How it started
I started my acting career with Marathi theatre along with Satyadev Dubey. Working in theatre, I learnt the basics. I first made my appearance as an actor in the Marathi film, ‘Shantalal Court Chalu Ahe' in the early 70s. Not a very memorable film. Yet, it helped me to learn the facets of facing the camera.
I consider ‘Rajnigandha' as my true first break as an actor. Directed by Basu Chatterjee, it brought me instant recognition as an actor. Basuda was the follower of the Bimal Ray, Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Basu Bhattacharya school of middle cinema. He was already a director of repute with memorable films like ‘Sara Akash' and ‘Piya Ka Ghar' to his credit. He had watched me earlier in a number of my stage plays and decided that I was the ideal choice as protagonist for his sweet romantic film, ‘Rajnigandha'.
In ‘Rajnigandha' my heroine was newcomer Vidya Sinha, who also had a lot of acting potential. A simple urban love story with no complicated angles, the film did offer me quite a scope to exhibit my histrionic prowess. In my first shot I had to appear just as a normal common man of the Mumbai of the 70s. I had to smile, pause and deliver a few lines which were not at all larger than life dialogues. Basu Chaterjee had an effective way of extracting performances from his actors. He explained the major scenes very well and made us literally feel each character we were performing even before we faced the camera.
How it felt
‘Rajnigandha' had brilliant melodies by Salil Chowdhury and I still remember fondly my reactions to Vidya Sinha during the song sequence, ‘Rajnigandha Phool Tumhare'. I had to smile looking at her with a bunch of rajnigandha flowers in my hand expressing my love for her. Basuda picturised the entire song in just three takes. In another emotional scene, I had to convey a serious look but was not being able to give the perfect look. After some genuine guidance from Basuda and a couple of tips from Vidya Sinha, I was able to convey the right emotions without much effort of my facial veins or eyebrows.
How life changed
Our next film together, ‘Choti Si Baat' was also a big hit just as ‘Rajnigandha' was. I remember receiving a commendable amount of fan mail and praise for my performances in both the films. I was always a great fan of Dev Anand after watching him in ‘Baazi', ‘Taxi Driver', ‘Bombai Ka Babu' and ‘Guide'. I still remember how I desperately tried to imitate his famous puff and my first meeting with him at the muhurat of ‘Baton Baton Mein' is an experience I will always cherish.
I never believed in stardom and always stuck to my roots as an actor. I wanted to experiment with various characters and hated being repetitive. I received some good films like ‘Gharonda', ‘Arohan' and ‘Solwa Sawan' in all of which I had characters of different shades. My first comedy in the true sense of the term was ‘Golmaal' in which Hrishikesh Mukherjee utilised my sense of timing to the hilt.
One film, a murder mystery, I will always remember working in is ‘Plot No. 5' directed by Yogesh Saxena. I performed the character of the disabled , who used to murder anyone, who pitied his disability to move. Working with Uttam Kumar I understood I was facing India's most gifted actor who co-operated with each of us just like a family friend.