Actor Rajesh Tailang has been active in cinema and theatre as well. The National School of Drama alumnus has done noteworthy roles in films like Dev, Umrika, Mangal Pandey, Omerta, Mukkabaaz and the recent Panga. His performance in web series like Delhi Crime, Mirzapur and Selection Day was lauded too.
Interestingly, Tailang directed more than 70 episodes of Zee TV show India’s Most Wanted 20 years back. Also, his performance in Indo-Canadian film Siddharth (2013) got him several awards at international film festivals.
It all began for Tailang with the iconic TV show Shanti, that aired between 1994 and 1997. The show also helped him bag his first film – Govind Nihalani directorial Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa. Here’s what the actor shared about his first project.
1. What was your first acting project? How did the project come to you?
After passing out from NSD, I was looking for work. One day, in the NSD washroom, I met a man who asked me if I was an actor. He said they were making a TV show which was India’s first daily show. He was one of the directors of Shanti – Partho Mitra. Partho belonged to Delhi and asked me to meet him at his place in CR Park. Then he called me to Mumbai for an audition at UTV’s office. I went to Mumbai and auditioned. I remember it was raining heavily that day. I gave my audition fully drenched. But, I got the role.
Since it was the first daily show, we had to make one episode per day. That was a new thing back then because TV shows were weekly or bi-weekly. This meant long hours of being on set and shooting one episode every day. So they had a three-camera set-up, which meant we could not shoot in cuts but the entire scene together. That’s why they needed theatre actors who could perform the whole scene in one go. If you notice, barring Mandira Bedi, most actors in Shanti belonged to theatre – either NSD or Marathi theatre. That’s how I got my first project and played the character of Manu. I must have done some 300-400 out of 780 episodes of Shanti. It ran for three years. It’s first episode was telecast on August 15, 1994.
We shot for it in different studios during that period. In its first year, we shot at Rajkamal Studio which belonged to V Shantaram. Govind Nihalani had his office inside that studio. Through some friends, I got to know that Govind ji is making Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa. I auditioned for it, and he cast me in the role of a Naxalite. Later, he told me he wants me to play a 65-year-old man. I was 26. I was hesitant, but he said this role was better. It was Jaya Bachchan’s comeback. I had to play Seema Biswas’ husband. I was so nervous to work with them and play an aged man.
2. What do you remember of your first day on set?
On my first day on set, I did not have much to do. It was a single shot with Mandira and Salim Fatehi (Rohan) sitting in a restaurant. I open the door and notice them inside. Realising there’s something wrong, I go and inform my father about this. My first shot also ran in the show’s credits. We did a lot of rehearsals, mock episodes because nobody had tried three-camera set-up before that. We had to mug up dialogues and remember our movements.
3. Were you nervous? How many retakes did you take?
I did not have many retakes in the first shot because it was a simple shot. My other scenes were with Rajesh Jais. He was my NSD senior with whom I had spent one year in hostel. So we had a good tuning and a comfort level. The rehearsals were like theatre only so we were prepared for what we had to do on set. So there wasn’t much nervousness.
Shanti was a very professionally made serial, a level that is lacking in shows of today. There was no email, no phones back then. But we used to get the script at our homes one day in advance. We learned our dialogues and reached sets fully prepared. Today, be it for TV, films or web series, all the shifts are of 12 hours. For that, you leave for work 2 hours prior, get your make-up done an hour before, so in totality, it is 16 hours work. Earlier, this wasn’t so. It used to be an 8-hour shift. So you leave your home at 8 am, and you are back by 7 pm. It was all very professional. Technical and financial professionalism might have come today, but that was the time when things were done at their own pace keeping the quality intact.
4. How was the rapport with your co-stars when you got to meet or work with them again later?
We were very close for those three years. When you have more scenes together, you gel better. Later on, I met them separately. There are even some who I did not meet at all. I met Mandira sometime back. I am very close with my NSD co-actors. We even have a Shanti WhatsApp group which has all the major cast members there. We are up-to-date about each other’s lives through that group or Facebook.
5. If given a chance to go back to your debut role, what would you like to change or do better?
I believe I had that innocence and rawness which was required for that character during that time. I definitely cannot recreate that innocence today. Age is also a factor there. So I won’t wish to change much.
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6. One film or actor that inspired you to become an actor?
My father is a Guru Dutt fan, so we got to see a lot of his films. I understood all aspects of filmmaking by watching him. But my first major influence was Amitabh Bachchan. He is my icon even today. When eventually I got a better understanding of films, and I started doing theatre, I became a fan of Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri and such people. I realised there is a lot of difference between their acting.
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