Archive for November 2015

More than three decades after he made his mark in the Hindi film industry, actor Shekhar Suman continues his love affair with theatre. He tells Sonia Sarkar that he ‘got away with blue murder’, poking fun at politicians in television talk shows without worrying about a backlash — something he believes he can’t do now.

The audience was ecstatic. And many in the Delhi auditorium were surprised as well. Shekhar Suman – largely known for his comic acts – had enacted the role of the lyricist-poet, Sahir Ludhianvi, with such sensitivity that it had brought the spectators to their feet.

Actors need to reinvent themselves occasionally, but Suman seems to have turned it into an art. More than three decades after he made his mark in the Hindi film industry with Girish Karnad’s Utsav, his performance in Saif Hyder Hasan’s play Ek Mulaqaat – the story of Sahir’s love affair with the Punjabi writer, Amrita Pritam – turned the arc lights back on the man who started his career with theatre.

“This is my best work in the career span of 35 years,” Suman, 53, says. “I strongly feel that I was destined to play Sahir. Every time I heard his shayari, I thought he had written it for me, expressing my emotions.”

He put his heart into the role, carefully studying the life of the poet. He went to the Satish Chander Dhawan Government College for Boys in Ludhiana, where Sahir studied. He pored over photographs of Sahir, trying to pick up gestures from the old snapshots. He heard a rare recording, and sought to master his way of speaking.

“I walked down the corridors of his college with some books in my hand and imagined that I was Sahir,” Suman says, and then starts to recite one of his most famous lines – ” Zindagi sirf mohabbat nahin, kuchh aur bhi hai (life is not just about love; there is something more).”

Suman has been concentrating on theatre for a while now. Eight years ago, he acted in actor-director Makarand Deshpande’s Detective Maurya, and, in 2000, he worked with director Om Katare in Woh Tum Hi Ho.

But then theatre has been his passion for long. The history graduate from Delhi’s Ramjas College took to the stage soon after he’d earned a diploma in acting from Delhi’s Shri Ram Centre for Art and Culture in 1979. He has acted in more than 20 plays with well-known theatre directors such as Badal Sircar, Bansi Kaul and Rajinder Nath.

“Theatre is my umbilical cord. The bond is always there,” he stresses. On his table right now, he adds, are the scripts of some 10 plays.

It has also given him back his place in the sun as a serious actor, a trait that was first noticed nationally with the period film Utsav in 1984.

Getting a break in Bollywood wasn’t very difficult, he recalls. The yesteryear character actress Shammi had offered him a role in a film while he was still doing theatre. The film was never released, but through her he met Shashi Kapoor, who was then producing Utsav. Suman was selected for the role of Charudutt, a married Brahmin merchant in love with the courtesan, Vasantasena.

Since he was a newcomer, Suman says that he had to be vetted by almost everybody associated with the film, including Rekha, who played Vasantasena.

“The day Rekha came to check me out, I felt like a newlywed bride waiting for the bridegroom to come and approve of her,” he laughs.

But while Suman was applauded for his performance, he could never create the same magic on the silver screen again. He acted in 16 films – including the steamy Anubhav (1986) and the Madhuri Dixit hit Tridev (1989) – but remained largely unnoticed.

“I was not happy with the way my career was moving,” he reveals. But, he adds, he could not be choosy about the roles he was being offered. He was married (to Delhi girl Alka) and had two sons – Ayush, who had a heart ailment, and Adhyayan, who is now an actor. “I needed a lot of money for Ayush’s treatment. I didn’t have the luxury to choose my roles,” he says.

That was when he reinvented himself again – and this time by moving to television. Suman’s luck turned with the 1993 series Reporter, where he played an investigative journalist, and became an instant hit with the comedy series Dekh Bhai Dekh.

“The two roles were diametrically opposite to each other but were equally popular. I realised that I could play different characters at the same time.”

He made people laugh, but there was tragedy unfurling at home. Ayush died in 1997 when his career in television was scaling new heights. With the advent of satellite television, there were soaps galore – and he acted in several series including Amar Prem, Hera Pheri and Andaz.

