Politics has become your second innings. You’ve had another new innings in politics, too. How is it going?
The new innings is very interesting and exciting.
You contested elections from Asansol and won. Tell us about your political career.
The latest tour to Asansol was very energetic. People of Asansol have been very kind and we have received an overwhelming response. I had a feeling that we would win but I hadn’t expected such a record-breaking victory. Especially, for me who was contesting for the first time from Asansol from a new party under the leadership of Mamata Banerjee.
Did the voters get enamoured by the film star image?
The film star doesn’t matter. Many film stars have campaigned for or contested elections. The late Sridevi had campaigned for her father. It was covered on the front pages of newspapers and the victory seemed definite. Unfortunately, her father couldn’t win the election. Many actors have won their first elections but lost the next one. People do come to see the film star but eventually vote as per their own wish. So, a film star can’t guarantee a victory. I think I had my own credibility that worked for me. Firstly, there haven’t been any allegations against me. I have a bold and beautiful image. I call a spade a spade. There hasn’t been anything for which my supporters or I have to feel ashamed.
People were surprised when you tweeted in support of Kamal R Khan.
I wasn’t talking about him troubling some stars with his views or anything like that. What I was saying was that there are two sides of a coin. On one side is that he’s self-made. He hasn’t asked for anyone’s help. I have hardly met him once or twice. I am not saying that you should change your opinions about him. Sidheeq Kappan got bail from the Supreme Court or not? It is somebody’s freedom of expression. It should be respected even if it is not accepted.
A natural calamity has devastated Pakistan. Almost 1/3
rd of Pakistan is affected by it. They’re our immediate neighbours. It is a good time to heal wounds. The differences between the two countries will continue. There were differences between East Germany and West Germany. But both countries have progressed. China and Taiwan have their differences but Taiwan has become a powerful country on its own. There’s a natural calamity and human tragedy. So, if I say that we should help our neighbours then it’s a good gesture. One has to understand this thought.
Has the ability to call a spade a spade ever backfired or got you into trouble?
Many a times. That tweet about KRK received backlash. People said nasty things about me as well as about Sonakshi. I was not talking about his mistakes. We can fight his opinions with our opinions. We don’t have a personal enmity with him. Just because certain stars are against him everyone is against him. But will anyone support him for the way he or many people have been picked up? I think this is a little extreme. Who’s all innocent in the industry? All the wrongdoings of stars haven’t gone unnoticed by the people. We as an industry being a family, sometimes ignore that. That’s a different thing.
Do you want to focus more on politics now or are you open to acting even today?
Acting is my first love. That’s what has given me name and identity. But now I have come back from reel life to real life. I have a responsibility towards society, party, nation and humanity. I try to push my clean image towards doing something good. And being a professional, I make sure that whatever responsibility that I take on, I am able to do justice to it. I don’t want to commit to a shoot and then not give them enough time, like some actors do. It’s not a good thing. I need to understand other people’s situation as well.
I am thankful to my friends offering me opportunities in acting. But I don’t want to do stuff like ‘Hilne ki koshish ki toh goli maar dunga’. I have done that enough.
You were a science student. How did you transition from an education in science to FTII (Film and Television Institute of India)?
I give this advice to every parent I meet, and it’s something I have believed ever since I was young – never impose your own will on your children. First, see what is his/her interest and attitude. If he/she wants to become a doctor, don’t push them to become an engineer. My late and great father had done his B.Sc and M.Sc from the USA. He went to the USA via a ship and came back the same way. Despite that he wanted that two out of his four sons would become doctors and the other two scientists. Dr. Ram Sinha is still a renowned scientist in America. Dr. Lakshman Sinha became an aviation scientist and came back to India after spending 18 years in America. Dr. Bharat Sinha is a doctor in London. Shatrughan Sinha wasn’t qualified to even become a compounder. My parents tried a lot. But the guy who wasn’t even qualified to become a compounder became India’s Health Minister. This happens in democracy sometimes.
I didn’t have that aptitude to become a doctor. I had trouble dissecting a frog or a rabbit. My teachers told me, ‘This science is not for you’. They saw another talent in me, that I keep observing people and mimic them. They suggested that I leave medical and take admission in FTII. Fortunately, I got selected in my first attempt at FTII.
How did your debut with Prem Pujari happen along with Dev Anand?
I am very grateful to Dev Sahab. He was very fond of me. People who were fond of me like Biswajeet, Bharat Bhushan and Manoj Kumar, always encouraged me. My FTII film got a lot of appreciation from the likes of Raj Kapoor. The late and great actor Sanjeev Kumar used to carry that film’s cans with him to show it to people. He was my only friend, philosopher and guide.
The only heroine that I should be always grateful to, is our dear Mumtaz. We’re fortunate to have her as our family friend. More than me, she is fond of my wife now. She was very supportive of me. I got some of my films because Mumtaz recommended me. She kept her foot down for Khilona, that the makers can’t reject me. She used to say, ‘His future is very bright’.
