favourite film?

SatyakaamPratigya and even that lively role in Seeta Aur Geeta.