But Suman is remembered most for anchoring Movers and Shakers, the first talk show of its kind on Indian television, in 1997. Some said then that he had copied American comedian Jay Leno, but Suman shrugs off the criticism. “I didn’t even know who Jay Leno was then,” he says.

The satirical show gathered eyeballs as Suman took potshots at prominent newsmakers, from actors and musicians to politicians. “I discovered that I had this ability to talk incessantly,” says Suman, who grabbed a Rs 35-crore contract for three years for the show.

He amassed fans with his flawless mimicry of former Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad and of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. “I got away with blue murder,” says Suman, who later starred in several other similar talk shows such as Simply Shekhar, Still Moving Still Shaking and Tedhi Baat Shekhar Ke Saath.

The actor believes that there is no place today for programmes such as Movers and Shakers, where he could poke fun at leaders without worrying about a backlash. “I wonder how long I would have survived if I was doing a show like Movers and Shakers today,” he says.

Suman adds that he feels “suffocated” when he sees acts of violence around him. “In the last year and a half, the country has become unlivable. It is asphyxiating. You are being told what to wear, what to eat, what to say. I can see that Hindu terrorism is rearing its head,” he says.

He is critical of those who have been questioning writers, artistes, scientists, academics and others who have been returning state awards to protest against what they call a climate of intolerance.

“It is important to understand that these intellectuals are trying to convey that the atrocities have reached a horrifying level. Instead of listening to their voice, it is strange that the government is asking them why they didn’t return awards earlier.”

His remarks come as a surprise because in 2014, before Narendra Modi came to power, Suman was willing to campaign for him. “I admired Modi till all these things happened,” he clarifies. “As a leader, he has to take the flak. He cannot absolve himself of all this by saying that he’s not doing it. He has to handle his men.”

There are rumours that he is angry with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) because it didn’t allow him to campaign for it before the Bihar Assembly polls. “These talks happen casually,” he replies.

His relationship with political players in his home state seems a bit ambiguous. He doesn’t think that Bihar has seen development in the last many decades. “Four flyovers and a revolving restaurant in Patna’s Gandhi Maidan cannot define Bihar’s development,” says Suman, whose mother, Usha, was a homemaker, and father, Phani Bhushan Prasad, a surgeon who retired as director-general of health services in Bihar.

But he is quick to add that the outgoing and would-be chief minister, Nitish Kumar, improved standards of education and roads in the state. “But his biggest mistake is that he has joined hands with Lalu,” Suman feels.

In 2009, when Suman was contemplating a career in politics, Nitish Kumar had urged him to join his Janata Dal (United) party. “I liked Nitish and knew that I would win if I had joined him. But the Congress had approached me earlier. I had grown up with Congress ideology, so couldn’t say no to them,” he says.

He contested from the Patna Sahib parliamentary seat and lost miserably to fellow actor and BJP leader Shatrughan Sinha.

Relations between the two Bihari babus soured as a result of the contest. “It was the biggest mistake of my life – first to contest the elections and, second, to fight against Shatrughan Sinha.”

Suman talks about the past and present candidly, sitting comfortably in his 20th floor apartment in Oberoi Sky Gardens in Mumbai’s Lokhandwala area. Dressed in a body-hugging yellow tee and a pair of black trousers, he looks a lot younger than his age. I spot his gym, and ask him about his six-pack abs and image makeover. There were rumours that he’d undergone a hair transplant and had botox injected into his skin to do away with wrinkles when he appeared in a self-produced music video with the 20-year-old model, Bruna Abdullah, in 2008.

“Why should I go for cosmetic surgery? Eventually, nothing will last. I have a 27-year-old son. Why should I be worried about looking old,” he retorts.

“This is not what you should ask. As a journalist, you should ask other questions,” he says, giving me a few instant tips on good journalism.

Clearly, the man who made his name poking fun at others is not open to answering uncomfortable questions about himself.

But, then, he did say these were intolerant times.

Are Lalu Prasad’s two sons and daughter jostling to succeed him as a leader of the Rashtriya Janata Dal? Sonia Sarkar weighs the matter

A picture speaks a thousand words. A poster right outside the residence of Lalu Prasad says it all. Bihar’s present – and would-be – chief minister Nitish Kumar stands next to Prasad’s son, Tejashwi, almost hand in hand, while two of his other children – daughter Misa Bharti and son Tej Pratap – are on the other end of the poster.