For Prem Pujari, I had to go to London, but unfortunately that didn’t happen. A more mature and good-looking actor Prem Chopra got that role. I got a smaller role in the film but I received a lot of praise for that small role, including appreciation from the famous, late writer/journalist MJ Akbar. He said, ‘I learned the style of smoking a cigarette from you in that film’. That time, I used to smoke. But today, I do anti-smoking campaigns. Later, Dev Anand offered me a role in Gambler. I got a lot of praise for that role, too.
You were an actor with unconventional looks. How did the transition from villain to hero happen? Who from your peers noticed that you could play the lead role?
There were two things in me, which I think were and still are ‘zabardast’ – confidence and passion. I always tell the younger generation that in this competitive world, it is extremely important to have confidence and passion. These two things will bring in conviction and commitment. Dedication will take shape of devotion.
I treated the villain as a character. I think it was the first and probably the last time when people cheered on the entry of a villain on screen. Main hero ko maaru toh mujhe taaliyaan milti thi. Hero mujhe maare toh hero ko gaaliyaan milti thi (People used to clap when I used to beat up the hero. When the hero would hit me, people used to abuse him)
. The theatre owners used to tell the distributors about this applause. They would say, ‘This guy gets a lot of love and applause, his dialogue delivery is good, and girls love him, too’. That wasn’t the case for any other actors playing villains. I used to be called as a chief guest at the Sophia’s girls college in Mumbai. I used to write a column in Eve’s Weekly, where girls would write to me their problems and I’d offer solutions. Can you believe that?
So, those distributors started telling the producers and directors about the reactions that I was getting. They told producers, ‘Bring some sympathy for his character in the end otherwise the audience won’t accept him as a full-fledged villain’. Even a director like Manmohan Desai had to make changes in the climax of Rampur Ka Lakshman. In the scene where I say, ‘Maa’. In the last scene of Bhai Ho Toh Aisa, when I’m wearing a red shawl and I tell Jeetendra, ‘Tumhare andar itna ahankar aa gaya hai ke tum ghar chhod ke jaa rahe ho. Aur humein paschatap ka mauka bhi nahin de rahe ho?’ People used to cry during that scene. So, for my transition from a villain to a hero, I’m more obliged to the public than the filmmakers. I became a people’s actor in the true essence. Today, I am a people’s worker or leader whatever you want to call me.
Please go on…
Then came a film titled Ek Naari Do Roop. The song Mujhko Mere Baad Zamana Dhoondhega became a superhit. Milaap was the other film. Both these films weren’t commercial successes, but people took notice of my performance. Neither my producers nor I lost courage. Devendra Goyal made Aadmi Sadak Ka. No wedding is complete without the Aaj Mere Yaar Ki Shaadi Hai song from that film. I did come commercial films like Sangram after that. Then of course came Kalicharan and Vishwanath.
It is said that producer NN Sippy wanted Rajesh Khanna to play the lead in Kalicharan.
I had heard about it. Some people had objections over Subhash Ghai, who was a new director at that time. And the subject of the film was also new. I knew that I was not the first choice for Kalicharan. But at the same time, it is also true that nobody wanted to do Kalicharan because Subhash Ghai was a newcomer. When they came to me, two things happened. I fell asleep while listening to the story. It’s a fact. Because it was 2 o’clock in the night, when I had come back home. And Subhash said that he’ll leave only after narrating the story to me. So, I took a shower and it was around 3-4 o’clock when he was narrating the story to me. It was not Bhagvadgita or Ramayana that I was listening. So, I fell asleep because I was exhausted. Subhash Ghai was right when he mentions that story even today.
But another thing also happened which became the highlight of Kalicharan – Loin and Number 17. We had not liked the idea initially. But that went on to become the highlight of the film.
Why did you not like the Lion idea?
We were thinking like what is this Lion and where’s the dot disappeared. How will it become number 17? I am accepting that it was my mistake. But Subhash was my friend. I have always maintained that once a friend is always a friend. So, Subhash said that he is doing the film with NN Sippy. I had become a big star by then. So, NN Sippy called me and asked whether I have listened to the story. So, for Subhash, my friend I told Sippy Sahab, “What a story, and what a film you will make. Subhash Ghai is a genius. And if he’s going to direct this film then I am ready to act in it.” So, Nari Sippy was very happy and Kalicharan happened.
But you had a good rapport with Rajesh Khanna even after that.
Yes, a very good friendship. We fought against each other in a Delhi election for which he couldn’t forgive me for many days.
Why? What had happened?
He thought, ‘Mere khilaaf tum kaise khade ho gaye (How could you contest against me)?’ I said, ‘I am not contesting against you. It’s the political party that decides who contests from where’. Because LK Advani had won there by a huge margin. And he had won from Gandhi Nagar with a margin of more than 1 lakh votes. He had to let go off one seat. So, let go off Delhi. People started taking political mileage that, ‘Advani ji ne Delhi chhod diya’. And Rajesh Khanna lost that election by some 2000-3000 votes only. Then Rajesh Khanna contested again for the vacant seat, and I was put up against him. LK Advani ji said to me, he didn’t want to hear a NO from me. It is all there in my book Anything But Khamosh.
