"He (Rajinikanth) wanted me to play the role of his father in his production Baba. I had worked with him earlier in Moondru Mudichu in which he acted as my son. That was nearly 26 years ago."
Which movie marked your entry into Tamil filmdom?
It was Rathna Deepam, directed by Devaki Kumar Bose in 1951. The film was made in three languages, including Tamil. I have acted in nearly 100 films, of which 20 are in Tamil. I have worked with almost all the top stars such as Sivaji Ganesan, Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan and some of the best directors such as Satyajit Ray and Balu Mahendra.
After Baba, we have not seen you in any of the Tamil films…
Here I would like to say that nobody had my phone number till Rajinikanth managed to contact me. He wanted me to play the role of his father in his production Baba. I had worked with him earlier in Moondru Mudichu in which he acted as my son. That was nearly 26 years ago. After finishing my work, which was just for two days, I went to thank him. He asked me whether I got my payment. I showed him the cheque issued by the production manager. He tore it and gave me another one with a staggering amount written on it. Such is his magnanimity.
Your acting is always understated.
It's perhaps because of my grounding in Bengali theatre. Satyajit Ray used to tell me ‘you don't need to act, only react' and Devaki Kumar Bose, my first director, would say ‘don't see the camera, it will see you'.
Your picture will not be complete without your pipe…
You are right. I'm often seen smoking pipe in films. I was not a smoker till I joined a tobacco company.
Will you work in Tamil films if you get a chance?
I am willing to work both on the big and the small screen and language is not a problem. One Bengali film of mine is running successfully now in Calcutta and I have just finished my son Ashok Viswanathan's film Gumshudah (Missing), which is to be released soon.