Excerpts: Shatrughan Sinha on Modi, Big B and Indira Gandhi
Interesting excerpts from Shatrughan Sinha’s biography
The actor who seamlessly transitioned from a villain to hero, the Bihari babu who entered politics and continues to command a huge fan following, Shatrughan Sinha’s recently released biography makes for a terrific read with a mix of Bollywood and politics.
Here are excerpts from the book Anything But Khamosh: The Shatrughan Sinha Biography, by Bharathi S Pradhan, in which Shatrughan talks about his meeting with Indira Gandhi, the Bachchan rivalry, Sonakshi’s birth and lots more.
The Transition from Villain to Hero
According to him, upgrading himself to the main slot in the rat race was simply a natural progression of events. By the time Heera (1973) and Blackmail (1973), his last two films as villain rolled along, distributors were demanding that his character be given some sort of redemption at the end. People had grown too fond of this villain to accept him as completely black.
“That’s true,” he nodded. “I was the first villain who was invited to Sophia College (an all-women’s college in South Mumbai) as their Chief Guest. I must be the first villain who was asked to solve women’s emotional problems in Eve’s Weekly, in an Agony Aunt sort of column. And I was the first villain over whom women fought; even heroines fought for my attention when we’d all be shooting in the same studio.”
The attention went to his head.
“I did get carried away with all this adulation,” he admitted. “A lot of big films came my way: Sangram, Aadmi Sadak Ka, Kalicharan, Dost, Vishwanath, Samjhauta, Aa Gale Lag Ja, Dostana, films with Manmohan Desai and Harmesh Malhotra who were the big commercial names of the seventies.”
The Shatrughan - Amitabh Rivalry
Drawing a contrast between SS and Amitabh Bachchan, Salim Khan described an incident which dated back to the days of the Salim-Javed written film Kaala Patthar. “When we were writing Kaala Patthar, we had the main characters already in our minds. Of course Amitabh Bachchan was always before us for the main role, Shashi Kapoor was there for the pleasant, romantic role of an engineer. And Shatrughan Sinha was clearly in our mind when we wrote the character of an escaped convict who could open any lock in the world and was hiding in the coal mines,” the writer revealed how they’d visualised their script. “For every character we had given some very distinctive dialogues. Shatrughan Sinha’s role was pretty interesting; it had been written keeping in mind his image. Dialogues like, ‘Teesra badshah kahan hai (Where’s the third king in your trio of cards)?’ ‘Abbe, teesra badshah hum hai (Hey, the third king is me),’ were written with Shatrughan Sinha in mind.
“Amitabh Bachchan had spent his initial period in the industry with Shatrughan Sinha. Shatru used to recommend Amitabh to people and they even shared the same secretary, Pawan Kumar. It was ‘Sonu, Sonu’ and ‘Amit, Amit’ between them. I don’t know what differences cropped up between them or whether there were any differences. But I do know that somewhere Amitabh owed Shatrughan,” commented Salim. “However, if anybody really opposed Shatrughan’s inclusion in Kaala Patthar, it was Amitabh Bachchan and he recommended many other names in his place,” he disclosed, as he went on to describe the machinations that went on during the making of Kaala Patthar.
“In those days, who could afford to offend Amitabh Bachchan? Whether it was Yash Chopra or anyone else, they needed Amitabh Bachchan for their films; he had become a larger-than-life star. But I put my foot down and said, ‘For this film, it will be only Shatrughan Sinha in that role.’ So they started devising ways and means of ensuring that Shatrughan himself rejected the role.
They offered him a humiliatingly low price. They were told that he always comes late, so they told him that they wanted him on the sets at a really early time. They started dictating such terms that Shatrughan would be provoked to say, ‘Bhaad mein jao, mujhe nahin karna (To hell with you, I don’t want to do your film).’
“I realised what they were all up to, so I quietly told Shatrughan, ‘This role was written for you, it will benefit you. Out of the four-five important roles of your life, this will be one of them. Whatever they say, accept their terms. Don’t think of it as a compromise, think of it as a strategy. If they call you at 5 am, say, ‘OK’. Even if they offer you no money, say, ‘I’ll do it because Salimsaab has asked me to do this role.’ Put all the blame on me but do this role.’
So, all their schemes to get him out of the film failed. I am a living witness to all this manipulation. It means even the biggest actor had certain fears from Shatrughan Sinha as far as performance was concerned. They knew he was a scene stealer. At some stage every actor has feared sharing screen space with Shatrughan Sinha. I was an eyewitness to this and by the grace of God I have to this day a very good memory. Let anybody deny it, they all have convenient memories,” he gave a short laugh.
