In an Idea Exchange programme at The Indian Express,actor-director Vikram Gokhale talks about his long acting career,importance of receiving the National Award and future plans.
Sunanda Mehta: A lot of people feel the recent National Award has come too late to you. However,you feel otherwise…
I never felt that this award was long due. Basically,I did not believe in awards and it wasnt a stunt at all…I even refused awards given by the state governments. I refused the Filmfare for a certain reason,for my own thoughts and philosophy. I dont even remember the year when it was declared for me,for a film named Wazir. Why I refused was,till then Marathi films were not taken into cognisance. All of a sudden what happened? Just because they gave me award,or declared the award,doesnt mean that they know. See,I am not trying to talk in the regional sense Mee Marathi,Majhi Marathi,Jay Marathi,Maharashtrian. In the field of art,it is not Maharashtra,Bengal,this or that. You are doing the entire business of film industry,which is known,understood and respected the world over. And you are not taking cognisance of Marathi cinema. And I just wanted a reason for that. And there was no reason,so I refused the award. Even Wazir,as a film,was not that great. Only because it was shot in a different way,it was new to the audience. And whatever roles had come across me,I did them in my capacity. Even the state government wanted to give me an award,which I refused. I dont know how many I refused. I know how the awards are given at the state level. I know the system very well. I dont want to talk about the system. When I say I know how the awards are given,I know. Kya,kya karna parta hai,kaha kaha phone karne parte hain…
Manoj More: You mean there is manipulation in giving the awards?
Many times. In my library,my own library that contains no less than 2,000 books on this field theatre,films,television et al. There is a book named History and Politics of Academy Awards. In Academy Awards too,there is politics.
Anuradha Mascarenhas: Is it possible to change the system by being a part of the panel of judges?
There are two types of awards that are given out,one is the popular awards,and the other is the important awards. To me,the National award is an important award and I respect it,but somehow,as you asked,can this system be changed? Yes,it can be changed,it has to change. There must be a body of extremely intelligent people,who have made their mark on the national and international level,who should be the judges for the awards. I dont know,when it will happen.
Anuradha Mascarenhas: Even though there are Marathi films winning National Awards,there is talk of how these films are not commercially viable. Why is this so?
Maharashtra is such a state where the whole industry of mainstream cinema is packed up in a city like Mumbai,the capital of the state. They understand good Hindi; they being the Maharashtrians. So,they prefer to watch Hindi films first. If you go to the South,the people there,whether from the elite class or the common man,first they watch films in their own language. Go to Punjab,Gujarat,Bengal,it is the same. There is no competition as the one Marathi is facing with Hindi; no regional language faces that kind of competition for survival. In Mumbai,there are no theatres,no offices,no exhibitors and distributors. There are at least four-five films to release every Friday,and in one week they vanish. Because there is no audience. Now there are so many factors for this situation,which the Marathi industry is going through. But the number of producers is growing. Nobody knows what to do or how to survive. I have strong doubts about these makers or producers and their knowledge of economics. I dont know how do they work. When they put money like Rs 1 crore,1.5 crore…aaj ke zamaane mein 1.5 crore ke neeche Marathi films nahi banti. And 50-75 lakhs go towards the publicity of the film. What does the producer get? Nothing. This tendency has affected Marathi professional theatre in a big way. I have a strong doubt about their sense of economics. How do they survive? Where do they bring the money from? At what rate of interest? The Marathi theatre goers are more sincere. But now their numbers are decreasing. No good playwrights,very few are intelligent and innovative directors. And the newspapers,and advertisements appearing in them,make the current generation feel that if it is Marathi theatre,it is comedy. It is not the case. There are serious plays,but they are all locked up in a trunk. Because they know that when audiences are not even coming for something labelled as comedy. Because there is a mad box in the house that they keep looking at. Because no one has any time. They are impatient. The whole human society has become impatient. They dont want to spend much time in having doses of philosophy. Make us laugh or make us cry.
Debjani Paul: Are Marathi arts,not just cinema but theatre too,struggling because they are not presented well,or is it because the Maharashtrian pride
doesnt translate into the patronage of arts?
