Paintal – Memories
Born Kanwarjeet Singh Paintal, his path to success seems to have been predestined. “I am here because I was meant to be here,” he smiles.
“Destiny has led me here!” Along with a little help from his supporting father! “Yes, that too!” agrees Paintal. “During my time, it was very difficult to break into the film industry, since it was dominated by a very small segment of people. Families didn’t approve of their children getting into this profession. But my father, who was part of Pancholi Arts in Lahore before Partition, encouraged me throughout. He was a cameraman before, and since he was unable to get a break in the film industry, he set up a photography shop instead. He bought an eight mm movie camera and would shoot home movies, with me as the model. At the same time, I was also actively involved in school plays and stage shows in Delhi.”
So he had his career etched out, well in advance…
“Not really! Actually I desired to join the Naval Aviation instead,” he surprisingly reveals. “I wanted to be a pilot on a ship, and even appeared for the NDA exams. But around that time, a film institute ad was published in the paper. My father encouraged me to apply for it. He even offered to support me and I happily went ahead and sent in my application. And what do you think? I got selected by both the Navy as well as the Institute! Naval aviation used to be quite dangerous then. 40-50 percent of boys would die during the training itself! My mother was, understandably, all for my joining the acting institute, which I ultimately did! I came to the Poona Institute in 1967 and commenced my training. I was a first class first student.”
“But back home, things weren’t going too well. My father had to shut down his shop and seek employment in a private firm. Unfortunately, within a few months of my training, he lost his job. He sent me a letter, informing me of his inability to support me any further and asking me to return home. I felt I had reached a dead end. I really cried that day. But to my utter amazement, that very day I was granted a scholarship of Rs. 75 per month from the government and also collective arrears of the last three months! That really had me elated, since my overall expenses didn’t exceed Rs. 100 to Rs. 125 per month,” he recalls, with obvious joy.”
Meanwhile, I had also learnt to mime on my own, since I was very impressed with the art of miming. I would practice at night on the hostel terrace, and gradually I perfected it. It was during Durga Puja that I finally got the opportunity to display my talent. At the Durga Puja function at the Institute, every student would present an item. Incidentally, around interval, they were running short of items. I volunteered to present my mime item. They all laughed but then they didn’t know that I had been practicing since months! Well, I went on stage and performed from the heart, as a true professional. That very day, after the show, I received an offer to mime at functions, at Rs 50 per show!”
Well, they say it’s the tough times in your life that truly mould your personality! He must identify with this….
“Absolutely! I think it’s the struggle for survival that I went through after my father told me that he couldn’t support me any longer, that truly developed my sense of belief, my sense of worth. Those days, we had to go outside to eat our meals, since the hostel didn’t provide food for the students. The other boys would either order mutton or chicken while I would eat nothing but dal-roti everyday. I simply couldn’t afford anything else! Though the boys would offer to share their non-vegetarian food with me, I would decline. I had vowed that I would eat non-veg food, only after I started earning myself. Believe me, I stuck to that promise! It may be a small point but these are the things which ultimately make a man.”
Indeed! But finding a foothold must have been a daunting job…
“Well, to be honest, I didn’t really have to struggle too much. Again, destiny’s hand could be detected in the events that followed. A few friends and I would visit Famous, at Mahalaxmi everyday. One day at the station itself, they decided to go and meet Atmaramji, Gurduttji’s brother, was casting for a new film at Natraj Studio, Andheri. We had met him earlier, when he had visited our institute. I refused to go with them, but as soon as the train started moving, I suddenly got an urge to get off and follow the rest.”
“When we met Atmaramji, he told us that he needed guys who could dance well for his new film Umang. Dance was my forte, and I was ecstatic. He called us for an audition after two days. I was the first one to get auditioned and selected too. Well, Umang, which also featured Subhash Ghai, Asrani and Baldev Khosla, became my launching pad.”
“For my second break, again it was Atmaramji who came to my rescue. He even got me a pivotal role in Lal Patthar. I can safely say that he was instrumental in my success. I guess he must have sensed my potential, because soon he offered me a five-film contract. He offered to pay me Rs 700 a month but sensing my reluctance, he hiked the price to Rs 1000. I am proud to say that I was the only person who he agreed to pay this kind of money, while Subhash Ghai, Asrani and the rest were paid seven hundred only.”
“Unfortunately, the film didn’t run and so the contract obviously got cancelled. But I went on to do better and bigger films like Shadi Ke Baad, Mere Apne, Bawarchi, Piya Ka Ghar and so on.”
“I would attribute all my success and good fortune to destiny,” he continues. “Somehow, things kept falling into place. To reach a stage today, where I can sit and give an interview, and to have people everywhere know me and recognize me, believe me it’s a very nice feeling!”
“I still remember the first time I went to America for a stage show with Sachin and a few others, who were popular then. The show was held at the same auditorium where the Oscars annual functions are held, though I didn’t know so then! I can never ever forget the reception I received! I felt so charged and gave my best to my items, which were again met with deafening applause. I was so overcome with emotion that after my performance, I broke down. I couldn’t believe that a simpleton like me coming from a small basti in Delhi, was being showered with so much love and attention across the seven seas. It was a very special moment for me…”
Paintal has always been known for his honest and heart-touching performances. Be it comedy or an emotional scene, he always left a mark in all his films…
“Basically, to be a good performer you need to be a good human being first,” he explains. “We actors deal with the purest form of all… EMOTIONS! If you give a heartfelt performance and shed genuine tears, only then can you touch someone’s heart. Hypocrisy and superficiality can never win the day for you…”
Indeed! Who can forget Rafoo Chakkar, and its hilarious moments? But how did it feel, pirouetting as girls?
