He feels the quality of persistence in him comes from his village upbringing, and many of the characters that he has played are inspired by some of the people he has met in his village
Tell me about your ‘Gaon Connection’.
My gaon connection is that I am always engrossed in village work and I am happy about it.
What’s the name of your village?
Gopalgnj … it’s a district close to Gorakhpur in Bihar. My village Belsad is still 26 kms ahead of Gopalgunj.
You were born there?
Yes, born, brought up, studied there until 10th standard. So, I have learnt everything here — walking, running, swimming drowning.
Climbing trees, swimming in lakes?
Yes, everything. There was a river in the backyard.
Tell us about some fond memories of your growing up years
Oh, there are many. They are not just memories but a part of me. These memories are my true wealth. In my acting, many of the characters I have played are inspired by people I have met in my village. There was a Madhusudan Bana and there was a teacher whose personality shades can be seen in the character I played in Nill Bate Sannata. I keep telling everyone that we spend in cities, but to invest in ourselves we must turn to our roots back in villages. The malls and shops might be in the cities, but grains come from villages and farms. That is how my life is. It’s totally dependent on the country-side upbringing. That’s why I admire the writer Phanishwar Nath “Renu” a lot. His writings are down to earth and mesmerizing.
Since the time I have started storytelling, the small-town culture might have changed. However, the small town in our minds is still the old-style country-side memory. People might be travelling in luxurious cars to the shopping malls, but their heart still craves for simple living. It’s like we have an island of memories in our hearts in the rapidly changing set-up.
Absolutely! Rightly said … an island of memories! As a famous poetry mentions … as everything is losing its essence, our villages are not villages anymore. Commercialization is indeed taking a toll. I do not know how many kids in villages today would know that the Neem stick is used for brushing teeth. But when I visit my village, I still look for Neem sticks! In fact, I search for it in Mumbai also! I have a wooden settee in my house in Mumbai. We still have kept traditional cookware, mixing jars etc with us. That’s our way of keeping our ‘village’, our tradition alive.
Villages must have changed, but at least we don’t change so fast. You just mentioned about Madhusudan ji. Do tell me more about him and other such people who inspired you
There were many learned seers in my village … like Raghunath baba. My film Stree has a dialogue as my introduction which was actually used by Raghunath baba. His introduction used to be long and lavish. His stories were captivating. He would say that the dancers in the heaven refuse to dance unless Raghunath baba attended the court! We, kids, used to get mesmerized by his storytelling!
What an imagination! Amazing!
I remember once incidence. His house had a jamun tree and once a few bank loan collection officers had visited him. He was sitting up in the jamun tree eating the fruit and from there he started throwing the seeds on the bank staff. Madhusudan Baba was the same. These people are not there anymore, but their stories and memories are still fresh. We have grown up listening to them and their engaging tales.
What were your dreams then?
Oh ho! Two days back, I was on the same road and I saw a tractor and the same question came to my mind … as a kid, I wanted to own a tractor! In my village we had cows, but for ploughing we hired tractors and I, as a kid, dreamt of owning a tractor. Today, I can easily afford it, but I am so far off from that dream. That dream was so simple, to own a tractor, have a little more land and be a farmer. I had never dreamt of becoming an actor ever! Only when I entered graduation, I started enjoying acting and thought of continuing it. And paths kept getting clearer. Today many people write to me on Facebook, that they want to be actors, guide us. I wonder in our times we did not even have Google or any technology. We just found our paths by walking on them persistently. I did not have a lot of money, so while researching, I looked for a free acting course in NSD (National School of Drama), and to join the NSD, graduation was important. So that motivated me to complete my graduation. Otherwise, I wanted to quit studies after 12th.
So, you pursued your graduation because you wanted to act?
Yes, I did my schooling with science as my major subject because my father wanted me to become a doctor. I could not clear my medical entrance test from Bihar so I almost quit studies and got involved in college politics. But then when I realized that getting into NSD would require a graduation certificate, I re-entered college and completed graduation with Hindi as major subject. But in NSD, I failed in the first two attempts and from the day I decided to join acting. It took me six years to join the acting school.
