Navin Nischol – Memories
I started my career with Saawan Bhadon. Incidentally, it was Rekha’s first film as well. Though she was doing a few films with Biswajeet and others, she had hit the headlines by then. She was the first heroine in Indian cinema, to pose for a kiss, for a leading foreign magazine. But Saawan Bhadon was her first released film. There were a lot of newcomers in the film apart from us, which included Narendra Nath and Jayshree T.
Though I was interested in acting, I never planned my career. I had modelled for the Wills ad when I was in college. When people noticed me, they suggested that I should try my hand at Bengali films, since I was in Calcutta at that time. Later on, a friend of mine pointed at the producers’ talent search contest which was to be held. I did apply and came to Mumbai for it, where I met Mohan Saigal. He was a good friend of my father, who asked me if I wanted to join him. He later gave me an option to assist him in direction or to join the Poona film institute. He advised me on the latter and I did my course in acting for three years. As promised, when I returned, Mohanji offered me a film. Before joining the Film Institute, I had signed a contract with him. So when I came to Mumbai, I was sure at least mere paas ek film to hogi.
When Saawan Bhadon was released, I felt rather strange because barely three days earlier I was a non entity and suddenly, I was in the eyes of everyone. I didn’t know what was happening and why. I have still not been able to figure out how a star becomes a star overnight and how they fall all of a sudden. This is a mystery which I don’t think anyone can answer.
Saawan Bhadon was a major hit! It was a regular jubilee and in those days, a regular jubilee meant a jubilee on three shows. It did a jubilee at 37 or 38 centres, all over India. I quite enjoyed my success and it gave’ me a great high. Once your film is a hit, there is a row of producers outside your house, waiting to sign you. Everyone is running after you. I signed a lot of films, some, of course, of which were the wrong ones. It’s very difficult to remember the lot. But among the ones I enjoyed doing most, was Buddha Mil Gaya. It was a total fun film. That was also the second film I signed after Saawan Bhadon. Then I also did Parwana with Amitabh. I enjoyed working in Woh Main Nahin, Victoria No. 203 ,Dharma and Hanste Zakham, which were all hits. Lekh Tandon’s Ek Baar Kaho and Dhund remain my favorites till date. Similarly, I still like Barkha Bahaar though it was a total disaster at the box-office. It was based on Leo Tolstoy’s Resurrection.
A lot of hard work was put in to Hanste Zakham . I remember, during the making of the film, some of my college friends came to Mumbai for a day, so we had a bash which looted till late at night. The next day morning, when I reported for shooting, my eyes were all swelled up due to lack of sleep. When I went to Chetan saab to wish him, ‘Good Morning’, he looked at me and asked, ‘Did you have a late night’? I said yes. He told me, ‘I was to use a lens of 100 on your face today but with the condition it is in, I can’t. So it’s pack-up for you.’ He told me that they would shoot with me only the next day. So after that, when it was a Hanste Zakham shooting, I would be tucked in bed by 10.00 p.m.!
Chetanji was one of the finest directors we ever had on the Indian screen. Again, there was a very funny incident. The song ‘Turn jo mil gaye ho’, no doubt a lovely number, is very difficult to lip sync. So when I asked Chetanji whether he would take lengthy shots for it, he replied, `If you are a good actor, you will give me lengthy shots, otherwise, I have no choice’. To practice the song, I would play it in my car even while shuttling between studios. No way was I going to let Chetanji call me a bad actor.
Priya Rajvansh was a pleasant lady to work with. Though she was very beautiful, she never made it. Perhaps it was her sing song manner of speaking that the audience did not accept. Nevertheless, she only worked in Chetan saab’s films.
I have been lucky that most of the songs of my films were hits. The song `Raat kali… ‘ from Buddha Mil Gaya, till date, remains an evergreen number. Victoria No. 203, Parwana, Saawan Bhadon, Hanste Zakham, Nadaan, and Paise Ki Gudia, all had good music.
Working in Dhund was also quite an experience, where I had to carefully portray each and every expression of my scene. Had I made a mistake, it would have all been messed up because it was basically a suspense film where, till the end, nobody guesses who the murderer is. I had to be very careful.
I did films with all the leading heroines of my time. Rekha, Raakhee, Saira Banu, Asha Parekh and Yogeeta Bali, were all very nice to work with. But it always happens that you tend to build a rapport with the person you work with in your first film. We started our careers together and perhaps this was the reason Rekha and I got along very well. She is a lovely person and a lovely human being. Even when we meet today, we meet fondly. In fact, when we did Aastha, she told me that when Basuda asked her whom she would like to be seduced by in the scene, she said, `Ninni’. I asked her the reason and she said, ‘I feel safe with you’. I laughed and told her that was hardly a compliment. I basically never got into any kind of controversies with any of my heroines, nor was I linked with them. Perhaps they did not find me good looking! But I was not spared anyway. They did write a few things about Rekha and me. I was already married when I came into films and that is the reason I wasn’t linked with the heroines. It is a little difficult to keep your personal and professional life totally separate. One has to put in an effort to do so. Mohan Saigal always advised me never to get carried away with success for it is a transitory phase. He told me, ‘If your movie flops, don’t get disheartened. But if it is a hit, don’t let it go to your head’. That helped me to keep these two departments of my life separate.
