Amol Palekar On How He Got Into Acting By Accident

Amol Palekar on how he got a chance to act in films for the first time.

7 min read

Veteran actor, filmmaker and painter Amol Palekar turns 75 on 25 November this year and he’s celebrating it by getting back on stage to act in a play after a hiatus of 25 long years. The play, titled Kusur (The Mistake) brought to the Indian audience by BookMyShow, has been adapted by writer Sandhya Gokhale and its first show will be staged at the NCPA in Mumbai on Palekar’s 75th birthday. Still fondly remembered for his roles in films like Golmaal, Chitchor and Rajinigandha, Palekar tells me that putting his acting shoes back on was a tough task, but he’s looking forward to how his audience is going to react.

Here are excerpts from my conversation with Amol Palekar and Sandhya Gokhale:

Amol Palekar On His Return to Acting on Stage After 25 Years

Amol Palekar on the poster of <i>Kusur.&nbsp;</i>
Amol Palekar on the poster of Kusur. 
(Photo Courtesy: BookMyShow)

Amol Palekar: “See, I have been wondering now, that not acting for such a long time whether in theatre or in films and yet yet people love me so much. They keep on asking me, why don’t you act, why don’t you act, we still remember those times etc. Which is so overwhelming that, when I read this script, I said, that maybe this is the correct occasion and vehicle, that let this be not only a complete circle but a good full stop. And that’s why I gave this as a commitment to everybody that I’ll do only 25 shows of this performance and try and reach out to all the fans who have been asking me this question for all these years that, okay, I’ll come and perform and, let’s see.”

Sandhya Gokhale: “When he turned 70, he went back to his first love which is painting he is a JJ School of Art student and he used to paint for 16-19 years of his life after that probably cinema, theatre overtook that and he stopped. He had no time to go back to painting, so he decided to go back to painting then and after 5 years, and he's had many exhibitions in India as well as abroad. He gets many advertisements you know, they kept on asking him to do roles and all and he keeps on saying no despite the money offered and all that. So, unless there is something nice in the script, he doesn't say yes. So, people probably really wanted wanted him to act and then what he said was correct, that he thinks that he owes that to the audience.”

Amol Palekar Plays a Retired ACP in Kusur and Doesn’t Want to Reveal Anything More

Sandhya Gokhale: “Actually, to tell you anything more would sort of preempt you and make you sort of prejudicial or kind of prepare you to expect something and when you see what you will see it will be like a real surprise and it will reveal itself so we are, we are not disclosing many things at this point.”

Amol Palekar: “As a child, I remember those little kaleidoscopes that we used to have you know just simple, a small thing and that with, just a little twist the whole pattern changes and then another twist it changes drastically, this is what happens in the play. And it keeps changing every every 5-10 minutes you see, shades of the play, it is like ‘oh! I didn't expect this’, so to have that pleasure of that performance, I think it will be unfair to share anything because then we will deprive you of all those things while watching the performance.”

Amol Palekar Says He’s Nervous About Acting Again, Here’s How He Got Back Into the Groove

Amol Palekar with his leading ladies Vidya Sinha, Bindiya Goswami and Zarina Wahab.
Amol Palekar with his leading ladies Vidya Sinha, Bindiya Goswami and Zarina Wahab.
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter)

Amol Palekar: “I was shit scared and I am still scared because you know all said and done there is so much of rust that must have gone on my craft, my skills everything. It is not all that easy to just stand up and start acting. See, you got to keep honing your craft. I always wonder in fact, the singer will do riyaz everyday what does the actor do? Nothing. So, I don't come from that school 'Oh! I'll just stand and act'. Never! So, I had to prepare myself, I had to start rubbing the rust, I had to go back to basics. I had to remember what I was taught etc. etc. While doing this we were rehearsing. I was getting back into the groove, so to say. So, that's how I have been working. So, even today I sincerely hope that I'll be able to satisfy the audience and make them feel happy and also whatever love that they have showered on me, it'll not be a disappointment but if I fail, I'll accept that.”

“I am very nervous, if you are not nervous, if you don't have the butterflies, there is no fun, there is no excitement as an actor if I feel yeah I can carry it off, then, I don't think it's exciting enough. I don't think it's satisfying enough. I must always have that doubt that whether I'll be able to pull it off, I hope I can.”