But you did not quit trying?
No, I didn’t! I think that the quality of persistence comes from my village upbringing. I always believe that if you don’t have a bridge or a boat to cross the river, you will end up learning how to swim.
Neelesh Misra: Little ahead is a small village named Itaunja. The reason I asked you the question about your childhood dream was because my father’s autobiography is called Dream Chasing. My father’s life story is also extremely interesting and inspiring. He had the hunger for studies and used to walk for more than 12 kms. Since his childhood, he dreamt of building a school for the kids in that village so that they don’t have to travel this far for their studies, so the place where we are going now is a part of that dream. And, so far, thousands of children and women have got their education from there. Apparently, as a kid, when he was asked what his dream was, he mentioned he wanted to be a malaria inspector to help fellow villagers fight the deadly disease! Then he came to Lucknow University and enrolled in Physics. Once the teacher asked him about the theory of reflection and where does the light fall; on the face or on the mirror? He was speechless because he had never seen a mirror till then, never combed his hair or seen his face in the mirror. That is where his journey started from and then he got his fellowship and went to Canada, sat in an airplane for the first time. In Canada, he studied the fossils. Apparently, Darwin’s theory of evolution had a question mark in one segment and my father’s research/discovery helped solve that question. I really hope one day I can put his story on celluloid for everyone to know the depth of his life. When he discovered the theory, the Westerners snatched the credit from him, so he decided to come back to the village. Immediately after his marriage, the newlywed couple came to the village in a truck. My mother had never seen a village before that, she was a teacher in Lucknow. My father met my mother in the onset of his brother’s admission which was much progressive thought for the early 70s. He told my mother that he wanted to settle in the village and open a school, and he was clear that he will marry a girl who will support his dream. So, after marriage, my mother entered this world in a truck, a village with a totally different environment where animals co-existed and there was racism and cultural difference. It was hardly 60 kms away from Lucknow, but it was an entirely different world with no electricity and no water supply. So, when they came to the village, within a month with all their earnings and savings from Canada, they opened a small school called Bhartiya Grameen Vidyalaya. My mother went to every house of the village asking them to give just a handful of grain, which will work as their stake and motivate them to send their kids to school. Villagers were stunned to see a woman as a principal of the school because the father had to resume his job to sustain financially. And within no time, my mother became more famous among the villagers. I think that the penance element has been inculcated in me and my brother Shailesh by our parents through their deeds. So, eventually, we all work on the pre-paid facility mode. Whatever we have been born with, the traditions and principles are what make or shape our future. Your story just reminded me of my upbringing. So, as such, there was no major dream while growing up.
Pankaj: Nothing! Just that wanted to own a tractor and plough wider fields and that would have given us a better status as the “tractor owners”. My father was a priest and he used to visit homes for rituals, so I have also accompanied him a few times. I had seen a cinema theatre during an inauguration ceremony of a certain Basant Cinema. It was sometime around 1980s. Although the movie screened was an old one, but since it was the inauguration, they played that as a good omen. That was the first time I had seen a movie in a cinema hall. Not even in my wildest dream, I had thought of being a part of this industry or being seen on the big screen. And as you rightly said, the prepaid card culture is what keeps us going. Today’s generation gets flustered very easily. I feel we are blessed to have that patience and perseverance in us to make things work and not lose heart easily. I remember my father used to sleep in the fields to ensure no one stole Rs 300 worth part of the tube well. I used to accompany my father during winters and sleep in a small shed in the fields, only to protect that tube well because it meant a lot to us.
Tell us something about your family
I am the youngest among four siblings.
So, you were never taken seriously!
This is a brunt every youngest sibling had to bear.
I was anyways always engrossed in sports and outdoor activities
I was good at KhoKho. There is a game called Chikatdhari from our region and I was a great athlete as well. I was always better in sports than in studies. I have always settled for the second position because I could never attain the first position in studies. (Pointing at the road) It’s such a beautiful road. I see a huge growth of water chestnuts in your area. We call it ‘Pani Phal’ (water fruit). Just two days ago, I had curry made of this fruit, which was new to me and I loved it.