Yes,there is a possibility of the second part. But one thing is there,I am telling you with pride todays Marathi cinema is technically very good and on a very sound level. The cinema today is doing very well. There are most learned cinematographers,directors coming in and thinking about topics in a different way. They are bringing new topics in and I respect this young generation,this young lot of filmmakers,writers and technicians. They are good. They are technically very,very sound. They spend a lot. They cannot afford to spend such a lot because there is no recovery but they do it. And I am very proud about these young cinema makers.
Debjani Paul: In an earlier interview,you had mentioned that the work ethics have changed a lot. The actors have multiple projects to work on.
They dont have time now to concentrate on one thing. I am talking about actors. I am not talking about technicians. I mean I feel like watching their work. I will be watching this film Dhag. I want to see the film,because it was given the best direction award. Why? Because we need to see what the young directors have done,what they have tried to do with the film,what story they are telling. What the writer has said,how he has said. What is Usha Jadhavs role? How is she? I have to know her. I have to know the director. But at the end of the day,when there is no money coming to the director,that is the real story of every movie. This is not only in Marathi,but even with Hindi films. Even they dont want to take any risk. They make 60,70,80 and even Rs 100-crore films. At a time,they get some 1,000 prints and they distribute it,exhibit it. In one week,they recover the money. What you get after that is a bonus of sorts. Marathi films cannot afford even 100 prints. Because there are not even that many theatres. One hundred prints means Rs 70 lakh.
Partha Sarathi Biswas: What is the way out?
I have been trying to convince the filmmakers,members of the Marathi Chitrapat Mahamandal. I wrote to the Governor also and to Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar. I have been trying to tell the people concerned to take a decision. They are not going to make a film. They are going to sign,yes this is correct. I have been insisting for the last two years,maybe more,that digital technology should he accepted now. Dont waste your money on celluloid. There are fantastic cameras and no doubt they are expensive. But if you are well prepared and planned,no doubt there will be no worries. The amount you will spend on celluloid will reduce. I have tried to tell a lot,but I am tired. Every producer has the right to save his money. He has the right to give a better product in less money and make a profit on it. This is business. It makes no sense to buy something worth Rs 5 for Rs 50 and then sell it for Rs 10. It makes sense to buy it for less than Rs 5 and sell it for Rs 15.
Pranav Kulkarni: You wanted to enter the field to make money and to be rich? But knowing the kind of economics in the industry,how was that period?
There was a time when I made this statement and this is 100 per cent true. But I never knew what an actor needed to know. I was like a big solid rock. But I started studying and I became somebody. But I realised the money that I was getting for the time that I was spending was not sufficient. I do not have the right to decide the value of my time. I do not have any rights in this industry. I wasnt getting money even after telling the people that I wouldnt work if I didnt get a certain amount of money. I was a beggar. I didnt beg. Even after people started giving me the crowns of best actor and all that I was a penniless man. I realised…its I who will decide the value of my own time. If I dont have that chance I will go away. I just went back. From 1982 to 1989 I remained away from films and theatres. I fathered two daughters… (was) husband of a lovely girl from a Marathi family. And I had too many responsibilities. I decided to come back only when I was able to work on my terms and conditions. Doosra Saamna by Satish Alekar was my comeback project.
Sunanda Mehta: What did you do during the seven-year sabbatical?
I was earning little money when I was doing theatre… I was making little money. I used to send that money to my father. He never even spent one farthing of the amount I sent. He would say: What do I do with your money? Till I am capable of working,I will work. So I bought a piece of land…of two-three acres. Prior to that,before entering the industry,I had completed a three-year course in poultry science…here at Central Hatcheries,Khadki. I used to teach poultry science to all children coming from different corners of the state one-month course,three-month course,15-day course. Paisa nahi milta tha,anubhav milta tha. I would get a stipend. I was experiencing different fields. I had written the exam for Short Service Commission and I was selected at PSB,SSB,in Bangalore. Due to some reasons,I couldnt enter the forces. I was farming in 17 villages… I was the first person to buy a tractor of 45 HP. And I used to drive the tractor for 18 hours in peoples fields. My wife used to help me. Bahut Papad bele. Lekin uneasy compromises nahi. Ek hadh tak kar sakte ho lekin fir thak jaate hai.
Anuradha Mascarenhas: So now that you are directing Barrister,what is the level of satisfaction?
I am happy that whatever I could get from my guru Dr Vijaya Mehta,I could pass it on to the next generation of actors. This was a responsibility that I have towards the school of acting.
