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Verve People
April 26, 2019

Jackie Shroff On How He Reinvented Himself For The Web Series Format

Text by Shraddha Jahagirdar-Saxena.

The 62-year-old actor talks to Verve about the events that have dotted his life and career – and how he has stayed relevant

A few days ago, I find myself in actor Jackie Shroff’s home in the suburbs. As I wait for the arrival of Jaggu Dada — as he is fondly called – who is driving back from a farm near Pune, I take in the tastefully-furnished living room that is dotted with artworks and, of course, some awards – that he and his son Tiger Shroff have garnered. My thoughts wander to the preceding weekend when I binge-watched Hotstar’s Criminal Justice. Mustafa – Shroff’s avatar in the web series – remained with me, as I’d witnessed the reinvention of a star who’s given us four decades of entertainment.

The debonair man with a disarming smile who played hero with élan (Ram Lakhan, Khal-nayak, Aaina, Border, Rangeela, Prem Deewane, to name a few of his cinematic turns) turned jail don in Criminal Justice and this time in a new genre altogether – a web-series. Even as he flirted with the underbelly of society with a villainous bent, he played the role with his brand of stylish sophistication, showing that he is not one to be ignored.

Striding into his home, his arms outstretched in welcome, he first chides me about the tardiness we’ve shown in staying in touch. Rewinding to our interactions from the past on the helipad in Film City and many an outstation location shoot, we sit on the sofa, as he calls for tea, pohe and some pedhas. Sipping on a hot brew that is infused with herbs, we plunge into a leisurely catching up – which to my surprise begins by Shroff taking me through the importance of relaxing, doing pranayama ‘at least 24 minutes in 24 hours’ and being close to nature – he speaks about our depleting waters. In fact, if you follow him on Instagram (going by the handle @apnabhidu, he seems to have taken to the platform with commendable ease), you will immediately sense his connect with Mother Earth. He urges me to “read about water contamination, and pollution” saying, “We may not be activists in the world, but we can be activists for our children. We can inculcate the right values in them and teach them how to have a well-oxygenated life!”

But inevitably the talk veers to work and he chortles, “Many people underestimated me – I shocked you in Criminal Justice, didn’t I?” – which is the perfect cue to talk about his work.

Excerpts from the conversation:

On reinventing himself for the web series

Over the years, platforms have kept changing. I didn’t. My sincerity didn’t. My discipline didn’t. My heart didn’t change. Doing a web-series may not have been a conscious decision. But it has been a reinvention for me. You can say that it is my new janam. For me, being on the web-series is like being in kindergarten. I am learning the ropes, learning my ye re ye re pavsa (a Marathi song popular with kids).

I have seen different stages and forms of entertainment right from my school days. I never did plays, although I did try to sing once while still a student. Later, I got an opportunity to work on stage with Shafi (Bhai) Inamdar, but at that time I didn’t have the guts or the patience to do it. But, over a period of time, I realised that I did have the requisite patience as I did film, after film, after film – all in different genres and in multiple shifts in one day. Then I toyed with television (Lehrein, Missing and India’s Magic Star). Then I did a short film Khujli and got an award for it.

Today, you can say there are a lot of shops to sell your clothes. It is fantastic that more cinema halls have opened up. Technology has so advanced that sitting anywhere you are connected. And technology will develop, will change even more. But human beings don’t change. You don’t become monsters. Even if you put a pacemaker in it, the heart will remain just that – a heart. The feelings will remain the same.

On morphing into Mustafa

I liked the character a lot. I liked the cast and the directors (Tigmanshu Dhulia and Vishal Furia) too. Tigmanshu started the episodes and Vishal handled me throughout. Guiding me, he let me be what I was. I was like a wild horse; he harnessed and reined me in when it was needed.

I had played a character with brutality in Mission Kashmir. Hilal Kohistani was brutal to a nation. Mustafa was a man who had been in jail for a long time. I felt the vibes. I smelt the air, even though I have not been inside a jail. But, I am from Mumbai – and this was my language. While I was growing up near Teen Batti, rats nibbled at my feet. The road was our playground – we didn’t know who had thrown what on it. I have cut my feet while playing, when I didn’t know that glass or sharp objects were littered on the roads.

On being himself

I am a rough person, but I am soft at heart. I have my mother’s heart and that is something that cannot change. I do get very angry but I feel bad once I lose my temper. So, I try to be calm. That is why I do pranayama, I keep myself under control. And I want those 24 minutes in 24 hours when I can focus on the things I value – do you know that when I get close to my plants I feel goosebumps? The plants caress me.

On coping with the highs and lows of life and work

When things go south or I have made a mistake, I just try to clear the air and learn from what has happened. It is important to work, keep your reputation. And if something has gone wrong, spread the message that if you falter, it does not mean you cannot stand up and walk again. If you fall into a ditch, cover it so that the generations coming after you will not fall into it. Make a path that is not thorny. You have your children following in your footsteps.

Right from my days at Teen Batti till now, I have I made many mistakes – things went up and down. But this has been the journey of my life and my heart. Thank God, it was not straight! I would have flat lined. I don’t want to flat line. Facing the lows was easy because I had nothing when I had started out. So I knew that whatever happened professionally I had the strength to bear it. And I got a lot of love from people. Even today, my doors are always open, metaphorically, for people. New directors come with so much of hunger. They have so much to give.

On his most unforgettable role

Hero – because it was my first. Swami Dada because even though I was standing in front of Shakti Kapoor saab as a chamcha, his left hand, I was working with my most favourite Dev Anand saab. I would look at Naseer bhai. It was a dream that had come true for me. I felt very strong and protected, as I was not in the front line. And I was not pressured. I followed my boss.

On a role that established his credentials

After Hero, I was dismissed as a non-actor and my performance was criticised. It was said that I was wooden, staccato, a Dev-lookalike. My role in Kaash was on a different plane and gave me a lot of wow moments. It made me cry. And then there were many films like Gardish and Parinda….

On his son taking after him

Tiger is like me. He has also been influenced by his grandfather Air Vice-Marshal Ranjan Dutt – by his grit, his discipline. I have tried to teach him about plants. Workwise, I don’t think I have taught him anything although he must have watched my movies. I feel he has got things that he does on his own – his dancing style, his grace, his core strength for gymnastics and fights. His stillness is different. When he was facing the camera for his first film Heropanti, I felt like he was a little child. When I saw him in the same frame as Prakash Raj talking to him, he was listening and his eyes were expressive. That stillness in front of a veteran star and National Film Award winner was commendable. And I felt that the little cub has it in him.

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