Neelesh Misra: I guess now I detest staying in metro cities. In the two hours that one takes to travel from suburbs to town in Mumbai, I can travel from Lucknow to Mumbai. If I have a meeting scheduled in the morning, I don’t have to worry about it from tonight. I guess I have started viewing life from a different lens. I evaluate everything from the social responsibility angle. I was discussing with my Mandli sometime back that when we started this project of storytelling, each one of us brought our stories and experiences. There are a lot of personal anecdotes shared and they take the form of a story, which then the listeners can relate to. But I was worried that in the process we should not get influenced by commercialization. The focus should remain on the story and its depth rather than what will the listener wants to listen. I asked one of my writer members if she felt empathetic towards her story characters and she said she cries with the story. I realized this lately that I always had a mask on me and never let things affect me. As a journalist, I have covered some of the most critical stories like the cyclone-hit areas, the Kargil war and many such painful situations, but I never cried. But ever since I have started reciting stories, many a time I choke towards the end of the story, had to stop recordings many a time. One day I was sitting by myself in a hotel room, which itself is a rarity, and watching a children’s music show and suddenly I realized I had tears in my eyes. I was trying to find out what has changed in me. How do you see yourself in this race? Has the metro life and limelight changed you or the compassionate soul is still alive? Do you get time to introspect?
Pankaj: What a beautiful question you have asked! Yes, of course, I am very much the same person I was. I still get affected by the simple things around me and evaluate my worth to society. Why does society need me as an actor? Are we just entertainers and here to make the audience laugh and cry or there is an impact that my craft is creating? As a theatre personality I always believe that whether theatre has taught me to be a good actor or not, it has helped me become a much better human being. Any form of art, like singing, writing, storytelling, helps in a person’s individual growth. I don’t hide my tears. People mock saying don’t cry like a woman, I say I don’t mind being a woman because women are much evolved than men. I do get concerned about the social impact. Like yesterday, there were many spectators at the shooting, and when I was watching their faces, I could see every line of wrinkle on their faces, each line of the wrinkle made me feel that we have left this old man far behind in the race of progress. And thinking all these makes me uncomfortable as a human being. The passionate person inside me makes me wonder that probably this is what is my job as an actor. Probably, creative people are the only set who put in emotional labour in our craft. Everyone does physical and mental labour, but artists are involved with their craft with an equal amount of emotional labour. Emoting an expression is not an easy job, we do get emotionally involved with every scene. There is no such thing as a sensitive actor. There are actors and they carefully listen! Now when you were talking, I was paying attention and I could connect with your experiences. When I am in my village, I spend hours looking at the dewdrops, which is such a rarity in a metro city. Recently, I was in Bharatpur, and was watching the birds flying over the lake. I do not know what I get out of it, but I can keep watching such things for hours together. I guess that is what it’s all about to be a better human being. We evolved from being apes to our current form with intelligence and sensitivity. I am sure we do not want to go back being ape, right? We have created a lot of things including cities, countries, religions etc, but oxygen can’t be divided. Hence the artists are precious because they talk about humanity without discrimination.
This is an especially important question for me to understand that the slapstick content available on mass media where women are stereotyped or made fun of, such content is short-lived. So, what legacy are we leaving behind for the next generation? If tomorrow I leave this world, am I proud of what I have done as a content creator? Has my content touched even ten children positively? Or have I only left content with abuses and harshness behind.
Exactly! Or at least whatever legacy we had received have we preserved it, or could we have bettered that legacy? It’s particularly important to ponder this. Momentary success can be alluring, but all the popular content is not correct. We should not run after popular content but concentrate on the depth of the content. As a citizen and an individual, I must be aware of my responsibilities towards my society. Yes, I am a commercial artist and my craft wins my bread, but at the same time, I cannot neglect my social responsibility. It does not make me an activist but sheer patriotic. Patriotism is nothing, but just the fulfilment of one’s duties as a responsible citizen and a human being. As an actor, I am conscious to be a part of cinema which nurtures and helps in growth. There can be satire in communication to make sure the point is heard.
And not to skirt important issues and speak about things which are not spoken otherwise … What kind of a father are you?
