In the series titled First of Many, the who’s who of the industry will revisit their first acting project. They will reveal how they landed the role and what was their experience on the first day of shoot.
Govind Namdev has delivered some of the most striking negative performances we’ve seen in our films in the last few decades. From Bandit Queen to Oh My God, the maverick actor has left an impression.
Namdev, who graduated from theatre to television and films, has had a journey to reckon with. Having appeared in TV shows like Byomkesh Bakshi, Aahat and Aashirwad in the 90s, to giving memorable roles in movies like Virasat, Satya, Pukar, Sarfarosh, Johny Gadhaar and others, Namdev has made his mark on almost every medium.
The actor might have made his official Bollywood debut with Shola Aur Shabnam in 1992, but it was the film Sardar (1993) which he had actually shot before, that can be called his maiden project. Namdev went on to play Shankar, the assistant of Sardar Patel in the biographical drama.
So how did Namdev get his first film Sardar and what was it like being on a movie set on its very first day?
1. How did your first acting project come to you?
I came to Mumbai in 1990 after doing professional theatre in Delhi for 12 years. I made a reputation for myself in the theatre circuit. Hence, when I went to Mumbai, I decided that I won’t do any work that would demean my respect or talent. I had worked with renowned directors and personalities of theatre. I created a pictorial record of all my theatre work and came to Mumbai.
Three months after arriving here, I received a call that Ketan Mehta is planning a movie and is doing the casting in Delhi and he is asking for me. I went to meet him in Delhi and he signed me for the character of V. Shankar in his movie on Sardar Patel.
I didn’t audition for the role. Mehta saw my photo and matched my look with that of the character.
So, Sardar was my first movie and I had the role of Sardar Patel’s personal secretary, V. Shankar. That’s how I got my first project and the shooting started.
2. What do you remember of your first day on set?
In my first shot, I still remember I was sitting on an office bench and waiting for Sardar Patel so that when he comes, we will enter the office with him. As actors, we do some research on a character, how he will sit, how we will walk, how he will talk etc. So, Ketan Mehta explained the shot to us that the camera will start with a wide angle and then will come in front of you. We thought this will be a 15-20 second shot. I had planned that when the shot will start, I will look at the actor sitting next to me and as the camera gets closer, I will shift my leg, while sitting, as you do normally.
So, this was my first shot and everyone was so impressed to see so much action in one small shot. They said nobody explained anything to me, yet I did all this, that too in my first movie. I told them that we do the same thing in plays. No moment is wasted. We try to make every character interesting.
After that first shot, people started noticing me including Paresh Rawal, who was an established actor by then. The film also had Ashish Vidyarthi, Annu Kapoor and others.
3. Were you nervous? How many retakes did you take?
I was focused on the movement of my character. I didn’t feel any nervousness because I had done TV plays earlier, so I had some idea of working in front of the camera. I knew that if the actor is focused on his character’s natural movements then you don’t get camera conscious. The shot was done in 2-3 takes and that too happened only because of some technical problems.
4. How was the rapport with your co-stars and director when you got to meet or work with them again later?
I have a great rapport with Paresh ji. I have done many films with him. He treats me like a younger brother.
Regarding Ketan Mehta, after the movie, he did offer me a couple of roles, but I had to turn them down. I told him that I was not looking for small roles and want to do substantial parts in movies. I knew that the people I refuse, I won’t be able to work with them in the future. But I knew that you can’t please everyone.
Sardar took four years to release. While the shooting of this film was going on, I found out that Pahlaj Nihalani was planning a movie, so I called him and told him about my theatre background and expressed my desire to meet him. He called me to meet him. After talking with him, I showed him the photo album of my work. After seeing that album, he immediately offered me his next film and asked me to call him in 15 days. I called him after 15 days and he explained the character to me in my first released film, which is Shola aur Shabnam. My role was that of a corrupt inspector. And I asked him whether the character can eat ‘paan’ in the movie to give him a distinct characteristic. He liked the idea. My first scene was with Govinda where I am taking him in the police van. In the scene, I put the stick on Govinda’s shoulder and take it on his cheek and everyone really liked that gesture too. So, this was my first shot for my first released film.
5. If given a chance to go back to your debut role, what’s that one thing you’d like to change or do better?
I didn’t know how to modulate my voice as per the character back then. I feel now I could have played around with the voice of the character in a better way. You learn about certain aspects after being in the business for a few years. So, it is on the same lines. I’ll do it better in terms of that, if I get to do it again.
6. What inspired you to become an actor?
I came into acting coincidentally. I never thought I would become an actor. I am from Madhya Pradesh. After completing my school education, I went to Delhi to do my graduation. In Delhi, I decided to get a part-time job. I saw an ad of the Delhi government about two scholarships for studying in National School of Drama, so I was really excited about it. I applied for that scholarship and got through it.
I was really active in my school’s cultural society and cultural activities, I used to organise all of it. So, I was very comfortable being on stage.