my first break PAVAN MALHOTRA

driven by CharacterPavan Malhotra.Photo:Sandeep Saxena  

How it happened

My father was in the business of machine tools and expected me to join him after graduation. When I was 15-16 one day an acquaintance took me to a theatre group where they were preparing to do “Tughlaq”. I liked the atmosphere and started spending time with them. Seeing my interest they asked me to join them. This is how my innings with Ruchika Theatre Group started. One of the first plays that I did with them was “The Father”, where I played an orderly. When the review appeared one of the lines said Pavan Malhotra was good as orderly. I carried the newspaper in my bag for a week and used to look at it again and again. I started representing Delhi University in inter-university cultural festivals. Sudhir Mishra was still in Delhi and had formed a group called Nigah. He took me under his wing and used to persuade me to go to Bombay. I couldn’t because of my father’s pressure. In Bombay, I joined the gang of Sudhir Mishra, Kundan Shah, Saeed Mirza and Vinod Chopra and started working as a production guy who could do bit roles. That’s how I got “Ab Ayega Maza”. I was a production assistant in “Mohan Joshi Haazir Ho”, “Khamosh” and was the props in charge in “Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron”. These films were made at a shoe string budget in the real sense of the term. We used to multitask. In “Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron”, when the budget from NFDC was taking time in coming through, Kundan borrowed money from Naseeruddin Shah. In those days the daily wagers like the light men used to end up earning more than the actors of the film. You could not hold their payment as they had a strong union. One day I dared to remind Saeed Mirza that I came to Bombay to become an actor. He was casting for “Nukkad” and offered me the role of Hari. It turned out to be the break I was looking for.

How did it feel

I became a household name. “Nukkad” was an example of team work. There used to be 20 people in one frame and everybody contributed towards making it convincing. When I came to Delhi and went to meet my father in Old Delhi, a huge crowd gathered and he could not believe that they are there to see his son. He had an expression of shock and pride, which even I as an actor could not copy. That day I felt that I have arrived.

How life changed

Then Saeed offered me Salim’s character in “Salim Langde PeMat Ro”. I learnt the Mumbaiyya lingo and the body language of youngsters in Bhindi Bazar. I used to go to Chor Bazaar with Makrand Deshpande to pick the accent and body language. I wanted when Salim would rub his crotch it should look natural because men in that area don’t even realise what they are doing. Like the boys in Hyderabad and Bangalore were aspiring to be in IT, the youngsters here were aspiring to become the next Dawood Ibrahim and the lower they were in the hierarchy, the cockier they were. Dawood used to have handlebar moustache those days so they followed his style and not some Bollywood star. I imbibed all of it before playing Salim. In the meantime, Buddhadeb Dasgupta saw me on the cover of NFDC magazine and somehow saw his “Bagh Bahadur” in me. It was an opportunity to stay clear of an image. I had learnt Chhau during theatre days. If Salim was about body, here the focus was on eyes. These days people boast about long hours of make-up. In those days it used to take three hours for the make-up man to put the enamel paint on me. Then I had to sit in sun to let it dry. I was also expected to have a tanned face. And after the day’s shoot it used to take an hour to remove the pain with kerosene. I had to use two different soaps to get rid of the smell but the effort was worth it as both films went on to win National Awards in the same year. “Salim…” was also a box office success in Mumbai and in cities like Ahmedabad and Surat. I went on to work with Roland Joffe and Goutam Ghose. One day I saw Ghose in the house of Om Puri. We didn’t talk but some time later his wife called me that Goutam is in Italy but he has requested if Pavan could block dates for “Fakir”. It brought me the National Award as an actor.

I have not been a good salesman. I could never understand that this is show business where you have to network after your shift is over. I always waited for the work to come to me. Still these three roles have ensured that when the history of Hindi cinema will be written, Pavan Malhotra will find a mention.

(as told to anuj kumar)