I feel I am a good father. I have a daughter who is 12 years old Aashvi. My journey has taken me from various circumstances. I have seen my sisters getting pressurized for marriage. The post-Diwali season is considered auspicious for marriage, so my father used to visit villages on a bicycle with his friend to search for suitable alliances for my sisters from a village to another. So, I have seen kind of a world and now I am seeing the world shown in Bareily Ki Barfi.
And you have seen the red-carpet world also!
Yes, I have seen the red-carpet world also. So, the father in me is a mix of all these cultures. He is much progressive.
Long ago I used to ask myself, have I been a good son? Could you?
I think yes, but saying this would make me give a self-certificate, so I think my parents would be the right people to answer this. Yes, amid all the chaos I do ensure that I visit my parents once in three months for sure. Even now, before coming for this shoot, I spent four days with them.
My parents live just 5 minutes away from my house. But to convince them to leave that block and to stay with us in our new house is an impossible task. It is a constant battle; sometimes light-hearted and sometimes heated too. But they are incredibly happy in their space.
Uprooting them without their wish is also torture to them. So, let them be comfortable where they feel at home. You can keep visiting them from time to time.
Do share something about the red-carpet world post-Newton.
When you go abroad for film festivals to places like Berlin, Los Angeles, you realize that cinema is a respected and much-bigger affair. (Pointing at a flock of birds) Do you see those birds there? See how beautifully they shape themselves, like an airplane, and land.
Every Friday I come to the village. I pick my daughter up from her school and for the entire weekend I am here.
So, here we are … the house in the village. How are you feeling?
You know, many a times we have dreams which we just want to fulfil somehow. Ever since I had seen the tiles in the picture, I had dreamt of sitting here once in my life. And till last night I did not know my dream will come true so soon. That one picture of Vaidehi with her friends with the fields in the background had won my heart. These tiles are very traditional and mostly seen in Bengal. So, coming here is one among many dreams which has got fulfilled.
So now that its rekindled, when are you getting the house in your village made?
We have a house in the village
Any plans of returning to the roots?
Well, that is the ultimate dream. A bird might fly up to any height, but eventually, it must come back to its nest. So, right now, I might be flying high, but will land back home in the end.
How do you use your career ahead? As an actor, as a creative person …
I wish I am remembered for my work and work alone. Of course, we do have a social responsibility as actors and I want to fulfill that responsibility well. That is why I do not concentrate much on body-building and looks. I feel my work is more cerebral and I want to make an impact through my work. There should be an undertone message along with the entertainment. Every story has a vision and mission, so I just wish to be a part of such stories, which leave its imprints.
Want to explore direction?
Yes, of course! One thing which not many know about me is that I am a good storyteller myself. I have umpteen number of country-side stories. My mother in law is also a wonderful storyteller. I can weave one story in multiple ways, so if one person listens to my story once and hears it again at some other sitting, he would feel the story is different than last time. So, my stories depend upon the audience. If I am with the intellectuals, I will make one story philosophical and the same story will become strength-oriented if the audience group changes to bodybuilders.
Would you like to tell a story to a storyteller?
There are many stories from my village. For example, there was a small village Ratan Sarai, around seven kms away from my village where there was a small motel near a railway track. Earlier, the narrow-gauge trains used to run on that line. There was a train from Thave to Barroly and I used to go to Hajipur before Patna in that train. It used to reach our village station at 4:40 am. So, my father and I used to walk from home to the station, which was seven kms away, with a lot of supplies like grains, pulses, cooking oil etc. It had only two electric bulbs for the whole compartment and it used to be dim around 4:40 am and we used to walk on the wooden planks in the dim light to reach our seats. All sorts of people used to travel in that train. People would get their livestock or even bicycle, hang the bicycle with the window. Those train journeys had so many stories; every passenger was a story in himself. I just wish I can show my daughter that world somehow. Every child should have those experiences which you and I have had. We have experienced the best of both worlds. When you visit foreign countries for film festivals, it’s a different world altogether. I feel our country’s noise pollution because of honking will reduce if every person witnesses the traffic culture in European countries or Singapore once. A person who spends one week in any of these countries, will stop using vehicle horns unnecessarily.
