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`I wanted to be Rajesh Khanna'

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LOOKING UP Juhi Babbar tells Tom Alter she could listen to him for hours
LOOKING UP Juhi Babbar tells Tom Alter she could listen to him for hours

Tom Alter and Juhi Babbar on theatre, films, and cricket

He hates being called `angrez' and it is not fair to address him so either. As an actor, theatre personality, master of ceremonies, sports commentator and writer, Tom Alter is more Indian in the real sense than many of us can ever dream of. His knowledge of Hindi and Urdu, of the Indian culture and art, has made him a much-wanted man in the fraternity. She didn't quite make a dream debut in Bollywood, but that didn't perturb Juhi Babbar. As daughter of Raj and Nadira Babbar, she was exposed to art, theatre, poetry and literature from a young age. Theatre and regional films are keeping her busy, and she is also doing a Pakistani film. The two got together to share their experiences, passions and thoughts on each other as they work together on Intehaa, an evening of Ghalib's poetry recital organised by Concern India foundation, as MANGALA RAMAMOORTHY listens in. Tom: You probably remember, we first met at a college function in Bandra, Mumbai, where we were judges for the poetry competition. That was some four to five years ago. And since we shared common passion in Urdu and poetry, I always wanted to work with you. After that I got to see your amazing plays, Begum Jaan and the other one on Nehru. I don't know what got into you guys, but I was asked to play M.F. Husain in the next play. Every time I have seen you on the stage, what I liked about you is your poise.Juhi: Yes, I definitely remember when we first met. But it is difficult to keep in touch with someone like you who doesn't carry a mobile phone. And having your home number doesn't help because you are never at home. Tom: Talking about Intehaa, as a concept, I think, it was one of a kind. It gave me an opportunity to understand Ghalib better. And having jazz flute by Rajiv Raja as the background to Ghalib's poetry was a unique experience. We just hope we contributed to the good work done by Concern India. Okay, now I have given you a big lecture and not allowed you to talk just like during the poetry recitation. Juhi: (laughs)It is me who chose not to talk much that day. And that is because I love listening to you. Anyway, though I have done a lot of theatre, this experience was new to me and I really enjoyed every bit of it. I am glad I have a mother who is very particular about poetry and made sure her children read them. You know, I visited Hyderabad last in 2005. I was telling mom that the Hyderabad and the Lucknow audience has much more knowledge about Urdu and poetry than any other city. Tom: (nods in agreement) That is very true. They understand the intricacies of it, but that also means that you have to be very conscious while performing in front of them. They can easily catch your mistake. Once after a show at Hyderabad, a man came up to me and kept insisting that the word wasn't nabs, but nibas. I ignored him, as I didn't understand what he was talking about. But when I returned to my room I remembered that I had used that word while translating the last poem during the show, so I immediately checked the dictionary and yes, that man was right. I felt bad that I didn't acknowledge him. It was a lesson for me.Juhi: Believe me, I have not seen anyone who is more Hindustani than you are. You know so much about the Indian culture and language and youngsters like me have a lot to learn from you. Tom: (all smiles)I had the opportunity to work with your mother Nadiraji during the play Begam Jaan and since I wasn't brought up in a theatrical environment like you, it was a fantastic experience to work in a theatre group which is totally absorbed in that art. Juhi: Films take you to a different level, but its only theatre that allows you to mix with the audience. Tom: I am sorry, I have never seen any film of yours... Juhi: It is alright I have not done many because I don't get any good ones. Anyway when I was a child, Doordarshan used to telecast a film every Sunday. And I will not tell how old I was then. (Starts laughing) There was this one particular film where you played a soldier, I don't remember the name though, but I remember my mom telling me then `Watch this man and listen to his language carefully'. That was my first introduction to Tom Alter. Tom: But I really admired your father more than your mother. He came from this place called Tundala near Agra, where I had a few friends. I loved the way he acted in Maya Memsaab and then his entry into politics, which he did not for the tamasha. Talking my entry into films, when I came to the film institute in Pune, theatre was not on my mind I came with the dream of becoming Rajesh Khanna. Juhi: (Bursts out laughing) I know you have great interest in cricket. Please tell me something about that? Tom: As a child, my brother and I used to play a lot of cricket in our four-acre home in Mussoorie. I feel sport is the best form of self-expression. There are no sports I have not tried my hands at. Cricket, as the king of the games, had its attraction. There was no aim as such; it was just the thrill it gives you. I used to be a fast bowler, but I have slowed down now. Janaat, according to me, is playing good cricket, then have a sumptuous Punjabi lunch and some romantic talk with a girlfriend. (He is unstoppable as he starts to recall different tales about his young age, as Juhi listens in amusement) People criticise Hindi films saying they are unreal, but the fact is that is the kind of lifestyle in which men lived in North India. I can tell it from the way my friends live and my experience. And you know, after my first film Charas released, I was treated like a superstar. (Pausing suddenly) Okay, I know I only talk about myself.Juhi: But didn't I say I love listening to you? Tom: Tell me about your film career.Juhi: Since my parents have brought me up with a lot of morals, I cannot do many things that have become necessary in films these days. I have the sensibility to choose my roles, but unfortunately don't get my kind of roles. I don't want to do mediocre stuff, as I am not here for moolah. But recently, I did a Punjabi film with Jimmy Shergill. It did very well, but even there I started getting the similar stuff. Let me see what comes my way, I am open to do interesting ones.

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