By Mohammad Aleem
Virendra Saxena is an Indian theater, film and television actor. He is an alumnus of the National School of Drama. He is known for his character roles as well as his unique voice. He has acted in over 80 Indian films and few Hollywood films like White Rainbow, Cotton Mary, In Custody and also in many television serials.
He has worked with leading actors like Shahrukh Khan, Aamir Khan, Amitabh Bachchan, Akshay Kumar, John Abraham, Om Puri, Naseeruddin Shah, Rani Mukerji and others. He has always been highly appreciated by viewers.
Some of the most success Hindi films are Massey Sahib, Khamoshi, Tamas, Ashiqui, Dil Hai Ke Manta Nahi, Suraj Ka Satwan Ghoda, Bichchu, Aks, Bunty Aur Bubly, House Full and Bheja Fry and many others. Since 1975, he almost acted in all successful films.
Virendra Saxena recently talked extensively about his long and tumultous journey in Bollywood all that is to evolve in future in an exclusive interview to Mohammad Aleem, Managing Editor of India’s First Online Muslim Newspaper “IndianMuslimObserver.com”. Here are the exceprts of the interview.
Q: First of all tell me something about your family background?
Ans: My father was a stenographer. He was from Aligarh and my mother was from Mathura. I was born and brought up in that town. I am three brothers and a sister. She was the oldest among us. My parents are no more. My two brothers worked with the government. Now, both are living in the same place and in the same bungalow. My elder brother wanted to buy his own separate land to build his house, but my middle brother asked him to come and live with him. He was fearful to think that how will he live alone in his old age. He had only son who died some years back. He has now only a daughter.
I now live with my wife. We have no children. I had tried to adopt a child but could not succeed well.
Q: How would you judge your journey of the Bollywood? Is it satisfactory or not?
Ans: When I started my career, I was nobody. I had come from a small town like Mathura, Utter Pradesh. But, whatever position I am here as an actor, I am happy with that. However, it is a fact that I had much strength to do more than what I have done so far. Perhaps, I could not do or I was not much capable of doing that. I realized that to live in this city, one must have to be somehow technical. There are some methods and ways which you will have to apply. You will have to be diplomatic. It is imperative to keep visiting those people whom you do think that he/she might be beneficial for you in generating the work. But, I could not do that.
Q: Do you want to say that sycophancy plays an important role here in getting the work?
Ans: No, I would not say like that. What I want to say that I had a great experience of theatre in Delhi and had acted in the serial like Tamas which was based on the novel of legendary Hindi writer, Bhisham Sahni.
At that time, many people realized my potential as an actor and they wanted me here. But, I was in Delhi. I came after two years.
Q: It means that when you were doing theatre, at that time, you got the work in the serial, Tamas?
Ans: Yes, I had got that opportunity during my theatre days in Delhi. And I realize it now that I could not barter that glory here as I should have done so. But, I would say that in spite of that thing, this industry and this city has given me a lot. Problem is that when you come from a small town, you need work to survive. And you do not find many choices. You realize later on that many works you have done was not good for your career in the long run. It should have been avoided. The reason is always financial. And here, you will see that once you have done a work of small nature, you find yourself binding with such work for some more days and years to come. You get entangled in that kind of works and situations. It impacts hard. I have seen many people who waited for almost five years just to get a good start. They keep searching the good work. You can say that in a sense, it may prove hazardous because people would think that you have no work since the last five years. But, in another sense, when they start with a good note, even after a long and torturous waiting, they become happy to think that they have started with a positive note.
If I take my example, I got my first start as a film actor from the serial, Tamas. But, I could not cash on that success properly.
Q: It was the days when only Doordarshan existed. There was no trace of the private television channels, yet. It means that you got the acting assignments directly in the films.
Ans: When I came here in this city, the editor of the famous film magazine, Madhuri expressed his annoyance and said that where had you been such a long time. Why you weren’t here in this city when people needed you. At that time, everybody was asking who this Virender Saxena. But, you were not present here to give your best. He told me that nature of this city is quite different. If you want to succeed here, hit the iron when it is hot. If there is excitement for you and offers of the new films are coming in, then, don’t waste your valuable time in signing those projects quickly. If you delayed, you would loss the opportunity.
Q: Do you think that as an actor you have done satisfactorily work so far?
Ans: I am an actor and try my level best to give 100 percent to my job and whatever I do. Nobody ever blamed me that I have done bad acting. I do always try to do my best with full honesty.
Q: You have passed almost three decades in this industry. What you have been witnessing the biggest changes the industry is going through nowadays?
Ans: This is the time of a new cinema. A new market has emerged. Earlier, everything was the star oriented. The director would be fixed. They would come usually from quite rich families and belonged to the influential clans. Those, who came from the film’s background, like, Yash Raj, BR Chopra and Rajkapoor films like big banners would rule the industry.
