HYDERABAD: Known for being reticent and recluse, someone not very fond of giving interviews, the confirmation for a ‘brief’ interaction with Amol Palekar came as a pleasant surprise. Though he gained fame with his boy-next-door-disposition, in 45 years of his cinematic career, it’s proven that Amol Palekar is not as easy-going as he appeared onscreen. So I expected to meet a stern and reserved man – traits that come with age and decades of experience.
The Amol Palekar I met is a smiling, soft-spoken person, who speaks in measured tone – a reflection of his characters – Ramprasad Sharma (Gol Maal), Sanjay (Rajnigandha) and Arun from Chhoti Si Baat.
As the conversation flows, the veteran actor and director who was in the city as part of Kalakriti Art Gallery’s Annual cultural fest, Krishnakriti, opens up about Indian’s paranoia with Oscars.
“It (Oscars) has nothing to do with our cinema. It is to celebrate American cinema. Then why are we so paranoid about it? And I say we are paranoid because news about Oscars makes it to the front page news while our National Awards gets a single column space in, say, page 5,” he says.
But it’s not just the media that Palekar blames for this obsession, which according to him is absurd.
“If I ask 10 people who won last year’s National Award, they won’t know. But if I ask what is being hyped up for Oscars or the American films in contention, etc., they will know all about it. So, it is we who perpetuate such kind of thing and it is absurd to me,” he expresses.
Having acted in 50 films in five languages and directed 16 in languages like Hindi, Marathi and English – Palekar says he has never been enamoured by the frenzy surrounding any international festival. “For me Cannes, Berlin and even Oscars are nothing but platforms where I, an Indian filmmaker, can showcase my works. My films have gone to so many international festivals. I am not enamoured by A and look down upon B. To me it is a simple opportunity to showcase Indian cinema and feel proud about it.”
Palekar who entered the filmdom in 1970s depicting everyday man’s sensibilities and insights with films like Rajnigandha, Gol Maal, Chitchor, Chhotti Si Baat or character with grey shades in Gharonda, Bhumika and Khamosh, a decade later decided to unleash his magic from behind the camera. While the “star-studded” Paheli (2005) was his last stint in Bollywood, Dhoosar (2011) in Marathi was the last feature film he directed. Palekar, rues being asked why he quit filmmaking.
The 100 crore club myth
“When people ask me why I haven’t made anything in Bollywood, it actually means that I haven’t made a film as per the star system goes. And that is why most people remember Paheli as my last film. With Shahrukh Khan and Rani Mukherjee as lead, it was my last star-studded film, but certainly not my last directorial,” he says.
Post Paheli, Palekar acted and directed Samaantar with Sharmila Tagore. “But that doesn’t count because it was was neither star-studded nor mainstream Bollywood,” he argues.
“It is a tragedy that when we talk of cinema we only talk of feature films in Bollywood. We don’t talk of documentaries, parallel cinema being made in our country or of regional cinema which is so vibrant,” he gushes.
The 71-year-old is perturbed how good cinema is dismissed in the garb of language and worse, Box Office collection or the `100crore Club.
”Today we talk for `100 crore club and therefore we keep talking about Bajrangi Bhaijaan. Is there any mention about Baahubali which is a far bigger hit not only in terms of budget but also gate money collection? But we don’t talk about it because it is a Telugu film,” he stresses emphatically and adds, “No other country can give such a wide palette. But we feel shy and therefore talk only about commercial success, `100 crore club and `400 crore club and we feel that oh we are…..” he trails off in his trademark style.
After a pause, the multi-faceted thespian throws another question, “Why this step-motherly treatment?”
As a director who has always made female-centric films, Palekar says, gone are those day when films like Bandini were made. “The important question is are we lamenting this or not? Do we also want this kind of perpetuation of male dominance where female actress is only for sex appeal?”
‘I am very choosy’
So when will we get to see him on-screen? “I like it when people ask me Aap kaam kyu nahi karte? So I feel am in a happier situation by not working. If you feel its lack of offers or interest – you can draw your own conclusion.”