Political pundits in Patna believe that’s the way the wind blows. Tejashwi could end up as Prasad’s heir apparent – and eventually be handed over the reins of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD).

“Lalu ji sees the future of the party in Tejashwi. He wants him to walk along with Nitish Kumar and learn the tricks of politics and governance,” says an RJD leader.

Prasad’s RJD won 80 seats in the just-concluded Assembly elections in Bihar. Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United), which led a grand alliance of which the RJD was a part, won 71 seats and the Congress, 27.

Prasad, who had almost been written off before the polls, however, may have to handle another war – at home. A battle for supremacy could be looming in his own family.

The three have all taken a plunge into politics. The sons are now elected legislators – from Mahua and Raghopur constituencies, respectively. Misa fought and lost from Pataliputra in the 2014 parliamentary elections.

Misa is the eldest of his nine children. Tej Pratap is the older son, born after six sisters. Tejashwi is the younger son – and seemingly the favourite of his father. Mother, ex-chief minister Rabri Devi, is said to favour Tej Pratap.

The two sons – so named because they were born during memorable thunderstorms – do not get along. They may have grown up playing volleyball and cricket together, but are now seen as adversaries with different teams of people working for them. “The two hardly interact with each other,” claims a party insider.

Misa, who is 39, has been away from the brothers for long. The Patna Medical College graduate and her IT engineer husband Shailesh lived in Bangalore for a few years before she moved to Delhi to join her father who was then railway minister.

Born during the Emergency, she was named after the infamous Maintenance of Internal Security Act (Misa), imposed on political opponents of Indira Gandhi. She often introduces herself as ” andolan ki beti” – daughter of the revolution.

She seems to have inherited her father’s penchant for drama. When she was given a ticket for Pataliputra, which Prasad’s then close aide Ram Kripal Yadav had earlier won, Yadav took umbrage. Misa then barged into his house, with the media, refusing to leave till she had a chance to make up with her “uncle”.

Earlier, at a huge rally in Patna in 2013, where Prasad’s sons were officially launched, she made a sudden entry, taking party leaders by surprise.

“Misa wants to be at the centre of politics,” Delhi-based political scientist Manisha Priyam says.

Misa believes that like her father she can connect with people. “That’s one of the qualities I have inherited from Papa,” she asserts.

Like her father, she is known to be driven. Pataliputra was won by Yadav who joined the BJP in 2014. But Misa has not given up on it.

“I will work for the people of Pataliputra and concentrate on the parliamentary polls,” she says.

Misa claims that she was the “crisis manager” when Prasad was in jail for 135 days in 1997 on charges related to the Rs 950-crore fodder scam, in which he was convicted for siphoning off money earmarked for cattle fodder.

“I have seen the functioning of the party very closely during those years. Since then, I have acquired political maturity. I also have a great connect with senior party leaders,” she says. “But the leaders have always treated my brothers as kids.”

But, clearly, they are kids no more. At a party national executive meet in April, Prasad told a core group of leaders that “only a son could succeed a father”. But he didn’t name either Tej Pratap, 29, or Tejashwi, 27.

Sources say that the two sons – who refused to speak to The Telegraph despite repeated efforts – want Cabinet berths in the new alliance government. There is also speculation that Tejashwi would be made the leader of the RJD Legislature Party.

Senior party leaders contend that neither has the ability to hold a responsible job. Tej Pratap, they point out, wanted to contest student union elections in Patna’s Bihar National College, hoping to follow in the footsteps of his father, who was the union president in Patna University in 1970. But he failed his exams and couldn’t contest the polls.

“He cannot speak like his father, nor does he have his charm,” an RJD youth leader says. “Except Lalu ji’s arrogance, he has inherited nothing from him.”

Influenced by the teachings of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, he is mostly engaged in religious activities. The insiders say that he dresses up as Lord Krishna or Lord Shiva and plays the flute or the dumroo. A close associate says that he posed as Sai Baba at a family function in Delhi a few years ago.