Now, we have been witnessing a lot of changes. The computerization and revolution in mass media has impacted it deeply. A new kind of technology has taken over. New kinds of films are being made now. You will see new faces, new actors. Small budget films are now being made. Earlier, only NFDC used to produce such films and it was not certain that they would release it or not. You now see new directors and writers. The monopoly of big banners has now been loosened to some extent.
Take the example of Neerja Panday who had made the film, Wednesday. It was a good film. Many people liked and many disliked. Habib Faisal is also doing well. There are so many new people. Anurag Kashyap, he is a big name in the industry now. They paved the way of a new kind of thinking in the Hindi Cinema. Tigmanshu Dhulia, has done good. These people tried to make their own cinema. They did not move back to copy their former masters. There films and its language are quite contemporary. They don’t fear about the certification. They try to portray their stories in its natural milieu and environment. They worked with the new breed of talented actors with the limited budget. Take example of Nawazuddin Siddiquee. Earlier, he used to do small roles, but after the film, Gang of Wasepur, he is now a big star. He has made his place in the industry.
Q: Has Irfan Khan also entered into the industry through the same route?
Ans: No, he came from English films. He is a wonderful actor. What I am trying to say that a new breed of talented actors have taken the Centre stage.
Q: It is said that every actor gets influenced by some bigger stars. Who influenced you the most?
Ans: There is no any influence of anyone on me. But, I have deep appreciation for the good and senior actors. I don’t believe that an actor is good or bad. What I do think is that if a person gets good work at the right time, then, he or she proves himself or herself. Like Amitabh Bachchan, who had acted at the early stage of his career in many flop films, but, later on, he became a superstar. In many films, he also disappointed, but, in most of the films, he did a good job. I admire both Amitabh Bachchan and Dilip Kumar. They were both very good and charismatic actors. If you take the example of new comers, Ranbeer Kapoor is a very fine actor. He would do well until he keeps his honesty intact. If he keeps choosing the good script for himself, it will be rewarding for him. It is quite necessary to choose good scripts for oneself. They are stars and they have every authority and position to choose a best script.
Q: You come from NSD (National School of Drama). For how long did you work there?
Ans: NSD offers a three year course. It is not that this institution makes a person an actor and sends it to the film industry. Either you are an actor or not. It is by birth. NSD only channelizes you there. You spend your three years in watching the plays, reading the plays and acting in those plays. You live in a new environment and it makes you very rich. There are many also among the NSD pass outs that have done nothing in the field of acting. They have opened their own shops to earn a living.
Q: what are the basic differences between acting in the plays and the films?
Ans: You come in theatre through constant rehearsals. You get the time of the growth of the character. You can discuss line to line even in the whole group. You can discuss with your director. There, characters become alive and vibrant. We see the whole play in totality.
In the films, things are quite different. You get the script and read it. There are so many restrictions and conditions. For example, you want to portray a role with your own understanding and conviction, but, it may be that a senior actor would not approve your approach and style. Directors also listen to them first, because they are helpless. They are not in a position to annoy them. They even force to drop a particular dialogue just to please the whims of the senior actors. Here, you do the work shot to shot. Here, you communicate in parts and that’s why it becomes slightly difficult to act. You will have to remember the growth of the shots yourself. There are many technical reasons and conditions.
Q: Do you think that it impacts hard to the intensity of the acting if it will get done in parts?
Ans: No, this is a challenge and every actor should do that impeccably well. Films have some benefits also. You can give your best in many shots. In theatre, you have no such liberty and flexibility. If you forget there a line, you will do nothing. That’s why people say that the theatre is a happening and the film is making. And you try to create in that making a new kind of happening.
Q: Tell me that when you got the first break into the feature film and how?
Ans: I had started my career in this particular field as the Chief Assistant to Sain Pranjpee, Sparsh. Although, I could not get the credit as the Chief Assistant, because, I had gone back to Delhi. An assistant of mine took over the charge. I got the credit of Associate director. I had got my first acting assignment in Massey Sahib, then to a Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Khamosh. It was a big film of that time. The whole experience of working with him was quite good. It was my first experience to work with the commercial people. He was not then a big name in the industry. But he was a jolly guy and still he is known for his that etiquette. We would fight and argue over the scenes and shots, but only purpose was to deliver the best product. He was the director. I would also like to mention that working in an art or low budget film is altogether a different experience than working in the mainstream commercial films. For example, whatever you respect you carry as an actor, but in commercial films, everything goes by according to the whims and wishes of the main hero or star of that film. Sometimes, you will have to wait for him to come to start the work. It is quite embarrassing situation. Many a time, I went to shoot my part, but returned without doing any work for many days to come because the main hero of the film did not turn up. However, we get paid for our time and efforts. But, it weighs on our heart that we got the money without doing any substantial work. The producers tolerate them and pamper them because they do think that their film’s success depends on those stars. We feel disheartened and it forces us to think that why one should behave like this with their other co-stars. We should duly respect our profession and give value to others also in the same way. We should not take our profession so lightly which has given too much to us like fame, money and love of the people. But, we can’t do anything because it has become the way of this industry.
