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“I am fully indebted to theatre”

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Chetan Pandit: One of the favourite actors of filmmaker Prakash Jha
Chetan Pandit: One of the favourite actors of filmmaker Prakash Jha

Chetan's most memorable phase in Mumbai started when he came in contact with Prakash Jha. He talks to Madhur Tankha about how theatre has been instrumental in polishing his skills as an actor

He has been one of the favourite actors of noted Bollywood filmmaker Prakash Jha. Little wonder then that versatile actor Chetan Pandit has once again been roped in by him for his latest political drama Raajneeti.

Chetan says theatre has been instrumental in polishing his skills as an actor. “It is important to keep coming back to theatre. Not many know that theatre is raking in money in Mumbai and is seen as a commercial proposition by those who run it. In Delhi theatre is not as popular as in Mumbai but there is lot of experimentation in terms of plot and characterisation thanks to the National School of Drama, my alma mater. Directors from different corners of the world would give us finer points of filmmaking at NSD. I am thoroughly indebted to theatre.”

Chetan started his career with an ad-film of a leading soap brand. Luckily it was made by stalwart Govind Nihalani who gauged his potential as an actor. “After the ad-film, Nihalani offered me a role in Ajay Devgun-starrer Thakshak. After the film I have done other movies and also worked in serials to earn my livelihood. But I have never forgotten that my roots are firmly entrenched in theatre.”

Chetan's most memorable phase in Mumbai started when he came in contact with Prakash Jha. “He was my director in Apharan in which I played Home Minister Dinker Pandey. I have done three films with him including Gangaajal and he reposes tremendous faith in my creative capacity. Jha takes great care to give the right clues to his co-stars so that they get a sense of the character they have to portray. In his films all characters are justified. If you take out even one character, the whole film would lose its meaning.”

Chetan got another boost to his career when Jha approached him for Raajneeti.

Stating that Raajneeti was one of his most challenging films in a career spanning over a decade, Chetan says it is about the cesspool of Indian politics. It highlights the advantages and disadvantages of our extraordinary democracy. Above all, it is the story of a few people who control the destiny of millions. It is about their unstoppable ambitions and their bitter and violent battles to achieve them. This is the story of people who understand power and know how to wield it at will.

Stating that the film focuses on the rough and tumble of elections, Chetan says it highlights a fiercely fought election campaign, where money-power and corruption are the accepted norms. “Treachery and manipulation are routinely used. As the personal drama of the conflict ridden characters unfolds against this backdrop, love and friendship get sacrificed at the altar of political alignments.”

As Chandrapratap, the actor is portraying a politician who has certain principles in life. “He knows that politics is a game of manipulation and if he has to stay in politics he has to do unscrupulous things. But he is still a man of truthfulness, thinking and values.” For Chetan it has been a privilege to work with veteran actor Naseeruddin Shah, who essays a fire-brand leftist leader feared for his ability to challenge the most powerful of his tribe. “Shah is respected for his political integrity. However one mistake hurtles him into a self-imposed exile and shakes the destiny of the political future of the State. I have once again got a chance to work with Ajay Devgan who rises from the backward classes with anger in his heart and leadership on his mind. Another veteran Nana Patekar shuns every political ambition even as he continues to mentor the younger generation of leaders.” Stating that he shared excellent camaraderie with Ranbir Kapoor, Chetan says his good family background is evident from his etiquette and behaviour with his co-stars. “He is a well-groomed man who has inherited talent from his family. But Ranbir has also slogged in the industry by first doing behind the scene job in films like Black and then making his mark as an actor. The atmosphere on the sets was so congenial and the camaraderie shared by us made us completely at ease. We were never conscious that the camera was rolling.”

For a change ravishing Katrina Kaif is playing a de-glamorised role. She is portraying a never-say-die woman who rises from the ashes of her tragedy to challenge every contender, overturning the political future of the State. “There is speculation that Katrina has portrayed Priyanka Gandhi or Sonia Gandhi but it is only a figment of a journalist's imagination. She may have observed Priyanka to observe her body language but there is nothing more to it. Ultimately we are all actors and it is compulsory for us to switch on the television and observe the body language of different politicians,” he says.

Organising a mammoth crowd at Bhopal for the film shooting was a herculean task. “The film has managed to show the biggest crowd ever in a Bollywood film. They are shown as converging in rallies and our meticulous filmmaker insisted that all of them must attend a workshop. This was necessary as the crowd was untrained, so the men and women were taught when to relax and when to become attentive.”

Chetan's favourite role is essaying Jayaprakash Narayan in Prakash Jha's docu-drama Loknayak. JP's contribution to Indian politics is phenomenal. He was one of those rare breed of politicians who even after playing a significant role in the Independence of the country never aspired for the high perks of office. But to play a 79-year-old J P was a tough challenge. “Luckily, I had thoroughly read a chapter on him in one of my NCERT books at Central School in Diwas and was aware of some aspects of his personality. As an actor it is important to be a voracious reader and this is precisely what I have been doing since my NSD days,” adds Chetan.

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