Shotgun Bought Sharmila Tagore’s Ford Car
SS was extremely forthcoming about his friendship with Subhash Ghai which dated back to 1965. “Subhash was a senior who had passed out when I went to FTII but he would keep returning to the campus to meet Rehana in Poona. When they finally got married, I was well on my way to becoming a star. I had my own car by then, a Ford Consul with the number plate 315 (which added up to his favourite number 9) that earlier belonged to Sharmila Tagore. Maybe Sharmila was unaware of who had bought it but owning her car gave me a big thrill. It was in that car that Subhash set off for his wedding. He got married in filmmaker Atmaram’s bungalow in the prestigious Juhu-Vile Parle Development Scheme (JVPD).” Atmaram (Guru Dutt’s brother) had directed Subhash Ghai as an actor in Umang (1970) and lived in JVPD, the same starry area where SS later built his own sprawling bungalow, Ramayan.
“Under the chairmanship of Mr Subhash Ghai,” declared SS, tongue firmly in his cheek, “I got introduced to all the addas frequented by strugglers – Minnie ka adda, Pascal ka adda, Aunty ka adda. Those were the days of prohibition in Maharashtra and the local police would sometimes raid them. Bipin, Subhash Ghai, ace cameraman KK Mahajan and I were part of the same gang that met regularly and struggled together. Sometimes Javed Akhtar would join us.
At one time I was to share a room with Javed Akhtar in Bandra but he turned me down because the rent was Rs 60 per person. He used to cough up that amount with great difficulty and he was afraid that if I didn’t come up with my share, he would have to pay for me as well. So he said, ‘No’. But all of us would meet.
The Dostana Dialogue
His colleagues soon began to label him the fastest dubbing actor in Hindi cinema who also had clarity of pronunciation and perfect diction.
SS’ gift was amply displayed one day when Amitabh Bachchan and he had a tense moment during Dostana.
“My make-up man Pratap had died tragically, so I had not reported for shooting,” SS explained. “But I had to shoot the next day because the set was to be dismantled after that.
The producer, Yash Johar, had requested me to come early because Amitabh was going out of town and had to leave at 2 pm sharp. It was already noon and I hadn’t reported for work. Yashji called several times to say that Amitabh had been waiting since morning. Zeenat Aman was there, Raj Khosla the director was waiting, there was a big set waiting for me. By the time I reached, it was nearly 1 pm.
By the time I greeted everybody it was 1.15. By the time a bit of touch-up on the face was done, it was 1.30. I did my make-up and listened to the long dialogue simultaneously.
It was a long scene of about 350 feet, one of the highlights of the film. The dialogue was a seven or eight-pager, I hadn’t even touched it. I stood where I had to, the director said, ‘Start sound,’ and at 1.35 pm the shot started. Everybody said that I had caused tension on the set because I had turned up late and Amitabh had to leave at 2. But I said, they had all made me tense because they didn’t give me enough time for a rehearsal.
Anyway, I started my dialogue, I was in a space of my own in my head and it was only when there was a thunderous applause at Mehboob Studio that I came out of it and realised I had given an almost perfect shot. There were tears in the anxious director Raj Khosla’s eyes as he remarked, ‘Koi karke dikhaye (Let’s see anyone else try it).’ To be very fair to Amitabh, he hugged me and said, ‘What a beautiful shot.’ I was all set for another take. It was 1.45 by then. I repeated the shot but halfway through it, Amitabh stopped me and said, ‘That was your best shot, now forget it.’”
On Meeting Indira Gandhi
“During the Emergency, I met Indira Gandhi,” he admitted and cockily added, “As usual, I reached late for my meeting with her. There I was sitting in a British India library kind of atmosphere with hushed whispers around me that asked, ‘How come you’ve come now when Madam gave you an appointment for 10 o’clock? It’s 10.20!’ I said, ‘Let Madam know I’ve come, and please check if she can meet me.’ It was the time Justice Jagmohanlal Sinha had declared her election invalid (1975) and I had sent him a congratulatory message. She was calling different groups of people to gauge how they felt about the Emergency. She had also called Nargis and Sunil Dutt.
“In my entire life, I was never as nervous as I was that day when I went in to meet her. The moment she got up and welcomed me, there was no coordination between one line and the other that I uttered. I talked gibberish. Ultimately, I said, ‘Madam, I’ve become very nervous,’ and I asked her for a glass of water which she graciously gave me herself. She was good at mimicry I believe, and I later heard that she used to mimic how I had behaved with her that day. We had a nice long meeting. One thing that struck me was – what a star she is. I still maintain that of all the Prime Ministers I have met and with due respect to Atalji, Manmohanji and Modiji, Mrs Gandhi was the true star. I was fascinated with her.”
