Siddhu – Interview
IT began with that train journey five years ago—a journey which changed my life completely, causing an irrevocable break with the past and bringing me into a present and future bewilderingly different. I had never thought that my vocation in life would be films. And, when I say vocation, I mean it in the fullest sense of the word, a dedication and a fulfilment.
Big words indeed, but they are apt ones, words which bring out my true feelings about my career. Whenever one uses these words, a mental image is created of an ascetic figure with burning eyes striving to reach a shining goal. The truth is far from it.
The background of these words involves ruthlessness, cold calculation, a bitter fight up the rungs of the ladder, with the jungle law applying to all: the survival of the fittest. A film career is no bed of roses. It requires as much thinking and guts to succeed in it as in any other business. Anyway, let’s go back to the beginning.
As usual, I had got into a spot of trouble at home and, as this particular bit of trouble was one of a long succession of scrapes, I thought it expedient to relieve my parents of an embarrassing burden by leaving home. It’s not that my parents viewed things in quite the same light. In fact, they were remarkably tolerant of my escapades. However, rather than strain “the quality of mercy,” I decided to fend for myself. That was the beginning of my struggle to make something of myself in this world.
I arrived in Bombay with the grand sum of Rs. 18-42 nP. in my pocket. Not, you will agree, an amount which would enable one to conquer the world and, having exhausted my resources in three days, I started job-hunting. In this I was singularly unsuccessful. After three weeks of fruitless knocking on doors and hearing those oft-repeated words, “We’ll let you know,” I decided that since Bombay firms seemed unable to appreciate my virtues I had better try something else. But what? I had to make a living and couldn’t find an opening anywhere.
Life Changes Course
Time was passing and the number of friends I could stay with was diminishing—I had changed addresses six times so far. On top of this, I was getting into debt. To meet my daily needs I had to keep on borrowing, with no immediate hopes of repaying the loans.
It was during this time, when I was really down-and-out, that I met the man who was to change the course of my life: P. D. Shenoy, Principal of Filmalaya’s School of Acting. It was a casual meeting and we sat and talked about life in general. As he spoke, I realized that here was a man who was a cut above the ordinary. Intelligent and very well-read, he was in complete contrast to the people I had so far met. Our meeting ended with his offering to accept me in the acting school.
I started as an unpaid actor, going regularly to the school and hoping like so many others that the break would come. It is difficult to describe the anxiety of waiting and hoping that someone would give me a role, all the time looking at the bright goal of stardom from my uncertain position and waiting, waiting, waiting for that first chance, the first break.
It came. I was offered a role in S. Mukerji’s “Dil Deke Dekho,” starring Shammi Kapoor and Asha Parekh. I was to play the villain. I was so happy to get the part that for a week I celebrated my good luck.
Then, in due course, the shooting began. Getting over the initial camera-shyness and the inevitable stiffness needed a lot of hard work. In fact, I’m still a little stiff in front of the camera, I’m not ashamed to admit.
As the shooting progressed, I found myself becoming more and more drawn towards this fascinating career. The feeling grew in me gradually, almost unnoticed, until one day I realized it was part of my nature. I ate, drank and slept films. The screen was my life. I had found myself.
Now, when I think of it, I realize how lucky I was in not finding a job when I first came to Bombay. I simply cannot imagine myself working in any capacity in an office. I really think that my basically volatile nature would have rebelled against routine. As it is, I fiercely resent any attempt at regimentation or repetitiveness in my life. To me, each day is a challenge which must be lived to the full.
I want to grab every moment of life and live it. Knowing that I am extremely impulsive, I try hard to control myself. People often think I’m completely irresponsible, for many of my actions are based on pure impulse. This leads to so many conflicting emotions and actions that I appear to be an uncontrolled type who must be handled with care or, perhaps, avoided. I well realize the effect of my behavior on producers, but that is what I am and I cannot change. I feel strongly and deeply about everything and, being what I am, never hesitate to voice my views. If sometimes I go to extremes, I offer no apologies unless I am clearly in the wrong.
I am volatile, as my friends and acquaintances know. I am also -partial and I do take sides. I’m never one to sit quietly and watch an assault on the things I value. I hate injustice and meanness and, when I see them, I become angry. It is then that I hate.
Hate means feeling, feeling which goes down to my innermost self. To have feeling is to be alive, and I’m proud to be alive. To be neutral is alien to my nature. To be neutral would mean declaring that I have no feeling on a subject, and I don’t believe that any man with a sense of right and wrong can be without feeling in a conflict.
It is because of these ingrained beliefs that my life in the film world has been one of constant turmoil. I have witnessed an appalling amount of meanness, unnecessary spite, petty squabbles. and the studied indifference of the few to the troubles of the many.
All types of people from all walks of life are represented in the industry and I seriously feel that we have more than our share of the bad ones. The schemers and connivers far outweigh those trying to achieve something worthwhile and decent. Against the former I have fought and will continue to fight. For the latter I have the greatest respect and affection, both as people and as artistes. Unfortunately, they are all too few. The majority are here “to make a fast buck” and then get out while the going is good. Ask them to do something constructive and they’ll laugh. Ask them to make a good film and they’ll think you’re mad. “Who wants good films? Good films don’t make money.”
Their idea of a money-making film is one which has the maximum number of songs and dances, and something remotely resembling a story which must be “family drama” or of the “boy-meets-girl” kind. If the story can be bodily lifted from a Hollywood movie and transplanted into an Indian setting, so much the better. Our public not having had anything different for the last thirty years have become inured to this process with glassy-eyed stoicism.
The tragedy of the whole pattern is that the newcomer to films gets caught up in this web. His burning ideals evaporate in the quest for highly-paid roles or directorial assignments. His initial resolution about being an actor vanishes when he discovers one can become a star without being an actor.
In the beginning one must accept roles in order to survive, to become known. But once one has made one’s name, I see no reason why one should accept bad roles when it is just as easy to accept good ones. What truly amazes me is that actors-turned-producers churn out the same kind of trash when they, above all, are in a position to make really good pictures.
How does one break this vicious circle and yet survive? It’s a hard question to answer and I’m still searching for a solution within myself. One day, I hope I’ll find the key and will use it to the best of my ability. Until such time I’ll carry on as I am, trying hard to improve my acting and fighting for what I believe is just and good.
Does this make me a rebel or a crusader? Far from it. It makes me one of the few who are gradually becoming fewer who want to see our films improve to a standard of which we can be proud at home and abroad.
Some day I hope to be able to hold up my head in pride and say we have made good films and will continue to make good films, and that I have been a part of them and will continue to be a part of them. (This interview was conducted in 1963).