Rawal with his family at a book launch in the city
Politicking hasn’t slowed down Paresh Rawal’s Bollywood outings. The veteran actor says life is all about juggling various roles, and striking a balance. The Bharatiya Janata Party MP visits his constituency, Ahmedabad East, at least four times in three months. “I shuffle between Mumbai and Ahmedabad. I come from a theatre background, so, I am used to hopping from city-to-city for shows.”
Presently, Rawal is promoting his next, Rajkumar Hirani’s Sanju. Sanjay Dutt’s biopic sees him play the late Sunil Dutt. We meet Rawal at Hirani’s office on the Andheri-Kurla road. The air conditioner isn’t working properly. It’s hot, but he isn’t perturbed. He is used to finding himself in sticky situations — literally, in this case — especially after entering politics in 2014. Social media savvy, he often finds himself trolled for taking on the opposition. “Now, everything’s out in the open. You can discuss about any topic,” he reasons. Last seen in Tiger Zinda Hai (2017), Rawal says, off late, he picks films he genuinely wants to invest time in.
“At this stage in my career, I don’t want to work on any [and every] film. I don’t want to waste time doing something I may not end up liking. I have done my share of masala films. Now, the makers and the subject matter. There is really good cinema being made.” Hirani’s Sanju certain qualified as one among them. “I know that there were many actors who were considered [for this part] before me.”
Hirani had approached his 3 Idiots (2009) and PK (2014) actor Aamir Khan for the role. But, Hirani had said that since Mr Perfectionist had already played a father in Dangal (2016), he did not want to take on another role that saw him as one. Khan told him he would only be given roles of similar nature if he agreed to do so. But while playing Sunil Dutt was reason enough for Rawal to give his nod to the role, another factor was instrumental in sealing the deal. “Raju had approached me for Munna Bhai MBBS (2003) for the part that was eventually played by Boman Irani. But, I could not do it then. Over the years, I have been watching his films, and feeling the pinch of having not worked with him. His films are well made, and the results are fantastic.”
This is Rawal’s first collaboration, not only with Hirani and writer Abhijat Joshi, but also with Ranbir Kapoor, who plays the titular role. Rawal says that while it was stated to Kapoor that he must resemble Sanjay, no such demand was made of him. Rawal had briefly interacted with the late actor on matters concerning the Nargis Dutt Cancer Foundation. Even his collaboration with him in Rajkumar Kohli’s Virodhi (1992) did not lead to much communication since the two did not share screen space.
“Once, Dutt saab sent me a birthday card, out of the blue. I still have it. I always wondered why he had sent it to me when we barely knew each other. Strangely, I am now playing him.” Rawal has not tried to ape his mannerisms. “Dutt saab had an affable personality and a unique voice. I looked up to him as an actor, and person. He went through a lot in life, wife [Nargis] coping with cancer, son battling with drugs. He endured it because of his strong personality.” As for the film’s protagonist goes, Rawal says Hirani has been particular about showcasing the man without sugar-coating his actions.
“He has not hidden any aspect of his life. Usually, a biography paints the protagonist as a noble man. I am told, Sanjay’s precondition was to show his life with honesty.” He is hoping that he has done justice to Dutt saab’s character, which he feels is a father-son story. Coming up next for Rawal is Aditya Dhar’s Uri based on the 2016 attacks in which he plays National Security Adviser Ajit Doval. He is also part of Ashutosh Gowariker’s Dear Dad, based on his ongoing play by the same name. A Priyadarshan film is also lined up. Rawal terms his political outing as a “pilgrimage”. “The coming months are crucial in the run-up to the 2019 general election. Ask him about rising petrol prices and he says, “We have to repay the debts of the past government. Only if people had raised their voice earlier, we would not have to see such days due to the past government’s heavy, indiscriminate borrowings from the World Bank.” Now, he is ready to take the plunge again in the electoral fray next year.