Sonakshi Sinha’s Birth
The birth of Sonakshi was unplanned. Left to SS, he would not have gone in for a third child, content as he was with his sons, Luv and Kussh. He was forthright as he admitted, “It is true that initially I didn’t want a third child. I was coming into politics and I had the ‘Hum do, hamare do (family planning mantra exhorting couples to have no more than two children)’ policy on my mind.” But when Poonam got pregnant again, she was so keen to have a third baby that they went ahead with it.
A routine sonography (which was allowed those days) showed a nice, strong baby, probably another male child. Perhaps ironically, when SS became the Health Minister years later, he banned sex determination tests. While the Sinhas awaited the birth of a third son, Sonakshi turned up a week before the expected delivery date. Amusingly, her arrival reduced the new mother to tears. SS narrated the story.
“I was shooting for the Bengali film, Antarjali Jatra (Maha Yatra in Hindi). Sonakshi was in a hurry and came along earlier than the due date. I was in Sagar Deep which was a one-and-a-half hour boat ride from Calcutta. We took a rickshaw, walked a long distance through mud and somehow reached Calcutta where I was informed that Promi was in hospital. We were having dinner with Brigadier Sharma and his wife Chitra who was assisting Goutam on the film, when we got the news that Promi had delivered a baby girl at night. To be in character for the role of a chandal in Antarjali Jatra, I had grown a beard.
When we got the news of the delivery, I caught an early morning flight and went straight from the airport to Nanavati hospital in Bombay to see the baby. As soon as Promi saw me, she started crying. I had travel fatigue and was sun-tanned with a beard on my tired face. She misunderstood that look for unhappiness over the birth of a baby girl! I scolded her and asked her from which regressive Hindi film she had picked up this scene. I hugged Promi and assured her that quite to the contrary, I was thrilled to have a girl. The family was now complete.”
Being BJP’s Star Campaigner
“The crowds came to see as well as to hear me. So it was not just star power but oratory skills too. Yes, I campaigned for the same Uma Bharti who was expelled from the BJP, against whom action was taken by the party, and who has now asked that action be taken against Shatrughan Sinha,” snorted SS.
“The same Uma Bharti used to say even to Atalji, ‘I couldn’t have won this election without Shatru bhaiya.’ I addressed five meetings in a day for her, I campaigned an entire day for her.” It was an instance of how equations had changed between then and now.
But the popularity had come at a price even then.
“One instance of ours becoming a party with differences showed up when my own party workers tried to drive a wedge between Atalji and me,” he said regretfully. “At Gandhi Maidan in Patna, I was purposely taken to the venue at the wrong time when Atalji was still speaking. When I reached, the crowds went so berserk that Atalji had to stop speaking. It was no fault of mine. I would never dream of upstaging him. But he was very gracious as he said, ‘Main jaanta hoon, yeh bheed Bihari Babu ke liye hai (I understand that this crowd has turned up for the Bihari Babu).’ He added with his great sense of humour, ‘Lekin Bihari Babu jaante hai ki yeh bheed Atal Bihari ke liye hai. Ye Bihari Babu hai toh main bhi Atal Bihari hoon (But Bihari Babu knows that this crowd is for Atal Bihari. If he’s Bihari Babu, I’m Atal Bihari).’
“People within the party were so jealous that it was self-defeating.”
On Narendra Modi
There seemed to be an easy lapse in the elephantine memory because before 2014, SS himself had not hailed Narendra Modi as prime ministerial material.
The politician in him, however, claimed otherwise.
“I was the first one to put forward his name as a potential Prime Minister and Yashwantji had seconded it,” he resolutely asserted. “But,” he explained, “other people felt that he was controversial. They told me that people take note of what you say and alliances are breaking. So don’t take Modi’s name as Prime Minister.”
If the perception persisted that before Modi was officially declared the BJP’s candidate for the top job, SS had not enthusiastically thrown his lot behind him, he clarified, “I always said that Advaniji was our marg darshak, our guide. I said that along with youth power, you also need experience. I always maintained that our party had many able, suitable, mature and very committed leaders like Sushma Swaraj and Rajnath Singh. Acknowledging the proficiency and ability of our leaders did not mean that I did not applaud Narendra Modi’s strengths and suitability as well. On the contrary, I’d say that having so many gifted and accomplished leaders was a matter of pride for our party and gave unique strength to the BJP. “In fact,” he attested, “‘Namo’ was a title that I gave Narendra Modi in Patna. I called Sushil Modi ‘Sumo’ and Narendra Modi ‘Namo’. The names went viral. I also titled him Action Hero because I believed he was and is a man who believes in action.”
Extracted with permission from Om Books International
Anything But Khamosh: The Shatrughan Sinha Biography
Bharathi S Pradhan
Foreword: Shashi Tharoor
Price: Rs 595
Published by Om Books International
(The Quint is available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)
Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.