ACTOR-DIRECTOR Sachin Pilgaonkar wants to set the record straight — the latest Marathi blockbuster Katyar Kaljat Ghusali is not his comeback film. He has been busy directing and acting in a string of popular Marathi films for decades. In between, he has found enough time to groove his way, with his wife Supriya, to the top slot of the reality show Nach Baliye in 2005; direct the runaway success Tu Tu Mein Mein (1994-2000) on television and, of late, tour with Asha Bhosle as her co-singer in her concerts in India and abroad. Yet, he concedes, that for the first time since he made his debut at the age of four in the Marathi film Ha Maza Marg Ekla (1962), he is tampering with his lovable image in Katyar Kaljat Ghusali. In this Subodh Bhave-directed period drama, Sachin is Khansaheb Aftab Hussain Bareliwale — a maestro, who manipulates his way to replace his benefactor, played by Shankar Mahadevan, as the royal singer.
With Katyar Kaljat Ghusali, Sachin records another first. In a career spanning 52 years, the chocolate-faced actor, popularly known by his first name Sachin, is playing a character older than him. “Because of my looks, I have always played characters younger than my age. In this movie, however, I play a 70-year-old singer,” says the 58-year-old. Ace make-up artiste Vikram Gaikwad has been instrumental in making him look older. Being a singer, Sachin has brought an authenticity to his character with the understanding of a vocalist’s body language. That apart, he has spoken only in Urdu in the movie.
Sachin is one of those rare actors who speaks Urdu fluently. He gives yesteryear actress Meena Kumari the credit for this. “On the sets of Majhli Didi (1967), Meena apa noticed that I speak Hindi with a Marathi accent. She asked me how often I spoke Hindi. When she came to know that we conversed in Marathi at home and I spoke in Hindi only when I was on the sets, she asked me visit her Janki Kutir home four times a week. She even used to send her car to fetch me. We used to play table tennis for an hour and then she used to teach me Urdu for another hour,” he says. Once, when the nine-year-old Sachin got bored and wanted to continue playing, she told him: “It doesn’t matter if you can’t read or write Urdu but, as an actor, you should speak the language well.” Today, Sachin can’t thank his Meena apa enough.
In the late ’60s and early ’70s, Sachin became a household name as a cherubic child actor. “I played lead characters in movies such as Bachpan (inspired by The Adventures of Tom Sawyer) and Chanda Aur Bijli (based on Oliver Twist). I was never cast as the hero’s younger self or heroine’s brother,” he says.
Though the early ’80s brought him success as a leading actor with Geet Gata Chal (1980) and Nadiya Ke Paar (1982), eventually there were fewer meaty roles for him. “Hindi filmmakers had to find a suitable subject for me and that became a limitation,” he says. He found success in Marathi films with Navri Mile Navryala (1984) and Ashi Hi Banwa Banwi (1988).
“I have had low phases. Since I am basically optimistic by nature, I sail through every kind of situation,” says Sachin. At a time when he was too old to essay a child’s character and too young to be cast as an adult, he veered towards theatre and acted in three Marathi plays. During this phase, which lasted three years, he assisted director-editor Hrishikesh Mukherjee in editing three of his landmark movies — Anand (1971), Namak Haraam (1973) and Chupke Chupke (1975).
Basking in the success of Katyar Kaljat Ghusali, which earned Rs 7 crore in the first week, Sachin wants to complete his circle. “After dabbling in so many things, I want to devote more time to acting. I want to take up roles that are substantial. I wish to play those characters in Bollywood which I have not done till now,” he says. The role that tops his wish list is that of a hardcore villain, which he wants to portray without the help of much make-up or emotion. This would be a befitting comeback for the actor, who was edged out of Hindi cinema with the rise of “angry young man”.
Sachin — who once felt constricted by his looks and height — says in jest that it’s not fair that, after he moved to Marathi films, the not-so-tall heroes came forward.