Prasad, it is said, initially did not want him to join politics. A motorcycle showroom was opened for him in Aurangabad. But Tej Pratap took little interest in it. Rabri Devi, the whisper goes, persuaded her husband to allow him to contest from Mahua, denying a ticket to party old timer Jageshwar Rai.

Party members believe that Tejashwi, a former student of Delhi Public School, R.K. Puram, is more grounded. He connects with people, is a good listener and speaks well. “He has observed how party leaders conduct themselves politically and picked up the skills,” a senior RJD leader says. “Also, he speaks the language of the younger generation of Biharis, who want jobs.”

Prasad introduced him to politics in the 2010 state Assembly polls, after Tejashwi failed to make a mark as a cricketer. He addressed several election rallies, but the RJD won only 22 of the state’s 243 Assembly seats. The RJD head, however, continues to back him.

“One of the indications of that is that Lalu made him contest from Raghopur, which he had won in 1995 and 2000, and Rabri Devi in 2005,” Priyam points out.

Prasad’s aides, however, believe that he is in no hurry to hand over any major responsibility to Tejashwi yet. He knows the havoc that inexperience can play. When he was in jail in 1997, there was a statewide outcry against Rabri Devi’s misrule.

Indeed, today’s Lalu Prasad is vastly different from the man who lorded over Bihar in the Nineties. Then he was the tallest leader of the state and a power at the Centre. But he has been out of power for over 10 years in Bihar and has no role to play at the Centre. Now that he has been given another chance, he is unlikely to fritter it away.

“His body language has changed and he is less arrogant now. He would want his children to be like that,” an aide says. “He wants long-term politics for his sons, so would want them to learn.”

Political observers agree. “Lalu would want them to be politically trained before they take up important responsibilities,” says Shaibal Gupta, who heads the Patna-based Asian Development Research Institute. “And he would want Nitish Kumar to train them in governance because they have good family bonding.”

Misa too believes that winning an election doesn’t mean either of her brothers would become Prasad’s successor. “Now it is no longer Lalu ji’s prerogative. The electorate would choose the successor depending upon our work.”

She dismisses rumours that she may be named deputy chief minister, though she did not contest the elections. “Let someone who won an Assembly seat take up the post. Why should I be dragged into it,” she says.

Senior party members, who are watching the developments within, are concerned. None of the three, they believe, is capable right now of handling a post. But they are demanding, and Prasad is known to be a fond father. “Lalu ji is extremely emotional when it comes to his children. They always get what they ask for,” a party leader says.

But who’ll get the lantern – the RJD’s election symbol – and become the torchbearer for the party? The question hovers in the air.

Myanmar goes to the polls today – and change is in the air. A flowering of art, music and films is underway, writes Sonia Sarkar

The painting is stark. Military men – dressed in olive green – stand in a row. Their heads are covered with bird cages. The work by Aung Kyi Soe, in the Blind in Knowledge series, is called Cages and is on display at an art gallery in Yangon, once called Rangoon.

Young musicians strum their guitars and sing at a club. The lyrics are simple – “We hate the system,” they chant.

A local news website displays a cartoon called “Religion and Elections”. Two sumo wrestlers are fighting each other.

As Myanmar goes to the polls today to elect a new government after five decades of military dictatorship, there is talk of change in the air. Changes are taking place not just in the political milieu but in the country’s art and culture field, too. Liberal voices once muzzled by the junta are slowly regaining their pitch. And painters, musicians, cartoonists, filmmakers are all a part of the transition.

“We are taking baby steps to democracy through art,” says artist and curator Pyay Way, whose Nawaday Tharlar Art Gallery is displaying the Blind Knowledge painting.

Way, who opened the art gallery in Yangon’s busy Dagon Township in 2012, says that he always wanted to create a liberal space for artists. “My artist friends felt suffocated not being able to express themselves,” he says.

Now there are at least 10 new art galleries in Yangon. Way’s gallery is also open to poets, singers and dancers. He organises an “open mic” evening once or twice a month where people express their concerns.