Absolutely! Their people stop cars for pedestrians as well, which is unimaginable in our country yet.
Yes. That is why travelling is important in learning and growing as a person. And the kind of experience you and I have should be experienced by our children to enjoy the best of both the worlds.
Does she visit your village?
Yes, she does.
It is also rare to find that kids growing up in cities like Mumbai living a different kind of lifestyle, at least has a window to experience the country-side lifestyle too.
I feel it is extremely important for the kids to know our roots. The food we eat, where is it grown and how does it reach us should be known to every kid. If every human understands the pains and sacrifices one goes through in growing food, people will stop wasting food.
I feel as content creators and as writers, a huge part of the blame lies on our shoulders as we have encouraged stereotypes. Had there been a story written 400 years ago stating “A beautiful black girl”, the situation would have been different. But we did not do that, instead, we kept reinforcing that the black is disregarded.
Yes. It’s a huge mistake
And also, we do not hesitate to stereotype women basis their height, weight, complexion hair etc, and even their region of origin.
Yes, it is easy humor. Defaming someone for their external appearance and pulling jokes of it.
I was listening to a radio jockey and she said “although she is a girl…”. I immediately called up the radio station to ask what did they mean by saying “Although…”, they were explaining about the character who was outspoken. Or sometimes we say “I don’t wear bangles”, which implies that those who wear bangles are weak. It’s so subtly imbibed in us!
Or, we say “why you cry like a woman?” I say if you do not cry then stop hiding your tears. Men should also cry and let their emotions speak.
As content creators, we have errored. We have celebrated these stereotypes and have been drilling it in our society. I was once out with Vaidehi in a restaurant and suddenly she shouted, “Look at that fat uncle!” I was baffled and tried to tell her to be sensitive! Stereotyping is so prevalent in our society. I always tell my team members to expand their thinking. Because they are representing a thought process and listening to them many more people will follow their thinking ahead.
True! When you are holding a mic, you are spreading a message to millions of people and it is your responsibility to spread the right communication. What I portray as an actor or what you narrate as a storyteller is not only about a profession giving us money, but whatever we do should be able to bring some positivity in people’s lives or helps in making the person a better human being. So, our responsibility doubles as artists. In the race of becoming successful, we are so unaware of our social duty. Sanjai bhai always says that when you leave the world, you should be proud of what you have left behind. Eventually, everyone will leave the world, no one is immortal. What matters is what impact we leave behind. We have had a dutiful stint, and now we move on happily. Happy Journey!
What do you say about you co-actors who have come from similar background as you? Do you have any favorite co-actors?
Many of my co-actors come from a theatre background and I have known them for long now. Lately, I feel that when a person does not have many resources, he is bold and experimentative. With success, a person might earn a lot of money and becomes powerful but loses his boldness. I see a lot of actors who have been very adventurous. Boldness should not be affected by popularity. These two words — adventurous and powerful — are important in a person’s growth. Anyways, I forgot what I was about to say. My mind is filled with thoughts to the brim that I only get entangled in them.
You must have seen many of your colleagues who had lesser resources but were more adventurous.
Yes, I was about to share an incident.
So, have you seen them changing with the situation?
Actually, commercialization influences people a lot. Success makes them float in air; they lose their ground. I keep getting messages in Facebook and Twitter where fans request me to stay the way I am. I wonder what makes them worry that I will change? The software remains the same. A cow will remain a cow whether it is in an air-conditioned cowshed or a village field. Spilling venom is a characteristic of a snake and it won’t change. Similarly, I am and will remain who I am! However, we are humans with intelligence, which makes us different from other animals. So, at times, success tends to corrupt the mind. As a person I am slow, you have named this campus ‘Slow’, which is so apt. Life should be at a certain pace, which is slow. The heart also beats at a pace, and we cannot make it run faster, then why run after everything. I understand the cinema industry is insecure and fragile. What shines today might be a waste tomorrow. So, everyone wants to make the most of the day. But when will we live?
Have you lost any friend in this race?
