Not the boy-next-door
After a gap of 25 years, Amol Palekar returned to theatre with Kusur (Mistake), directed and written by his wife Sandhya Gokhale and presented by Rotary Bangalore, Indiranagar. The actor, who won hearts with his roles in films such as Chhoti Si Baat and Golmaal, among others, spoke candidly to the press in Bengaluru, prior to the staging of his play at Chowdaiah Memorial Hall.
Dressed in a bush shirt, Amol looked every bit the unassuming charmer he used to play on screen. The actor resists labels. “Initially, I used to get disturbed when people said ‘boy-next- door’ because they were not trying to look beyond that. In my first film Rajanigandha, the boy is such an extrovert, but throughout the film he doesn’t say ‘I love you’ even once and yet manages to convey his love to the girl. On the other hand, in Chhoti Si Baat the boy is an opposite. He is an introvert and shy… so shy that he crosses the road when he sees the girl he loves. My character in Bhumika is a despicable villain. In Khamosh, the character commits a cold-blooded murder. If you can’t see the difference between these roles, it is your problem, not mine. I am always in search of the complex.”
Amol says his characters are real and relatable. “I try to make them as non-obtrusive as possible. I don’t want Amol Palekar to be remembered. I want the character to be remembered. People don’t even remember the names of most of my film characters, apart from the famous Ram Prasad and Laxman Prasad (Golmaal).”
When asked if he thinks about passing down a legacy, Amol says: “I don’t think I have ever thought about that or even tried. Once you are successful in any field, you are expected to repeat that success and therefore keep doing the same thing. If the ‘Angry Man’ image sells then you keep on selling that. I was probably one of those stupid ones who refused to do that, because it did not interest me any more. Once I know I can do this well and what I am doing is also loved by the audience, I lose interest. I want to try out something that I haven’t tried. When I do not know if I will be able to carry it off. There is an inherent risk in failing, which people don’t often take. I have always taken that risk because it makes it exciting and challenging.”
While comparing Indian cinema of the 70s and 80s to contemporary cinema, is there a tendency to romanticise the past? Amol says there is no-clear cut ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to that. “Parallel cinema in the ‘70s and ‘80s was so vibrant and meaningful that it gave a significant dimension to Indian cinema. It brought regional cinema to the forefront. A film made in Odiya made national headlines, for example. We made Indian cinema proud within our country and abroad.”
Amol has been a vociferous critic of censorship, his speech in 2019 at National Gallery of Modern Art was in fact cut short. When asked about dissent, he says: “When you see a voice being muzzled or a voice of dissent not being liked, isn’t that censorship? Why do we expect only artistes to fight against censorship? Isn’t this our problem, which has come into our homes?”
As for his comeback to films (his last directorial venture was in 2011, Dhoosar in Marathi), Amol says: “Today, I am primarily a painter (he studied at the Sir JJ School of Arts, Mumbai). I will do 25 performances of my play and that is all. As far as films are concerned, if something different and challenging comes my way, I will certainly do it.
The veteran actor says he would not call it a comeback. “I didn’t leave anything as such. To use a cinematic idiom, certain things are in focus, everything else is out of focus, they remain in the background. So in the visual and performing arts that I dabbled in, I was active. I was fortunate that I was one of the few who was active in all these spaces simultaneously.”