“There is a vibrant art community producing strong work in a variety of styles and formats, despite years of isolation and a limited domestic market for art,” points out historian and curator Melissa Carlson, who displayed the works of Myanmar’s artists at two exhibitions – Burma by Proxy: Art at the Dawn of Democracy (2015) and Banned in Burma: Painting under Censorship (2014) in Hong Kong.

Myanmar has been witnessing significant changes since 2010, when National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Aung San Suu Kyi was released after two decades of house arrest. The military government headed by President Thein Sein released more than 200 political prisoners. Regressive laws which prevented assembly of more than five people were repealed.

The spurt in art and culture followed changes in censorship laws and as the government allowed access to the Internet. Till 2012, all videos, both feature and documentary, had to go through the video Censor Board of the Television and Video Act, 1996, before distribution and screening. Failure to comply could result in fines, imprisonment of up to three years and confiscation of property. The rules of censorship have now been relaxed.

Cinema critical of the junta is no longer rare. An 18-minute short film Ban That Scene by Htun Zaw Win, for instance, criticises censorship. Kaung Sint’s 12-minute documentary film Enter on the life of a political prisoner in Myanmar exposes political abuse. “It shows how the government tortured political prisoners in jail,” Phyo says.

Since 2013, the Human Rights Human Dignity International Film Festival has been organised in Myanmar in a bid to prod young filmmakers into making meaningful cinema. “This film festival is an effort to create a democratic space,” says the festival organiser Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi, who won the best documentary award at a 2010 film festival in Hanoi for his film The Floating Tomatoes.

It’s not just motion pictures – cartoons are coming alive, too. Satirical lines touch upon a vast spectrum of subjects once considered taboo, from child soldiers and military politics to Buddhist militancy.

Cartoonist Beruma put up a sketch that showed General Than Shwe, Myanmar’s former dictator, controlling Thein Sein. A cartoon by artist Aw Pi Kyeh makes a telling comment about the political situation in the southeast Asian country, where military men are seeking to join the electoral process. A footballer has been substituted on the field – but instead of a new player coming in, he returns in another uniform.

“There is a space for political cartoons in local news journals,” says cartoonist Kyaw Thu Yein, who does political cartoons for a satirical website, Cartoon Movement. “I started cartoons in 2000. But my cartoons then were not published in newspapers except for a local humour magazine.”

For many artists, the whiffs of freedom are heady. They remember the time when few artistes could raise their voice against the rulers of Myanmar. Celebrated painter Aye Ko was arrested for speaking out against military repression. After a year in jail, he joined a shoe business. And it was only much later that he returned to art.

Artists were not allowed to display their work against the government in the galleries. Political art was banned, as was nudity. Even excessive use of black, white and red was censored.

Music came under restrictions, too. Punk bands were not allowed to perform in concerts without taking prior permission from the government’s Censor Board. Rock bands had to submit their lyrics to the government before they could even be cleared for performance or recording. Many performed secretly in warehouses and railroad yards. Rock bands such as Side Effect, Broken Order, No U Turn, and Rebel Riot performed in underground clubs, and sang of abuse of power by the military.

“We were expected to sing only good songs, about the natural beauty of the country and about love. They wanted us to shut our eyes to reality,” says Darko C., vocalist and guitarist of Side Effect.

The band was set up in 2004 but couldn’t release an album till 2012, when censorship rules were relaxed. Even then, there were restrictions. He had to drop a song on prostitution from their first album, Rainy Night Dreams.

Darko is now all set to release a new album called Voice of the Youth, where he urges the young to be agents of change.

Artistes, however, rue that they are still censored. The pro-government Myanmar Music Association has replaced the Censor Board to exercise control over rock bands. Laws such as the Electronics Transaction Law, with a jail term of 15 years for anyone using “electronic technology that threatens the security of the State”, still exist.

Last year, several paintings featuring nudes by artist Sandar Khine were removed from Yangon’s Lokanat Galleries. Even now, art galleries have to take permission from the government before displaying their work.

Increasingly, though, artistes are violating the rules. “I have been threatened by security forces a couple of times for not taking permission,” Way says. “Intelligence officials always keep a tab on our work,” adds Ole Chavannes, a media trainer who works with the anti-government news website Democratic Voice of Burma.