No! Not even one!
Have you seen values deteriorating in people?
Yes, I have! I did feel bad also seeing the negative change in them but then realized that maybe they haven’t read the kind of books I have read, and have not grown up with the kind of people I have grown up with. I believe that life is an account that cannot be turned to the past, so start from where you are. Whatever happened, take it as an experience and try to do better from where you are today. With all these experiences within myself and with people around, every day I realize I am such a small speck in the scheme of the universe. Your father, at this age, runs a school, that is a noble thought. I was recently reading an article during America elections that near Las Vegas there is a village where prostitution is legal. And apparently someone ran a few brothels there and were found dead near the brothels after a point. I was surprised to find this news and wondered how come I did not know about this earlier. So, I started reading more and more about the American states and their various culture and practices. I see a map and start visualizing the area and it excites me. There is a river close to your village named Sharada and when it flows ahead it merges with the Ghaghra river and is then called Ghaghra only. The idea of how when two rivers meet and one loses its name to the other fascinates me. On what basis the name of the river is decided once it’s merged with the other?
Wow! The poet in you is very much alive and agile! It’s a magnanimous thought what you have! (Pointing to a bird) See … that unique bird… flying beautifully.
Mesmerising! (reciting a poem) Birds are meant to fly, so even if you give them a palatial cage, they will not be happy. Similarly, humans are meant to walk! God did not know that we will invent a vehicle and stop walking.
HAHAHA! What a thought!
I walk a lot! Wherever I am shooting, I love to explore the place and its surroundings. Now there are two national parks in Nepal, one is Dudhwa and am forgetting the other name
No, not Chitvan. So, I want to explore these two areas now. I try to ensure I walk around at least 4 to 5 kms daily while exploring new places. If a person walks around 10 kms daily, no ailments will ever touch him. God had wanted us to walk and that’s how created us. Companies made shoes for us to walk and run and we wear those branded shoes and sit inside cars.
Any special memories while shooting which has impacted you deeply? The storyteller inside you can tell …
I normally do not pay attention to the length of the role. The film I am currently working in, I am in the lead and I think I am very much involved in it. I am so engrossed in my character that I even know the costume, continuity. Probably I know more than my assistant directors. We are trying something new in this film. Experimenting is important in life. After many failed attempts, one experiment might help in some key findings. Every invention is a result of multiple failed experiments. So, even as actors, we keep trying new things. In this film, I am experimenting with some acting skills which might get highly appreciated or maybe completely rejected. I am in a position where experiments do not scare me. I do not have box office pressure on me because I am not in that race. You are not worried of losing when you are not a winner at all. So, I am at a very content phase right now. I love to live life along with my work. Again .. I forgot the story I was narrating!
Where was Newton shot?
Chhattisgarh! There is a small town called Dalli Rajhara where you have iron mines. We stayed there in a small hotel. We used to go to jungles around 10 kms away from the hotel and come back in the night.
Do you write?
No, I don’t!
Would you like to explore?
PT: I think writing is difficult for me. When I sit down to write, thoughts waver. But I can talk for hours and explain my thoughts. For writing, one needs to have flow and a good choice of words that I struggle with. I prefer using simple grammar even while talking. Even while acting, unless I am playing a part of any Urdu or Hindi scholar, I try to keep my dialogues natural and free-flowing. From a scholar, heavy words and superior grammar is naturally expected, but for a normal character, I try to ensure the feelings are conveyed without a language barrier. Until 10th standard, I was in the village, so grammar was never a priority. The first time I came across the diacritic mark, was in an Urdu play where a learned man asked to find the diacritic mark and I told him it is an ink mark. I was introduced to English only when I reached 6th standard. Sometimes I feel things could have been different, but then if upbringing was any different, I would not have been the same person.
If this foundation was not there for me, I would not have been able to connect to the bigger world in my terms. Any character that you have played which stayed with you for long? I am sorry I am in my journalist mood now, because for me also it’s interesting to know.
