The movie Chhal (2019) opens with the murder of Pramod Pandey’s character by his manipulating wife. In the TV show Tujh Se Hai Raabta, he is a judge, while in horror series Laal Ishq, he is a kind-hearted grandfather who is spared by killer ghosts. His smart quip as the owner of a women’s underwear shop in web-series Apharan is now a popular meme.
After making blink-and-miss appearances in about 80 serials and five movies, Pandey recently turned petitioner in the Bombay High Court, challenging the guidelines issued by the Maharashtra government prohibiting those over 65 years of age from shooting due to the coronavirus pandemic. “Even though I am senior by age, I am still a struggler,” says Pandey, who turns 70 on August 23.
Shooting has gathered pace in Maharashtra after remaining shut since mid-March due to the threat of the pandemic. Pramod Pandey expected to return to the sets for a series called Ek Mahanayak: Dr B R Ambedkar. He was promised around five days of work in a month. But then the actors’ coordinator asked for a copy of Pandey’s Aadhaar card, required for health insurance as per the new guidelines, and realised that Pandey was above the permissible age of 65.
Earlier this month, the Agra-born actor filed a petition calling the Maharashtra government’s age restriction on sets as “discrimination”. “Imposing such a rule is unconstitutional and it violates our fundamental rights. Now, the characters played by 65+ actors in serials are either being erased or replaced by younger actors. In some cases, the storyline is being changed. So, I am fighting for justice,” says Pandey.
When he is clean-shaven and his hair is dyed, Pramod Pandey says he passes off as someone in his late 50s and is offered roles as such. Pandey’s last acting job was that of an aggrieved secretary of a housing society in Yeh Hain Chahatein on March 12.
Hearing the case on Friday, the Bombay High Court directed the state to file a reply elaborating the grounds on which the age guideline was imposed. The next hearing will be on July 29.
This is Pandey’s second stint in the world of entertainment. Back in 1973, he had applied for both acting and direction courses at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune, after graduating in biology from Agra College.
However, during his FTII interview, Pramod Pandey says he got into an argument with editor-director Hrishikesh Mukherjee, and never got in. Soon after, he auditioned for the Filmalaya Academy of Cine Art and Television, set up by filmmaker Sashadhar Mukherjee in Mumbai, and joined it in June that year.
He completed his acting course in 1975, and landed a role in a movie titled Bhookha Nanga Insaan. But the film never took off. Then, Pandey was selected as a junior artiste for Khoon Pasina (1977). However, after he had waited out 15 days during a schedule in Pahalgam, Kashmir, he was told there was no role for him. He got the full payment though, he says.
Pandey eventually made his first on-screen appearance in 1979, in the horror film Shaitan Mujrim (1979). It was a one-scene appearance, as a doctor.
That particular stint of Pandey in Mumbai came to an end when he was stabbed 14 times by some goons after he and some tenants of a Goregaon building complained against a hike in rent. On February 14, 1980, once he was of hospital, he left Mumbai.
In 2017, with his siblings married, some of them no longer living in Agra, and his parents dead, Pramod Pandey decided to give Mumbai another shot. He says he could take the risk as he had saved up enough from making ad films, corporate films and running an acting school in Agra 2008 onwards. “Luckily, I was not married. So, following my heart was easier,” says the actor.
This time, with the TV and Internet boom in play, Pandey managed bit roles in television shows and web-series. He got offered a range of characters — doctor, shopkeeper, lawyer, father, grandfather. He even appeared in a whiskey commercial featuring cricketer M S Dhoni .
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The money was not much, around Rs 25,000 a month, but with filmmaker Anil Sharma letting him stay at his Versova office, he got by, Pandey says.
Since he filed the petition, Pramod Pandey claims to have received calls of appreciation from veteran actors such as Raza Murad, Virendra Saxena, Kanwaljit Singh and his Filmalaya academy classmate Avatar Gill.
They dubbed him the “black sheep” of the family, Pandey recalls. Having fought so far, for so long, he is not ready to give up just yet. “I’m really enjoying my life and doing what I wanted to do. It’s never too late to achieve stardom. Jab tak maidan mein hoon, haara nahin hoon (As long as I am in the field, I am in the game).”
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