Sajjan – My Memorable Roles
It was in war-time Calcutta, 23 years ago, that I and the silver screen politely greeted each other. Since then, the silver has turned out to be suspiciously like tinsel and the screen to be hiding more laughter and bitterness than what the script writer intended.
I find it difficult to pick past roles which can be called outstanding. To be honest, I have never given an artistic performance that can be cited in superlatives. I know my limitations. My memorable roles are memorable rather because of certain incidents connected with the shooting.
My bit role in “Masoom,” produced and directed by Hussain Fazli in Calcutta (1941), is memorable for me because I faced the camera for the first time, having given up my law studies.
I came to Bombay in 1942. Fazli Brothers’ “Fashion” was the first film I made in Bombay. I did a very small scene with the late Chandramohan, the greatest character actor of the Indian screen. That alone makes the role memorable.
I remember “Girls’ School,” directed by the late Amiya Chakravarty, because in it I had my first solid role. I really enjoyed every bit of it, particularly the boisterous scenes with Shashikala and the filming of Pradeep’s fine lyrics. I only wish I had had more roles of that type.
In “Dhanyavad” I had my first leading role opposite Hansa Wadkar.
“Sangram,” directed by the late Gyan Mukerjee, was a thrilling experience because I was working with the late Nawab, another great character artiste. I played Nalini Jaywant’s father. It meant coming to the studio three hours earlier than the other artistes in order to make up for the part. The make-up man was Dada Paranjpe.
During the shooting of “Sangram” I was also playing the leading role in “Muqaddar,” directed by Arvind Sen, and my leading lady was none other than Nalini Jaywant. This meant I had to play Nalini’s father one day and her lover the next day. Often I had to play both roles on the same day. “Muqaddar” had dialogue by the late Radha Krishen.
I worked with Nutan for the first time in Ranjit’s “Humlog,” written and directed by Zia Sarhadi. The film became very popular and the cast had to attend an endless round of receptions.
Then came “Saiyan” which suddenly tossed me high up the ladder of fame. “Saiyan” was the Indian version of “Duel in the Sun” and I played Gregory Peck’s role of the tough bad brother. Madhubala was the heroine. The film was shot at Mahableshwar.
Producer-director Sadiq Babu took a great risk in selecting me, but by God’s grace, I proved worthy of his expectations. I have never had that type of role again and have indirectly escaped the evil of being typed. Till today I have not been typecast in any role. “Saiyan” was financially too, a most rewarding role and I named my house after the film, though I have yet to convert it into a home: Today “Saiyan” is rented out.
I remember “Sheesha” not only because of my leading lady, Nargis, but because of the permanent scars left on my hand after the shooting. While enacting an emotional scene with Nargis, I had to break a glass door. There were two retakes which cut my hand at several places.
After that I gave up certain Bombay assignments to act in Gemini’s “Do Dulhe” in Madras. The film failed. “Do Dulhe” was completed in two months’ non-stop shooting. At times I used to work round the clock, attending three different studio sets under three different assistant directors and technical units. I worked very hard for “Do Dulhe” and expected a bright future. The film’s failure affected my career for a while. During the shooting of “Do Dulhe” I was booked to play the lead in Minerva Movietone’s “Ghar Ghar Me Diwali,” directed by Gajanan Jagirdar. It failed too and that put a full stop to my leading roles.
I lost hope and almost gave up acting. I once again joined law college. This helped film people to forget me completely.
I restarted my career with a small character role in “Talaq” and from then on I have remained a character actor. No regrets.
Among other memorable roles, there was Bimal Roy’s “Parivar.” It was directed by Asit Sen. During the shooting the entire cast was in a holiday mood. Durga Khote, Kumud, Kamal, Usha Kiron, Jairaj, Bipin Gupta, Anwar, Ashim—we were a merry bunch. Agha played our servant in the film. He used to pretend to be offended about nothing in particular and would heap mock abuse on us, much to our delight.
Similarly the shooting of “Malkin” was enlivened by the late comedians Yakub and Gope.
In “Sau Saal Pahle” I play a centenarian. I have some scenes with Ashok Kumar. The make-up artist is again Dada Paranjpe. The film is yet to be released.
I have been lucky enough to act in some films based on literary works—films like “Talaq,” “Kabuliwala” and “Bees Saal Baad,” which kept my reputation as a screen actor alive. Otherwise, I should have been confined exclusively to the stage.
This reminds me of certain memorable roles on the stage in plays like “Deevar,” “Pathan,” “Ghaddaar,” “Satyavan,” “Pagli,” but that is another story.
A role which I am sure will be memorable is in a film that is being made. It is memorable for me because it is written by a great writer and because it is my first color film. I have enjoyed the shooting—it has so many good scenes for me. Though I am playing a certain type of role for the first time, the director is confident of my ability. I too am hopeful that my performance in the film will give me better acting opportunities. Don’t be misled by the title: It’s “April Fool.” (This interview was conducted in 1964).