I am basically from Delhi. Since I always wanted to be an actor, one fine day I left home to join the Film Institute at Pune. It was a great experience just to learn the ropes of the trade. Shatrughan Sinha and Jaya Bhaduri, among others, were in class with me and we had such a lot of fun. I think that was a wonderful phase of my life.
Shatrughan and I got along famously. I just love that man, he is such a wonderful human being. We are still great friends. He was doing a film called Chetna at that time, and he asked me to approach the producer for a role. He also put in a good word for me. I approached the producer and as luck would have it, I landed a good role in the film The producer, incidentally, was looking for someone who looked like me and as soon as he set eyes on me he said, ‘This is the kind of face I was searching for’. Fortunately Chetna was a major hit and I was flooded with offers.
My first ever outdoor schedule was for Chetna, in Ooty. Though I was very excited about the trip, my family members were worried. In those days, people were worried if one went out of town. Anyway, once we reached there, everything went well. We only had a mishap during the last leg of shooting. We were shooting a scene where Zaheera (the heroine of the film) and I were in the water, and I was supposed to drag her ashore. I was successfully dragging Zaheera and we were just about reaching the shore, when I suddenly realized that I had lost my grip and Zaheera was out there in the water, flowing away with the current! I didn’t know what to do because there was a huge waterfall and once Zaheera got stuck in it, she would go all the way down and there would be no trace of her! Not able to think straight, I swam towards her and caught hold of her hand! Now, both of us were flowing towards the fall! It was such a frightening moment. Thankfully, some of the unit members jumped in and saved us in the nick of time.
Before our unit could get back home, some Hindi newspaper reported the whole incident and even suggested that we could be seriously injured. So by the time I reached Mumbai, my whole family was sick with worry. I got a major scolding for not informing them beforehand! And there I was, thinking I would save them from worry if I didn’t tell them about the incident!
I have done a film with Jaya Bachchan and it was nice working with her. Since she was my batch mate and we already were friends, it was very comfortable. Even during our training days, we all knew that Jaya was very talented. Though personality wise she was nothing much to look at, she had tremendous potential. In fact, if we felt a producer or director is hesitant to take her in his film because of her height, we would goad them to do so, because of her acting ability.
Sadhana was my all time favourite. Even when I was a teenager, she was my dream woman. I never dreamt that I would get a chance to see her, leave alone work with her! So you can imagine the pleasant surprise I got when I was offered a role opposite her! I was ready to do the film even for a pittance! I can never forget the experience. Not even once did Sadhana make me feel like a newcomer. In spite of being a seasoned actress, she would ask for my suggestions and made me feel comfortable from the word go.
Leena Chandavarkar is one of the prettiest women I have come across and she had a wonderful personality too. Another pretty face was Yogeeta Bali. Combined with good height, this made her entire appearance very appealing. There are no such girls in the industry today.
Shatru, Sanjeev Kumar, Navin Nischol, Vinod Mehra and I were a group and we had a lot of fun together. We would arrange get-togethers and those were memorable ones. Unfortunately, I lost two of my dear friends, Vinod and Sanjeev. Even in those days, everyone had affairs and relationships. The Press was also around, trying to fish out stories. But nothing much was written about those relationships because the stars were very discreet then. No one wanted to talk about their personal life, even when the relationship ceased to exist. Today, there are more scandals in print, simply because stars don’t mind bringing their relationships to the streets. A relationship or for that matter, an affair, can only become a scandal when it is talked about so openly.
I didn’t have a chance to have a relationship or an affair with any actress because I was already involvedwith my wife, even before I joined films. She was my batch mate at the Film Institute and we fell in love during the course of the training. Her parents were settled abroad and she had come here to try her hand at acting. Since she was all alone here, I had put her up at a flat, as a paying guest. She was still struggling and she hadn’t yet got any films. Since my parents were settled in Delhi, I had bought myself a flat in Mumbai. We realized that we were unnecessarily spending money on her rent which we could save, if she stayed in my flat (those days, money was hard to come by), so we decided to live together. I must have been the first star to live in with a girlfriend before marriage! A lot of people said things about us but we weren’t bothered. Ultimately we got married and the problem was solved. My wife, meanwhile, did work in a film and then decided to quit, to be a full time housewife.
I feel I didn’t do very well because I had this image of a romantic hero and suddenly, the era of action films started. So there was no place for actors like me. I wasn’t very comfortable doing action roles and wouldn’t have looked very convincing as an action hero! But I have done my share of good films I wonder why people keep asking me why I haven’t done well. I have definitely done more films than a lot of others like Vikram, Navin Nischol or for that matter, even Vinod Mehra. Only after Vinod decided to take on action films as well, did he do well.
Today, I don’t mind doing character roles if they are good enough. But nobody is ready to give me father roles because they think I look too young to be a father! I try to tell them that I am on the wrong side of 50 but no one is convinced. Anyway, I am quite happy with the kind of work I am doing on TV. I am not doing much because I don’t want to be overexposed like a lot of my other colleagues, who seem to be doing serials by the dozen.
Today, when I watch my films on TV, I feel very fulfilled. I have preserved all my fan letters that I received when I was a star. When I have the time, I just go through the lot. Sometimes, I sit and wonder whether after 28 years, fans still remember me. Some of them have written about their lives and I wonder what changes must have taken place in their lives. My wife keeps cribbing about such a lot of letters lying in the attic but I am not ready to dispose of them. They are precious and very close to my heart.
My son Siddharth is trying to get into films. He had a bad start as he did a film for the late Mukesh Duggal. The film was complete, when Mukesh was shot dead. Today, nobody is ready to touch that film. It is very sad because it is a nice film and Siddharth has done a good job in it. I am sure he’ll do well some day.
I don’t understand why the older actors keep cribbing about new stars not respecting them anymore. I think the new breed of stars are all well brought up kids. They are definitely much more professional than we were. They are doing two and three shifts, which we could never dream of. Life was much easier for stars then. But they do respect senior stars. I think to command respect from youngsters, one has to be one of them. If you behave like an old person and try to preach, nobody wants to take it. If you are one of them and try seeing things from their point of view, they respect you for that.
Today, I am not desperate to work in films. Only if I get good roles will I do so. Otherwise, we brothers have this editing studio and I am quite happy looking after it. At least I am in constant touch with the film industry! (As told to Shubha in 1998).