We were very good friends. After the election, he stopped talking to me. I tried to sort things out. I even said sorry to him after a few years. When I was in the hospital a few years later, Rajesh Khanna was also hospitalized. I used to often tell my daughter Sonakshi that when I get discharged from the hospital I’ll go straight to meet him. But I couldn’t meet him. Sonakshi only told me one day that Rajesh Khanna uncle is no more. But I had apologised to him way before that.
During your time, two-hero films were quite common. Today, the trend seems to have become difficult to pull off. Did one-upmanship exist then as well or there used to be camaraderie?
I did quite a few films with Rajesh Khanna, Dharmendra and Amitabh Bachchan.
There used to be rumours that in Amitabh Bachchan’s films, the other actor’s roles would get chopped. Is that true?
It didn’t happen with me. If it had happened in Kaala Patthar, then I don’t know. It’s a very old thing now. I don’t want to think about it. I did many films with Raaj Kumar too. But nothing like this happened with me. My sense of humour and friendly nature made things easier for me.
Tell me about your relationship with Amitabh Bachchan. He called you a ‘Late Latif’ on a show where you appeared together.
The great filmmaker Manoj Kumar always says that Shatrughan Sinha is a great human being but he is a ‘Late Latif’. He’s such a ‘Late Latif’ that, in his bungalow Ramayan, he was going to be born as Ram but was born as Shatrughan after three brothers Ram, Lakshman and Bharat. But there’s another side to that. Even if people say that I’d arrive late, I’d finish dialogues worth 10 pages in no time. So, I’ve always finished my work on time. Also, I never left any set without finishing that day’s work. Amitabh Bachchan had called me ‘Late Latif’ jokingly.
I call Amitabh Bachchan a National Icon. I’m not only fond of him but also proud of him. We are each other’s contemporaries. I took the competition very easy. I promote Yoga so I kept doing Yoga. Many people don’t know that Amitabh Bachchan has a tremendous sense of humour. Javed Akhtar has been privy to his humour.
What are your thoughts on Sonakshi and her career? Is she going to get married any time soon?
She is very talented and confident. She is doing very well. Luv and Kush also have confidence. But Sonakshi has inherited it very well. People say that Sonakshi has inherited confidence from her father and beauty from her mother.
As far as marriage is concerned, I haven’t interfered in my children’s life after they have turned 18. I practice what I preach when I say that parents should focus on what their kids’ aptitude, not their own will. I’m sure that they will take the right decision at the right time and right age.
Where did you meet your wife Poonam? Was it on the sets of Mere Apne?
No. I met her in a train, like a typical filmy story. I felt that it was a destiny’s call. I was traveling from Patna to Pune to join FTII. On the opposite berth I saw Poonam. It was the first time in my life that I was seeing such a beautiful girl. Patna mein kahan dekhta (Where in Patna would I have that fortune)? She had come to Patna with her mother to attend a relative’s wedding. Some friends had come to see me off. I had warned them, ‘Isey chhed mat dena. Humein aagey jaana hai (Don’t tease her. I have to travel till Pune)’. I was crying because I had left my house at such a young age and was going to stay in a hostel. And I never knew that before Jai Maharashtra there would be such a Jaijaikar (hurrah) and such a meeting. And she was also crying because maybe her mother must have scolded her. So, both of us were crying that night. And after so many years of marriage and three kids, we’re still crying (laughs).
How many films did you two work in as co-stars?
In a couple of films. We went to Agra to shoot for Dharti Ki Goad Mein. There was some commotion going on outside the hotel we were staying in. Aunty realised that both of us have a weakness for each other. Later on, aunty got very upset when Poonam was supposed to do NN Sippy’s Paaras because I was going to play the villain. The role was eventually played by Farida Jalal. Aunty didn’t let Poonam do quite a few films because I was going to play the villain in those. But then we did Sabak together where we had a breakup. Baad mein mere kai jagah silsiley shuru hue (I had many trysts later on). But look at the coincidence, the famous song Barkha Rana Zara Jam Ke barso from the same film was being picturised. I said I won’t shoot with her. Director Jugal Kishore was a good human being. They got someone else for the song. But the song became a superhit and people were missing the hero and heroine. So, Jugal Kishore came to me and said, ‘We can still shoot in one day’. We shot that song. So, our breakup and makeup happened in the same song. The rest is history.
Being an actor and politician, how do you analyse the current state of affairs for the Hindi film industry? The boycott trends and box office uncertainty have gripped the industry.
The COVID pandemic broke the backbone of film business and it has almost ended stardom. Stars are no more larger-than-life. The pandemic has made everyone equal.
Do you think it is the end of the superstar era?
It seems like that at the moment. Only selective films and stars would work. There’s also confusion whether to go for theatres or OTT. Plus, it has become too expensive to watch a film at a theatre with your family. The stars don’t have the power to pull the audience to the theatres anymore. They have come from larger-than-life to the ground, almost. Their personal and social image have suffered a dent too.