My last film with Kundan Shah was P Se PM Tak, three years ago. It was censored very badly and that actually hurt him very much. You know how he was, he knew the kind of film he wanted to make and how he would make it. He showed a side of Indian politics that all parties are familiar with and he gave me such an excellent, robust role in that film.
When I came to Mumbai from Kolkata, all those years ago, it was Kundan who gave me work in Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi (1984). After playing seven different roles in that show, he told me, “You’re an actor who I can give any kind of role to — positive, negative, anything”. After that, he began picking me for all sorts of projects — Doordarshan programmes, films and serials. But in 1987, for Wagle Ki Duniya, I was the last candidate. He said, “A lot of actors have auditioned for the role of Wagle in front of RK Laxman, but he doesn’t like any of them”. Kundan was there when I met Mr Laxman, and soon, Wagle would turn my whole life around. An unknown actor became a household name and even today, I’m addressed as Wagle.
In 1994, he gave me such a wonderful role in Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa, and a song sequence too. In a way, Kundan was Shah Rukh Khan’s mentor too, just as he was mine. The kind of role he gave Shah Rukh at that time, nobody else would have given him. Shah Rukh became a star and did many more roles, but Kundan never forgot me — he took me along for every project he worked on. Once, when he was receiving an award for his outstanding contribution to cinema, he took the microphone and said, “Aanjjan, kahan hai tu?”
I knew his health was failing when we were making P Se PM Tak. If a creative man can’t find work, it begins to hamper his life. He didn’t care about money, he just wanted to make films. He was very adamant about the content and treatment of his films, this was well-known. Some of us would jokingly say, “He is not a director, he is a dictator, he doesn’t let us get creative”. And Kundan would retort, “Why don’t you create something with what I’ve given you?” We used to fight so much, especially during the making of Wagle Ki Duniya. He used to make us do so many takes and retakes, not to exhaust us, but to see the range of the actor.
I’m in Varanasi now and I’m just heartbroken that I am so far away from Mumbai. For years, a bunch of us, including me, tried to find a way to make a film with Kundan again. But we aren’t at that level where we could grab a producer’s attention and make it happen. If Kundan had made a film today, it would still be new and have something fresh. When I was working with Hansal Mehta, he told me, “You have worked with Kundan Shah, I don’t need to check your work. We follow his grammar”.