Walk the talk with Piyush Mishra: I don’t call myself talented

Shekhar Gupta talks to actor-writer-singer-composer Piyush Mishra about missed opportunities, Bhagat Singh, his journey to Mumbai and his songs.

Written by Shekhar Gupta | Updated: June 16, 2014 8:56 am
Piyush Mishra: Since childhood, whenever I tried my hand at any art, it came easily to me. Piyush Mishra: Since childhood, whenever I tried my hand at any art, it came easily to me.

Hello and welcome to Walk the Talk for the second time from Delhi’s National School of Drama. The first time was to have a conversation with Naseeruddin Shah. Here is another one in the same league, Piyush Mishra.

You are one of NSD’s most multi-talented products. That’s what people say. Give us a hierarchy of your talents, from lyricist to actor to comedian, to a tragedy king, to a serious poet.

What do I say? These things have been given to me. I don’t call myself talented. I call myself gifted. And that’s where a belief in a higher power comes in. Since childhood, whenever I tried my hand at any art, it came easily to me. But when I tried to study, I failed miserably.

As a student, I heard you were up to great mischief in Gwalior. You even changed your name [Priyakansha Sharma] secretly.
People would call me Priya. I hated it. So I changed it. My aunt had adopted me, so I added the Mishra from there. If I had your talent, I would have also escaped from school. Around 1979, ghanti baji ki actor banunga (I realised that I wanted to be an actor). In 1983, I came to NSD. Ittefaq se main pass ho gaya, ittefaq se main successful hua, ittefaq se main yahan par aaya. (It’s a coincidence that I passed, became successful and came here.)

There is a story about how you could have been Salman Khan.
I was in my third year at NSD, [when] our director, Mohan Maharishi, introduced me to Raj Kumar Barjatya, who wanted to launch his son (Sooraj) as a director. The heroine had been found, and they were looking for the hero. Three-four days later, Mr Maharishi told me that I had been selected. But it took me three years to go to Bombay. By then, the film had been released. It was Maine Pyar Kiya. People didn’t know about this till Gulaal released.

Gulaal is one of your finest films. Parts of it are like pieces of theatre.
It is. Most of its songs I had composed for theatre. For the film, I wrote three-four. I don’t think any Indian film has portrayed the anger and unreasonableness of the feudal class so well. To make such a film, to write the songs needed guts. Anurag Kashyap gave me all the reasons to write. The script was commendable and allowed me to do a lot.

There was an item song there. Mahie Gill danced. The song describes the anger of Ranaji: Jaise door desh ke tower mein ghus jaaye re aeroplane/Jaise sare aam Iraq mein jaa kar jam gaye Uncle Sam… To write such a brutal piece of satire, it was truly an inspirational job. I’m just grateful to God. I look upwards to heaven that god has given me so much.

Aap toh Leftist hain aur upar dekhte hain? (Aren’t you a Leftist?)
I am no Leftist, I have been made one. I would say that if there was a category of a “Leftist aastik”(a Leftist believer in god), I would fall under it.

But where does the anger and politics in that song come from? That’s just my way of looking at life. If someone asks me to express myself differently, I wouldn’t be able to.

One of your plays, Gagan Damama Bajeyo (the skies are resounding with a call to arms), was inspired by Bhagat Singh’s life. That’s a line with strong Sikh, martial, and religious connotations. To combine that with the life of Bhagat Singh, who was India’s first Leftist revolutionary, is fascinating.
My research took me to Ferozshah Kotla, where he held his meetings, and many other places. I realised he was a hero in the truest sense: a good-looking, 5’10” tall young man, about whom Raj Guru used to say that keeping the girls away from him was the toughest job. He was very well
read. But at the age of 23 years, he was dead, after writing about almost every subject in the world, including love, bombs, politics and atheism.

What about Ram Prasad Bismil? There is a wonderful line you’ve written: O re Bismil kaash aate aaj tum Hindustan… Please tell today’s generation who is Bismil.
Bhagat Singh was inspired by HRA, Hindustan Republic Association, and Bismil was its chief… Around 1924, he left Lahore National College and around the same time, when his father was forcing him to marry, he joined HRA… He was a great martyr, a great thinker. After Mahatma Gandhi, he was the second visionary, he was very far-sighted. Everybody remembers Iqbal’s Saare jahaan se achcha, Hindustan hamara. Everybody is also familiar with Sarfaroshi ki tamanna . But almost nobody knows who wrote it.

Exactly. This inspired me to reinterpret Bismil, to try and show Bismil could also be like this. These lines inspired me. When I was working on Gulaal, Anurag had told me that it will be used.
So let’s go forward from there… Gangs of Wasseypur… I wasn’t satisfied by Gangs of Wasseypur.
Because you were the sutradhar?
It’s a personal chemistry of working with Anurag. But nowadays I have a feeling that (I’m not criticising him) as an actor, one does not get to do much but does what he says. It’s a recent change and I have no qualms talking about this on camera. [But] I don’t want him to change his style. He is the greatest filmmaker of India after Rajkumar Hirani. You have to give credit to him for whatever he is.
I enjoyed Tere Bin Laden. I had a little role in Rockstar, but I enjoyed that. And Revolver Rani. I began acting only in the last four-five years. It’s as if Gangs of Wasseypur negates all my previous work, including Maqbool.

You wrote a wonderful song there: Ek bagal mein chand hoga.
These are all my old theatre songs… He (Anurag) poached it. He, being insolent, committed a heist. (Laughs) He said he needed the song. And I said yes.

What was the next creative leap?
I won’t call it a creative leap. I just kept on doing things relentlessly. And then, one of my films, The Playback Singer, fetched me the Best Actor Award at Julien Dubuque International Film Festival at Iowa. I’d been filled with self-doubt as far as acting is concerned; I have been seriously
engaged with its nuances… In The Playback Singer, I’m the only Indian actor… it’s an American film… to get an award there was a wonderful feeling.

…After that, Tere Bin Laden Part 2 happened, now I’m doing Shaukeen [with Anupam Kher and Anu Kapoor]. Revolver Rani is my close-to-heart performance. I don’t know why it wasn’t seen. I guess, like Gulaal, it will be watched again. Yes, people can watch it online.

Is Tere Bin Laden-2 going to be as much fun as the first one? I think so, I hope so. The script is very, very funny. I guess either in December or next year in January, it should release… If I disclose anything [more], they’ll kill me, I’m contract-bound, I can’t reveal the story…

But tell me you made a sacrilege and got away with it… you played around with Sahir Ludhianvi…
Actually, Anurag asked. In fact, the entire film was dedicated to his one line: Ye duniya agar mil bhi jaye toh kya hai… I like Sahir sahib, he was a good poet. It was a very sad and lost-cause song, very self-pitying…

The song is basically understood in the situation of helplessness… This world is infested with so many problems, there’s 26/11, there’s 9/11, children are getting raped, there’s the Nirbhaya episode… and amidst all this to think of self-pity?

So, you played with it? Yes, I replaced it with new lines. Ye duniya agar mil bhi jaye toh kya hai…
even if I could conquer the world, what of that? Eventually one has to die. So, before death brings one to his end, one should do something concrete for the world. The situation of that song was different and even if I want, I can’t write songs seeped in self-pity.

So looking forward to many more conversations like these and following your creative work. Promise me that you will see Revolver Rani after downloading it. It has some good performances. Absolutely, and I shall do it legally. Please do it. Thank you very much. Thank you.

Transcribed by Joyeeta Biswas. For the full transcript, log on to http://www.indianexpress.com

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