When I used to do theatre, as a director, I would follow the strict discipline and time table. I would hardly tolerate the breach of discipline, because, until you maintain the discipline, you can’t create a good and quality work at all. It is imperative to be the whole cast present during the rehearsals. Here, in Mumbai, we see that actors behave like the film actors. They do come for the rehearsals, do their part and go away. But, it doesn’t work in Delhi. We want fully and complete involvement of every actor.
Now, we have been witnessing some change in the film industry. Now, senior actors have started realizing the value of their other co-stars and directors also try to maintain a level of discipline. It is a good and welcoming sign.
Q: We often read in the magazines and newspapers that most of the cinema people say that the script is the star. What is the truth behind it?
Ans: It is a fact that script is always gets valued like a star. Many in our industry had started doing the things that they would push away the script behind and keep stars on the front. What starts will do if there is nothing to do in the script. Take an example, the filmmaker like Yash Chopra, would follow the same rule. He used to first get written a good and competent script. Then, he would go on selecting the artists based on the demand of the script. Late actor, Sanjiv Kumar had once gone to meet Yash Chopra for work. But, he had not given him by saying that he did not find any suitable role for him in his film. But, when Yash Chopra made Trishul, he requested Sanjiv Kumar to do the work of father of Amitabh Bachchan in his film. By that time, Sanjiv Kumar had got his stardom. At that time, he had told to Yash Ji that I would charge one rupee more than Amitabh Bachchan’s fee. But, what was the truth, I can’t say with all my conviction. But, it was a story which had circulated in that time.
This credit goes to Yash ji. He understood what he wanted. If he wanted Sanjiv Kumar, he would do everything to bring him on board.
Q: We give credit to the script, but why films are not being made good most of the time?
Ans: See, only a good creative producer has the strength to produce a good and meaningful film. If producer wants to make the film only for earning money, may be, his effort will prove successful monetarily, but he will not produce a good artistic film. He will use all gimmicks to make his film commercially viable like dance, fight, comedy and rape sequence.
But, a good filmmaker will always look the things differently. He will believe in his story and feel the need of its presentation on the big screen.
Take the film, Mughl-e-Azam. It was made after many years of persistent efforts and putting a lot of money into it.
K Asif even fought over some issue with Pirthvi Raj Kapoor. But he never compromised with his work. And the result was for everybody to see.
Q: Do you not find a contrast that if the script is so much important; the script writes still don’t command much respect?
Ans: It is not like this. Sensible persons still value the script writer the most. It is also a fact that thousands of such writers are here who did not have produce a good work of literature. They don’t have such capabilities.
But, they also get the work because non-creative producers don’t understand the difference between a good writing and the bad writing. They even try to put their own story into that.
Q: How much trouble you faced when you had come to this city?
Ans: I had not endured much. I had come with about seventeen thousand rupees. My one of the friends had offered me his help and gave me place to live in his own flat.
I was doing good theatre at that time. But I knew that it was not enough to give me a good living. I understood it well that if I did not avail this time well, the offers would dry up. Here, the things vanish in no time.
I was sure for my success. I knew that what would happen would happen well.
Q: Say something about those people who are a big name in the industry and you got the opportunity to work with them.
Ans: I have worked with almost all big stars except Salman Khan. Shahrukh Khan is my good friend. I know him from that time when I had played his father’s role in one of his earlier films, Dil Dariya. It was his first acting assignment in films. He has succeeded a lot. His growth as an actor and good businessman is very commendable. He is very intelligent with good sense of humor.
We all knew from early stage of his career that one day he would be a big man of the film industry. We had rightly guessed at that time.
I had taken the offer of Hema Malini’s film to him.
Q: What difference do you find between the world cinema and the Hindi cinema?
Ans: They have good worked out scripts, because, they make an international film. They have enough opportunity to earn big money. India is a very small territory for them.
They spend big money. And they never compromise on the quality in any way. They send the scripts among the members of crew and take their views and opinion and get changed according to their valued suggestions. They explore every kind of possibilities. They work mostly on literary works. They find already a readymade audience on the basis of that book.
[Mohammad Aleem is Managing Editor of India’s First Online Muslim Newspaper “IndianMuslimObserver.com”. You can know more about him by visiting his website at www.mohammadaleem.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org]