Tête-à-tête Neil Nitin Mukesh continues to surprise with his choice of roles. Anuj Kumar
J udged on face value is one of the oldest dictums in cinema. Many actors learn to live with it but some like Neil Nitin Mukesh keep pushing the barrier. The actor fits the chocolate boy cliché perfectly, but whatever roles he has done till date have little to do with looking good.
“It was a conscious choice. It's not that I don't like the way I look. In the film industry it helps if you are good looking but it should help in shaping you as an actor. It should only be an added attraction. People say I have stayed away from love stories when the first character that I played (in ‘Johnny Gaddar') commits a crime for his love. I mean I wanted to do something sensible, something story-driven. Also, I come from Mukesh family. Cinema is not just business for us.”
But the trend is romantic comedies? “Again, I would love to do normal love stories and people have appreciated my sense of humour in the ‘serious' films that I have done but I can't do a plastic comedy or slapstick, where you have to distort your face to make the audience laugh.”
The true picture
However, apart from ‘New York,' his efforts haven't shown results on box office. “I haven't given blockbusters but my films have always recovered money. If you talk of numbers, ‘Lafangey Parindey' did good and the budget of a film like ‘Jail' was so small that the satellite rights were enough to recover the cost of the film. When ‘Jail' was telecast on Doordarshan I got a tremendous response from the audience. So box office doesn't always present a true picture of how a film faired.”
The critics flayed his efforts to play a chawl-based fighter. “I found the criticism ridiculous. Did they mean to say that good looking people don't exist in chawls? I can assure you there are thousands of boys, who look better than me, who live in these chawls. I believe many took it as a gangster film, which it was not. Nandu (the character he played) just happened to be a sidekick of a gangster.” No, people found it hard to believe him playing a character who could pummel the opposition in one punch. “Does anybody ask how ‘Superman' flies or ‘Krish' jumps from buildings. Some plots rely on larger than life premises and in their case you can't take the approach of documentaries shot by handycam.”
Having worked as an assistant director for four years, Neil says he knows what goes on behind the cinema. “I won't say after a film fails that the subject sounded great on paper, because I largely know how a script will turn out after speaking to the director.”
Things look rosy today, but despite a known surname Neil had to struggle in the industry. “After ‘Johnny Gaddar' got stuck because of financial problems, I had no work for more than a year. I sat outside the offices of big banners. Producers would meet me; share pleasantries but nobody offered me work.” Does it prove that the industry doesn't honour its legends?
“I can only say that those who are ruling the industry now – Shah Rukh Khan and Akshay Kumar – are not sons of any legends of the film industry. I drew my confidence from them.” And his grandfather's song, ‘Zindagi Khwaab Hai…' provides him sustenance. “Every actor is a dreamer and I am no different. I love dreams… I don't like the nights on which I don't get dreams!”
For now, his dreams continue to get jinxed as far as release dates are concerned. ‘Tera Kya Hoga Johny,' where he plays an impatient gangster has again been postponed but he is eager to know the response for ‘Saat Khoon Maaf,' where he plays one of the seven husbands of Priyanka Chopra.
“I am not allowed to talk about the film but it is one of those challenges that every actor loves.”