There is a movie named Gurgaon. My character had many layers in that film, and I worked very hard for it. To think aloud, every character that I play stays with me for the entire time the shoot is on. Improvisation keeps on playing in my mind for 24 hours a day. And after all the preparations, when I go for actual shooting, I prefer going blank and try to be as spontaneous as possible. I choose not to see my shots in the monitor. I might talk a lot about acting, but I do not know much about the techniques. I love reading Gorky’s works. The Eastern European landscape that he portrayed in his stories seemed very relatable to me. They might be celebrating Christmas with a tree around and we do not, but the feelings are the same. Like, I had a dream of sitting in this verandah on the checkered tiles, I had a dream of visiting the European countryside in trains. Remember I mentioned I travelled in the narrow-gauge trains. I do not remember when, but ever since I remember, I wanted to experience the European train. And we were in Germany in travelling across the countryside in a medium speed train. Again, the feeling is the same, but the color of people, facilities and environment is different. People do not spit on platform or newspapers are not spread for seating on the floor. There is no commotion when the train stops. Hardly one person got in the train. But the amazing thing was that the lady who came to drop him off had familiar tears in her eyes. Then if felt that the complexion might differ, but the feelings across humans are the same. The man sitting in the train is waving her goodbye till the train leaves the platform. Don’t we also do the same?
The stories that we are documenting now has a story about a shehnai artist.
The story about the son and father. I have seen the story. It was beautiful and kudos to the whole team. When I saw that story, I was stunned, and it reminded me of an incident. When I was in Patna, I used to attend the cultural events every day, which classified in the newspaper would list. So, one-day Spic Macay was organizing the shehnai event of Ustaad Bismillah Khan. It was for the first time I had listened to shehnai played live. I was hardly 22, and was surrounded by classy, well dressed, and cultured people around me. I hardly understood the nuances of music, but I thoroughly enjoyed that session. Then one time I was shooting in Bhopal when one morning the newspaper was slid through the door and the first headline “Ustaad Bismillah Khan is no more” shook me. I could not control my tears and started sobbing. I cried for more than 10 minutes and then thought why was I crying? He was not known or related to me anyway.
Neelesh Misra: This is amazing. We are talking about a person whom we both do not know, but now while talking about him, we both have tears in our eyes. This compassion travels like current in our bodies and minds. I feel the storytelling has enlarged our canvas of telling universal stories of emotions. Stories about people who are still attached to the soil. Recently, they shot the story “Teachers by the rivers” about a few teachers near Kanpur who do various things and then come near the river to teach the underprivileged kids. So, now we are trying to do exactly what you just mentioned about the Germany station. Emotions are universal. So why cannot we share our stories to someone in Germany? That is our next vision. Even your contribution to the cinema without any star value inhibition, where you narrate a story of a person like Newton, which can be seen universally. Once I was in a radio station where the producer shouted saying “Get me another Neelesh Misra”. I just said you can get the same voice, maybe same stories, but will not get the same pain.
True! There cannot be another Neelesh Misra, as there will not be any other Pankaj Tripathi and the guy sitting behind the camera. I believe every individual in this world is unique and original. And they should find and respect their originality. If a budding actor is inspired by Shahrukh Khan, it could be his beginning, but if he keeps copying him, he can never grow or become anything of his own. So, our fight and competition are always internal, to be better than our previous self.
I always fear that I should not get bored of myself.
Mine too! Do keep this part in a final edit that many times fans message me saying that I am a good orator. Now I realize I prepare my answers for the media interviews. I pre-empt questions and start preparing for it because I know people like that style of mine. The mind gets corrupted in that way. I do not need to copy my previous interview because I have enough experience in life to share. I don’t need to search for content to talk.
No need to search for one-liners,
Absolutely! But we are humans and end up erring!
As mentioned earlier I once asked my team members if they started writing for commercial success. If the stories appeal to your heart then write, millions will listen to it because they search for a part of themselves in those stories. The day you start writing for commercial value, it will lose its essence. It is important to stay connected to emotions around us and feel empathetic. One should write for emotions and not just paychecks.
Yes, life should be for living and not just paying EMI! Thank you so much. Your village and house are wonderful. We will keep meeting!
Transcribed and translated by Kalpana Swamy