Prasad Joshi: Which is your favourite Hindi movie?
Hindi cinema… Sau Jhoot Ek Sach,it was a very good film,symbolic. I was playing a cruel industrialist. Then I did Gaphala. They were such films that their cognisance was taken internationally. And I am happy about it. In Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam,commercial stuff,mere liye kya tha? Difficult kya tha? To take the playback. The super-fine technique of playback taking. Albela. Koi mushkil baat nahi thi,I could do it. Agneepath,Khuda Gawah. I could do it. Mushkill woh do-teen filmein thi.
Prasad Joshi: What according to you is the definition of acting?
Not to act. Definition of acting is not to act. Never act to act. Act to believe. What is the best way of crying? Trying not to cry is the best way to cry. It hits your heart very hard. So when I am acting I dont have to make faces and all that. I just have to believe in what I am saying. So I tell my students,please dont come here to act in front of me. React first. Listen to other characters. Through your eyes,through your whole body.
Manoj More: When you accept a role,are you very choosy? Do you put your foot down about the roles you are playing?
I do now. It must be logical. The character. It must be sensible,whatever I am doing. You people are going to look at me and you should not laugh at me. Though I am playing a baddie,you must be able to respect me. Itne gande aadmi ka kaam,itne bhayankar aadmi ka kaam yeh Vikram Gokhale ne kiya hain. Asal mein toh nahi hain,par kya kaam kiya hain. This is ok for me,but to hear things like kis tarah ki comedy kar raha hain yeh aadmi paison ke liye? is not acceptable.
Anuradha Mascarenhas: How much do you identify with the characters you play in these various TV serials?
Virrudh was one of the better TV serials I must say. Udaan was another serial,which is closer to my own being. I am a very good father. Every father is very good to his daughters and sons. Now when I am talking about myself I can say I am a good father. Ill give you one example. My eldest daughter called me from the US and told me: I have fallen in love with this guy and he is from Jodhpur,and I want to get married. I asked: What is he doing? She said: He is a senior in my own field. Electronics and computer engineer. And he is very brilliant. I said: Ok,show me his photograph. She sent the picture. I saw the picture and I told her: He is the most ordinary looking guy. What made you so sure that you wanted to marry him? And she said: Baba,he is just like you. The way you took care,you bought us up,and you were so concerned about our liberty,our thoughts,our education,he is exactly like you. Then I realised I must be a good father. My father was once asked in an interview what would you like to be in your next birth? My father had said if he were reborn and that too as a human being then it would be nice and that he would want to be an actor. But,he had said,meri ek khwaish hain,bhagwaan se,ki agar insaan ka janam diya usne toh yeh jo mera bada beta hain naa,woh hi mera baap hona chahiye. There cannot be a bigger compliment.
Pranav Kulkarni: Could we talk about Vijaya Mehta?
She is fantastic. Very recently I went to her for some advice and after spending an hour or so with her I came back,and I sent her a message: Let me tell you one thing mai,the more I know,the better I realise how little I know. She is brilliant. She is unparalleled in India as far as theatre direction is concerned. She is unparalleled as a teacher,in India. Here in India,people do not know her much. In at least nine to ten countries abroad,she is respected a lot. And it is not why I respect her so much. I respect her because she made me what I am today. She didnt make me sit in front of her and say,Listen Vikram,now I am telling you these things,you must do them. She had been working for the last 42 years,and I had just been watching my guru for that time. I studied how she understood actors,and how she is making friends with them,how she is studying the topics,so many things. She is great. I respect her and I regard her as Mauli.
Manoj More: Did you get a chance to work with Dada Kondke?
No. Unfortunately. He was a genius. As a person,I dont know much about dada,but I am sure that he was just like that. Why I liked Dada Kondke was because he never claimed to be an intelligent filmmaker. He had very openly said that he was making films for coolies,who are on the platforms of ST stands and railway stations. Din bhar bechare kaam karte hain,unko main hasata hoon,unke liye main films banata hoon. He never claimed that he made films in a particular way. At least I have not heard. I make films for them only is what he would say. If you want to come and watch them. If you think the films I make are dirty,then dont watch them. He was upright.
Manoj More: Did you ever get a chance to interact with him?