“Oh, it felt odd, all right,” he admits with a smile. “The hairdresser would come and fit all the accessories for us. I was shy at first, but baad mein bahut besharam ho gaya.”
“In fact, a very funny incident happened during the shooting of Rafoo Chakkar,” he recalls. We had gone to Kashmir for the outdoor of the film and were shooting at Oberoi, Srinagar. During lunch break, we had to use the washroom. Though we were dressed up as girls, we naturally went into the gents loo. Now, there were two foreigners there, who were already sozzled. Suddenly, in their drunken stupor, they saw these two ‘girls’ enter the gents loo, lift up their skirts, pee and coolly move out! The waiters and the hotel staff later told us that the two goras had gone crazy searching for the two girls who had peed standing!”
“Satte Pe Satta was another fantastic experience,” he adds. “We enjoyed every moment of working in the film, so much so that we would never think of pack-up. We had grown so close to each other, we actually began to feel like brothers!
“We really troubled Raj Sippy a lot and would always be up to some mischief or the other. One day, Raj Sippyji got the golden opportunity to get back at us. It was a chilly morning in Kashmir, when we were made to take a dip in the pool, while Raj Sippy sat there on his chair and happily sent us in by turns. But as soon as the shot was canned, Raj Sippy got the shock of his life, when a panther suddenly leapt out of the pool and dragged him in, chair and all. Well, you see it was Amitabh playing the prank! We had a great laugh later.”
Paintal has been in this industry for almost three decades. He surely must have a string of friends and enemies…!
“I’m a happy go lucky person,” he avers. “I’ve never harmed anyone or asked anyone for favours. I’ve never made a nuisance of myself, to the extent that if a producer didn’t pay me even after repeated requests, I would let go of the amount. I have lost out on lakhs of rupees, this way. I have had beautiful times with everybody, be it a Vinod Khanna, a Haribhai (Sanjeev Kumar), Jeetendra, Amitabh, Navin Nischol and Shatrughan, who was a very dear and close friend of mine. Whenever we met, we’d have a ball playing pranks and swapping jokes”
“As soon as our work was complete, though, I would just run back home! I have always been more of a family man. In this industry, all friendships have a time limit. I have had lovely friends in this industry, who have been like brothers to me. But AFTER 30 YEARS, I CAN PROUDLY SAY THAT I HAVE NO REAL FRIENDS IN THIS INDUSTRY”
Reading our confusion, he further explains, “It’s a very opportunistic world where people have everything to do with you, when you are somebody. The moment you are a nobody, they start considering you a liability. When they know that you have your own home, your own car and that you can also serve them scotch, they are with you. The moment they see you losing out on your success, they start avoiding you! From the spot boy to the super-star, everyone is insecure here.”
“That’s why probably people don’t want latch-ons,” he muses. “Secondly, for every friend a star loses, there are ten other new friends to take his place. There is a futility to relationships in this place because they are all need-based. This is not just my experience, but that of every industry person. There is such an emptiness within everyone here. Ultimately you die all alone, like Leena Mishraji did. Nobody even attended her funeral!”
“It is indeed a very sad state of affairs, that people you shared your golden moments with, aren’t there at the twilight of your life, too! Believe me it hurts, when people you have known so closely, suddenly turn their backs on you. People you had familial relations with, stop inviting you to their children’s weddings. Just because you aren’t in the same league anymore… It really is a very depressing fact but I guess everyone here has to face it one day.”
One can easily sense the pain behind his words. Life after stardom surely must take a lot of adjusting to. But then he’s lucky he’s had a loving family besides him
“I have a wonderful wife who looked after my house and my children very well. She never refrains from giving me advice and more often than not, she proves to be right. She is my biggest critic.”
But weren’t there any scandals attached to him?
“Well, I too have had my share of fun in life but then I am such a smart aleck, I never ever got caught! This was all before marriage, of course. I’ve had such a complete family life, I never really felt the need to seek solace elsewhere…”
“Today, my daughter is doing her fashion designing and my son is learning acting at the Kishore Namit Kapoor class. I intend to support and encourage my son, the same way my father did.
“This is my 31st year in this industry and I feel happy and proud that in my small way, I have had a successful life. What more could a man want besides fame, name and respect? Whatever money and property I have, is thanks to this industry. I hope that my son too receives the love and appreciation that the industry bestowed upon me!”
Well, does he nurse any regrets at the end of the day?
“My greatest regret is that time has really gone by too fast. How I wish that I could turn back the clock and relive those days once again! Otherwise, I’ve had a very soul-satisfying life and fulfilling career. I have been the ideal son and I’ve done everything in my power to look after my parents when they were alive. I have tried to be a good father. I have even adopted 55 street dogs and every day they’re fed food cooked in my house. Their medication and their sterilisation is also sponsored by me. I have tried to do as much service as possible to others and this has led to greater happiness!”
But if you, think he has decided to rest on his past laurels, you’d better think again! Paintal today is rearing to go!
“I have just finished directing a television serial called `Kiran’. I even have a couple of film and television projects lined up. I am really enthusiastic about my new avatar and I hope I achieve success this time round too.”
Amen to that! (Paintal interviewed by Ranjeeta-Purnima in 1999).