But many are hopeful that today’s elections will usher in a new climate. “What is the point of having an election if no change takes place on the ground,” Way asks. “Suu Kyi should come to power to bring about that change.”

‘If I was not an actor, I would have committed suicide or become a Naxalite’
Tete a TeteTete a Tete
Actor Nana Patekar talks to Sonia Sarkar about his foundation to help farmers in distress, his special relationship with the late Sena leader Bal Thackeray and his belief that he will die a sudden death

Nana Patekar has a new role. And it’s not for a film to be screened in a theatre near you; it’s for farmers in rural India. In September, the actor set up a foundation called Naam to help farmers in distress.

It’s not an issue that you generally hear Hindi film actors voice their concern over. But this year alone, in Bollywood’s backyard, around 1,400 debt-ridden farmers killed themselves. And like many others, Patekar says he followed the crisis but just took it in his stride.

“For years, I watched the plight of farmers and their families on television and then forgot about them,” Patekar, 65, says. “But one day I felt that I had lost my sensitivity because I was no longer reacting to the farmers’ deaths. That’s when I thought of helping them.”

Patekar, who has acted in some 60 films, had tucked away Rs 1.5 crore for a luxury car. He thought he would distribute the money among the families of the farmers instead. That was when his friend, Marathi actor Makarand Anaspure, advised him to visit the drought-affected regions before giving any financial help.

“I went to Beed and saw young widows and their children. I realised that I could not fulfill their requirements in my lifetime,” he says.

Patekar donated Rs 25 lakh to the families. The media blitzkrieg that followed led to donations pouring in, prompting him to set up the foundation. In less than a month, it had received Rs 9.5 crore. “Even a beggar contributed Rs 300,” he says.

Naam, which will soon have branches in several cities in Maharashtra, seeks to create alternative employment opportunities for farmers. It will, for instance, teach families how to weave. Efforts will be made to convince farmers not to take loans for lavish weddings but to have simple weddings.

“We have also told them that we will work for them if they promise not to open any liquor shops in their villages. Also, they should not harbour communal feelings,” he says.

Patekar believes that deprivation forces people to take “extreme” steps. “The farmers feel helpless, so they kill themselves. But one day they can pick up guns and target people in power.”

That’s how, he adds, Naxalites were born in Bengal. “I feel frustrated when I see the huge disparity in our society. If I was not an actor, I would have committed suicide or become a Naxalite,” he says.

It is the poor who are affected by every crisis, whether it’s a flood or drought or communal riot, he stresses. I ask him about the lynching of Mohammed Akhlaque, a Muslim resident of Bisada in UP’s Dadri, by a Hindu mob. “Shame on those who killed the man,” he says with scorn.

Patekar rues the changing times. When he was growing up, his family lived in a house where the landlord was a Muslim. “As a child, I never saw any difference between Hindus and Muslims.”

He grew up in poverty, he reveals. His father, Gajanand, ran a textile printing firm in Mumbai but an aide sold it illegally. When he was 13, Nana painted posters to earn money. “I had to walk eight kilometres from Matunga to Chunnabhatti for painting posters,” he recalls as he fiddles with a gold chain twined with rudraksh beads circling his neck.

“There was a time when I used to visit friends hoping they’d offer me food. Often they didn’t,” he recalls.

In his interactions with the media, the actor seldom fails to mention the hardships that he and his family faced. Perhaps it helps him to stay grounded. And he would know that the press loves a rags-to-riches story.

Poverty, he adds, made him aggressive. “I often picked up fights with people. I always thought people were letting me down.”

It’s because of his temper – he wears a yellow sapphire and pearl in a bid to control it – that he says he has stayed out of politics. He has turned down offers from all leading political parties – the Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Shiv Sena. “I always speak my mind but politicians don’t want that. I will be thrown out of any party if I join one.”

There’s a general perception that he’s close to the Shiv Sena. Patekar explains that he had an “extremely special” relationship with the late Sena leader Bal Thackeray. He became a fan of Thackeray’s political cartoons when he was studying commercial art in the JJ School of Art. “He was like a father figure to me,” he says.

