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Pavan Malhotra: You need the patience of a tree and the perseverance of grass in the film industry

Actor Pavan Malhotra at Diorama
Actor Pavan Malhotra at Diorama

The veteran actor talks about his film choices and why he takes it as a compliment when people tell him they did not recognize him in a role.

After making a mark with his early films Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro (1989), directed by Saeed Mirza, and Bagh Bahadur (1989), by Buddhadeb Dasgupta, Pavan Malhotra has gone on to portray a range of diverse characters on the big screen as well as the small screen.

Whether it was the gangster in Black Friday (2007) or the jocular uncle in Jab We Met (2007), a coach in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (2013) or a shady conman in Super Singh (2017, Punjabi), each of these roles was made memorable by the realism Malhotra’s performance brought to bear on it.

On the sidelines of the recently concluded first edition of the Diorama International Film Festival in Delhi, the actor spoke to about his beginnings in cinema and the joy he feels in being an actor. Excerpts:

You did two very different films at the beginning of your acting career — Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro (1989) and Bagh Bahadur (1989).

Every single job came into my lap, which is why I say god has been kind to me. Before every film, every single job that I have done, I am scared.

[The popular teleserial] Nukkad came to me two days before the shoot [began]. Somebody else was supposed to do [the part]. Saeed Mirza was the only person I knew [on the unit] because I was his production manager. I worked in the same group. I was production assistant for Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro (1983) and for Mirza on his film.

For Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro, I was not the first choice, but I will always be grateful to Saeed because he got me in the hero’s bracket and had more faith in me for that character than I did. In fact, my first reaction was Saeed, you are making a film for the first time in four years, are you sure? And then, after I finished the film, I got Bagh Bahadur. I was told by the director, I saw you on the cover, I saw your eyes and loved your eyes.

I got two very different characters to play. Both films won National awards. Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro did very well and Bagh Bahadur as well and at the time as actors, we thought that we would do every interesting film that came our way. As an actor, I want to do every kind of film.

Exploring different roles, often diametrically opposite ones, seems to have defined your career path, where you have straddled the mainstream along with artistic or independent cinema.

I haven’t followed a career path as such, I just took the roles that were offered to me. I always felt that I am an artiste and shouldn’t be scared of a pause. If you have chosen this line, then you need to have the patience of a tree and the perseverance of grass, which despite being trod upon will continuously revive itself. You need to work with sincerity and that’s why actors are known by the body of their work.

One film does not make or break an actor. Amjad Khan was a great actor because after doing a Sholay (1975), he played Wajid Ali Shah [in Satyajit Ray's Shatranj Ke Khilari (1977)], and did a Qurbani (1980), Love Story (1981), Rudaali (1993).

But there has been this enduring difference between actors and stars.

The best combination is if an actor becomes a star. Talking about the young ones, there’s Vicky Kaushal, Ranbir Kapoor....

So Ranbir Kapoor is an actor who has become a star?

He is an actor. Look at his films. See him in Barfi! (2012), Rocket Singh (2009). Now if a film does not work, that’s a different story. Vicky Kaushal is different in every film. So the body of work is what determines the talent.

It’s a very interesting business that we are in. We have to be on our toes all the time because every story is new. When you are telling stories through your performance, you have a different story to tell every day. When people tell me they did not recognize me in a role, I take it as a compliment.

There is so much discussion now about the need for good content. As an actor, what is it that drives you to accept a certain role?

I don’t know. There is some kind of an instinct. Many a time, a director comes to me who has not worked on any film, but I am interested in knowing whether that person knows cinema. Because telling a story on screen is not an easy task. You need a rhythm to move from one shot to the next. And I want to be part of all sorts of films. The director is like a tangewala [coachman] who gently goads you, encourages you, and wherever he feels the need, gently guides you. Why do they pamper stars? Because they are the medium through whom the story is told. 

You would have witnessed so many changes on screen and behind the scenes during your long career. What do you make of the OTT platforms and the ways in which they are transforming content as well as our way of watching films?

See, every form has survived. Theatre has survived, TV serials have survived. But what the audience likes has changed. The values have changed. Cinema has been changing and will keep changing and we need that change. 

Do you believe films need to be seen on the big screen? Or are you okay with a film being released online?

Those who want to watch [films in cinemas] will go and watch. The sizes of the theatres may shrink, and we are seeing that happen internationally. But that will take some time in India because even today, people go to watch a film in their best clothes and watching a film is still an event.

Every time a film flops, people say the [theatre-going] audience has disappeared. That’s nonsense, because the moment an interesting film comes, the crowds are back!

When TV serials had started, people said theatres will die and cinema will die, but they continued, so there is room for everyone. 

Nowadays, lots of films are being shot in Lucknow. Aside from the fact that they [the Uttar Pradesh government] offer subsidies, that’s not the only reason. The moment you start telling stories, it will be about families located in their homes, with those rooftops and verandahs, the mohallas, the gullies [alleys]. Even the upper and middle class has a connection with these places. Even Amitabh Bachchan came from Allahabad! So there is a connection with such places.

Which are your forthcoming films that we can look forward to?

I have shot for four films, which are at the completion stage. All four are different films. One is Abhi Toh Party Shuru Hui Hai (2019), a political satire by Anubhav Sinha. Another is Flight by a young, new director. The promos are out and the film is about one person managing a crisis that unfolds in the air. Then there is Family Of Thakurganj, where I play a police officer. And then Setters.

Published in Cinestaan by Sukhpreet Kahlon

New Delhi - 23 Jan 2019 5:00 IST



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