Amol Palekar Recounts How He Became ‘An Actor By Accident’

Amol Palekar with Girish Karnad.
Amol Palekar with Girish Karnad.
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter)

Amol Palekar: “It was one evening after a performance, where I was watching a play by Satyadev Dubey, I watched and admired his work. In fact that was Girish Karnad's first play Yayati. He had just come back from abroad and while coming back on the ship he wrote that play. So, then in one of the meetings Dubey asked me would I like to act in his next play and before I could say anything, Dubeyji told me that ‘please don't be under the impression that I have found some great talent or I see a fantastic potential, nothing like that, I see you have a lot of time, and you're wasting your time, so why don't you utilise the time to do something better’. That was the clear understanding, so I was not running after a dream of being an actor or anything. Okay, I have some spare time on my hand and if I can use it for something better, so that's how I started my acting career.”

“I was also privileged to be taught, tutored by all the possible giants, whether in theatre whether in films, I was really privileged but therefore I had a clear perspective that where they are. People like Sombhu Mitra, I know what of a giant of an actor he was, I have seen that. So, I know where I am. And therefore I will always remain diffident or reluctant to say that, ‘Yes! I am an actor’ because the moment I compare myself with any of the stalwarts, I know, where I am. I also know what my strength is.”

“You see, my problem is very simple. The moment I know that I can do this well, you mentioned poster boy of middle-class etc. etc, the moment I knew, yes, I was doing this well and people are loving it, I am not anymore interested in doing that because, okay, I know I can do this they love it, so, everybody is happy. Now, let me try and find out something which I don't know. After the first three silver jubilee hits of Rajnigandha, Choti Si Baat, Chitchor the fourth film that I chose was Bhumika and to play a complete grey character, villain was a huge challenge.”

Amol Palekar on the Current Middle-Class Cinema With Actors Like Ayushmann Khurrana and Rajkummar Rao

Amol Palekar: “Names like Ayushmann Khurrana, Rajkummar Rao, all these people they are absolutely good actors, lovely actors. Don't try and put them in that slot of being Amol Palekar or being something else. Let them grow, let them have their own identity. As you gave me the freedom to grow as Amol Palekar and not be Amitabh Bachchan or Jeetendra or Rajesh Khanna or something, let us give them that freedom also, only then they can grow and this different cinema which was at its peak when I came in, let it come back to that peak. It can happen only if we allow all these people to grow.”

Amol Palekar & Sandhya Gokhale on their ‘Fascinating’ Actor-Writer-Director Relationship

Sandhya Gokhale: “Him as a director and I as a writer is the most fascinating relationship, I think, because our sensibilities match a lot. So, there are no major clashes or major fights or conceptually it’s seamless but there are little little nuances. I am too detail-oriented. So, I mean, when I write scripts for instance, if it's an evening ambience and I listen to the music, I would write also maybe Raag Shree, Raag Jog. I mean, I will be writing that, so I am detail-oriented to that extent, whereas he sees the larger, the bigger picture. So, my journey is from the bigger to the detail-oriented and he probably looks at the larger picture and from that point of view, he criticises my micro points.”

Amol Palekar: “Throughout my journey as an actor, as a director, I am really fascinated by trying to find a different way of looking at what is written. The word written by the writer to me, it is the Bible. I really respect the writer's word. At the beginning of my career, playwrights like Vijay Tendulkar, Badal Sarkar, Mohan Rakesh, Girish Karnad all these pillars of theatre, four huge pillars and I was doing their plays. So, a line written by Mohan Rakesh, okay this is what it means obviously, now, can I find a different way of projecting that line without changing even a comma, is what I search for and then that's where some of our arguments come that she has written it with this purpose, I respect that, and I will not alter it, I do not allow my actors, including myself to change the line. I come from old school but having said that, if this line she says in this way, if I say, no, no but I see that other way round, I will try and say it this way, then there is a lot of discussion, lot of debate etc. But, the end goal is the same, that we are trying to get the best possible meaning out of that same framework.”

Video Edited by: Veeru Krishan Mohan

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