Thackeray stepped in when actor Tanushree Dutta accused Patekar of misbehaving with her during the shooting of the 2008 release, Horn ‘OK’ Pleassss. Thackeray had apparently then asked film producers to blacklist Dutta. “He was always very protective of me,” Patekar says.

But he doesn’t have much patience with Sena antics – such as its recent move to stop a concert by the Pakistani singer Ghulam Ali in Mumbai. “If I meet Uddhav (Shiv Sena chief), I will tell him that I didn’t like this,” he says.

Ghulam Ali holds a special place in Patekar’s heart. The actor had an accident during a shoot and was laid up in his Pune house for a while. One day, Ali paid him a surprise visit. “He asked me, what do you want me to sing. I said, anything. Then he took the harmonium and started singing one of my favourite ghazals, Kal chaudvi ki raat thhi. His voice healed my pain.”

We are sitting in the same flat in Pune’s Ashok Path. Patekar is dressed in a white kopri (a sleeveless shirt with a pocket at the centre) and a pair of yellow shorts. The room is as casual as the actor – it’s sparsely furnished with four wooden chairs, a couch and a dressing table. The man who has seen poverty from close quarters is now the proud owner of five houses in Mumbai, Pune and Goa. He guides me to the first floor of the house and the terrace, and points to a huge bathroom – as big as a room. He wanted it big because he felt claustrophobic in their tiny bathroom when he was a child, he says.

Patekar has not just made money; he has earned recognition as well. Fond of theatre, he was working with an advertising agency as a commercial artist and visualist when actor Smita Patil persuaded him to try his luck in films. His first film was Muzaffar Ali’s Gaman (1978). He has acted in a great many hits such as Parinda (1989), Tirangaa (1993) and Krantiveer (1994).

Critics hail him as a natural actor, for he is known to make reel life character appear real. In fact, for Prahaar, a 1991 film that he directed as well acted in, he trained with the Maratha Light Infantry for over two years. “That’s my favourite movie,” says Patekar, who has a firing range in his house.

Another of his favourites is Agni Sakshi (1996), where he played Manisha Koirala’s possessive and abusive husband. I take the liberty to ask him about his off-screen romantic relationship with Koirala. “It was an amazing time of my life. But now she is happy somewhere. So that’s fine,” he says.

He has a good rapport with many of the industry’s leading lights. With Amitabh Bachchan, in particular, he shares a warm relationship. He recalls how, when they were both shooting for Kohram (1999), Bachchan one day announced that his daughter had given birth to a baby boy. “I have become a nana (grandfather),” he said. “To this, I replied: Aapko itne din lag gaye Nana banne mein? Main toh bachpan se hi Nana hoon (It took you this long? I’ve been Nana since the beginning).”

Nana, however, is not his original name. He was named Vishwanath but one of his mother’s friends used to fondly call him “Nana” when he was a child. “So I became Nana,” he laughs.

In the middle of the conversation, he suddenly leans over and asks me to tie a red thread that’s come loose on his wrist. ” Tera miya kya karta hai (what does your husband do),” he asks casually. When I tell him that I am not married, he wants to know how old I am. Why didn’t you get married, he asks.

His own marriage came apart seven years after he and Neelkanti, a Marathi writer and actor, were married in 1978. “We live separately but we meet often,” says Patekar, who lives with his 95-year-old mother, Anusuya.

His relationship with his wife, he reveals, became strained after their first child was born physically challenged. “I couldn’t believe that my son could be born with such physical deformities. I blamed my wife for that,” he reflects.

His son died when he was two-and-a-half years old. Five years later, Malhar was born. Malhar has just graduated from New York University and is likely to take over Patekar’s production company, Gajanand Chitra.

Patekar would then spend more time with his foundation. A voracious reader, he also writes poetry. He recites a poem as I prepare to leave: ” Ghar me bas hai chhey hi log. Chaar deeware, chhat aur main – There are just six of us at home: the four walls, the terrace and I.”

A loner, he believes that he will die a sudden death. “And my intuition is very strong,” he says.

Not yet, I tell him. The farmers need him.

(This appeared in The Telegraph — – November 1, 2015).