Yeah,several times. His movie Icchha Majhi Purna Kara was a film that I saw after buying the ticket in black for Rs 100 at least four five times. I have seen Dadu Indorikar a giant in folk art. I respected him too. He was Dada Kondkes guru. I had worked in a film Maherichi saadi. Bakwaas film thi woh. That was produced by Vijay Kondke,Dada Kondkes nephew or something. And while making the film we used to make fun of it. It was made with a budget of Rs 27 lakh. Vijay Kondke made some Rs 25 crore. After this Vijay Kondke didnt make even one film. He tried to make a Hindi film,but all his money went (down the drain). He is still there. He has not done too much of a gamble with the business. This is anyway a gamble,isnt it? He was wise…
Manoj More: So,are you happy with life?
Oh yes. I have not got a lot of money. Definitely,not like the bigger stars. And I know I will not get that also. I have been working for 58 years. But I met wonderful people,personalities. Some were such that I always thought that if there were more interactions with them,I would learn a lot more,When you walk on the road,they see you. Of course you cannot do that. You cannot stand at the bhelpuri stall and eat,they come and watch you how you eat bhelpuri. But I am saying that as an example. A man walking on the road is not known to people. Whoever he may be. People like us are seen by crores and crores of people. It is a different feeling. How I use my feeling is all those clothes of stardom…which I shed and make friends with people. When you realise this in your heart and mind,there is peace. There is tranquility. You dont feel out of place anywhere.
Garima Mishra: You said when you started your career,you did not know anything about acting. Did it help to have Chandrakant Gokhale as a father,who was himself a big actor?
I learnt from my father that the clarity of speech and the speech value are two different chapters in the science and mathematics of theatre. He would always tell me that if you are talking then people should feel that he should not stop,we should keep on listening to him. He has good language and how nice his pronunciation is. So what I learnt from my father was this,and all this is printed in theatre books and I learnt it from him. He was not a learned actor,but an inborn actor. I learnt from him the difference between tone and note,the difference between pitch and volume. They are two different things,people dont know that. And I learnt how to make proper use of eyes. He was a giant actor. I dont know whether I should call him an intelligent actor,because he was not a trend setting actor. So I always used to look at him as if I would look at a very tall man. He always made me feel wanted. Even when I was working with him or when I wasnt.
Garima Mishra: In Hindi films,do you think there is a lack of good roles for character artistes today?
Ill tell you one thing. Staron ki yahan kami nahi hain. Yaha aap jaldi star ban jaate hain. Tum unhe banao naa banao,woh apne aap ban jaate hain. Lekin character actors alag hain. It is such that you cannot eat daal and rice alone,you need to have namak,chutney,nimbu and achaar with it. I feel that these other things are like character actors,because they are very very important. They are not main players. Sirf achaar ka itna bada bhadaar leke aap pet nahi bhar sakte. But without salt you cannot eat food. I love and prefer to be a character actor. In todays films,be it Hindi or other,what kind of work is there for women? You watch any film,what role do they have? Or even TV serials for that matter. Give one or two item songs,or rape. Where is Indian women in mainstream cinema? That is why I like Doordarshans policy. Wherever they may be. They dont accept a TV serial where the woman is shown in a degrading manner,which I like.
Sunanda Mehta: More than films,television is even more
I have stopped fighting with channels for almost five six years now. I remember there was this one guy who was interviewing me and I told it then and there. Tum sab log third class ho. Main tumhe bhi bol raha hoon. Jis channel pe tum mera interview le rahe ho woh bhi waise hi hain. I am telling you if all the channels decide to ban me I dont really care. And then the channel people only called and messaged me later saying,Yeh aap hi bol sakte hain. Aur koi dhadas nahi karega. Sach hai jo,wahi main bol raha hoon. Wahi channel wale bhi respect dete hain. You have to try to be balanced,sensible,logical at times. If they take one step back,we too need to take a step back.
Partha Sarathi Biswas: Do you think it reflects very badly when these things actually make money. What will cause the change. If we keep criticising,what will happen?
No,criticism will not change anything. Criticism made anywhere should be constructive and not destructive. Because it creates enmity. And what happens then? It keeps on increasing. Give and take in thoughts. If that happens,hen it will change. I always say if you give something good,people watch it,no?
(Transcribed by Rohan Swamy)