Nobody, apart from me, actually made it from my batch of the Poona Institute. But there was this guy, who, though he didn’t make it in films, he became an M.L.A. Shatrughan Sinha was senior to me whereas Danny, Anil Dhawan and Jaya Bachchan were juniors.
All my colleagues were good friends of mine. At the time I was living in Nibhana, a whole gang of us stayed in the same building. This included Prem Chopra, Vinod Mehra, Moushumi and Anil Dhawan. We would have a get-togethers on Sundays at somebody’s house for lunch, which, of course, would never be served before 3.30.p.m. It was great fun.
The criteria for films has always been the box-office. If there’s a houseful board for your film, then you are a hit. If not, you are a nobody. Then, whether your film is a good one or not, is immaterial. All this has happened with me too, but it was Mohanji’s advice that helped me during the low phase of my career. I distinctly remember, I was going to the premiere of a film at Metro theatre. I had this long swanky car, the Impala, which was a status symbol in those days. Incidentally, at that time, I had a few flops to my credit. My car stopped outside the theatre, where all the media people were waiting for the stars to arrive. The moment my car door opened, all cameras went up but when they saw me emerging, they put their cameras down. I felt so bad and it was humiliating also because there were a whole lot of other people who also witnessed this. But that’s the way it has always been. One flop and they write you off, whereas, another hit and they say, ‘Arre yeh mara nahin hai, yeh to zinda hai’.
In the process of signing too many films at the beginning of my career, I also missed out on some good projects as I did not have the required dates. I missed out on Vinod Khanna’s role in Mere Apne , Shashi Kapoor’s role in Deewar and again, Shashi’s role in Roti Kapda Aur Makaan. That reminds me, J.P. Dutta had started a very beautiful film called Sarhad, which, unfortunately was shelved. It was a war film with Vinod Khanna, Mithun, Pran saab and me. It was a very sensitive subject about two childhood friends, Akbar and Ashok. After Partition, Akbar goes to Pakistan and joins the army whereas Ashok joins the Indian army. When the Indo-Pak war takes place, Akbar becomes a prisoner of war and Ashok is the camp commander. Then, story proceeds. One of my deepest regrets is, had the film been made at that time, it would definitely have been one of the biggest blockbusters Indian cinema ever had.
I faced a very bad patch in between, before doing television. At that time some people within the industry spread rumors that I had packed my bags and gone to America. All sorts of things can happen while you are going through a low phase.
I then switched to character roles, with Jawani being the first film where I did so. I played Karan
Shah’s father. To be honest, it wasn’t really difficult to switch to character roles. I have never approached anybody for work till date. Ramesh Behl sent his assistant to approach me for Jawani and the assistant was very reluctant to. Ramesh insisted saying, ‘Jyada se jyada kya hoga?Woh tumhe khidki se bahar phenk dega na’? He came to me and I agreed. For me, it was very simple. Either I sat at home with no work and nursed my ego or I went out and worked. So what if it was a character role? After all, aren’t you here to act? Actually, Dadamoni and other senior people from the industry, told me
that there was nothing wrong with character roles. They said that they had all started their careers with character roles. I consider myself fortunate to have been guided by the right kind of people
Later on, I was offered a role in the tele serial, `Rishte Naate’ which was my first. Though television was not happening, I told Vivek Vaswani, ‘This is going to be the future, stick to it’. I did a few serials like `Farmaan’, ‘Junoon’ and now ‘Waqt Ki Raftaar’ but the most popular of them was `Dekh Bhai Dekh’. Farida, Shekhar and I, all benefitted from it but Shekhar really took off from there.
These days, I am working in television as well as in films but I have cut down on my work. Nevertheless, I am doing the R. K. film, Aa Ab Laut Chalein, Aakrosh, Hindustaan Ki Kasam and Major Saab with Amitabh Bachchan. I know many people feel that he should stop acting in lead roles. All I can say, is that the age factor is definitely not on his side. Speaking of today’s actors, I think they are quite talented but at the same time, I think they are very brash. Times have changed and so have values. So many actors are coming in every week, that one hardly remembers their names. As far as the heroines are concerned, they are always scantily dressed. Of the actors, I quite like Aamir Khan, who does very selective work but whatever he does is worth watching (As told to Ranjeeta in 1998).