Nitish Bhardwaj, the actor who immortalized Lord Krishna for Indian audience through B.R. Chopra’s Mahabharat makes a comeback to Hindi cinema with Ashutosh Gowariker’s Mohenjodaro. In an exclusive conversation with Indian Express.com, the former Parliamentarian spoke at length about the movie, his character and why, in his opinion, India is an intolerant nation.
How did Mohenjo Daro happen?
I had met Ashu (Ashutosh Gowariker) socially when he was casting for Jodha Akbar and he had then told me, ‘I want to work with you but can’t see a role good enough for you.’ His thing was that if he casts me the role has to justify my presence. The role needs to have some meat. Also people will expect some kind of a performance from me. I can’t just be a passer by. So that happened this time. When he called up for Mohenjo Daro, I told him, ‘The fact that you have called only means that you are convinced this is a good role for me.’ He asked me if I could come to Bhuj as he was shooting. I agreed. I thought if nothing, it will at least be a good vacation. In Bhuj, after pack up, Ashu narrated the story to me and what my character Durjan does in the story. I was happy that he was offering me something that had nothing to do with Krishna.
Is there nothing more that you can offer as Lord Krishna. Have you outdone yourself?
Yes, you said it right. Within the zone of Vishnu, whatever had to be explored, I have. I have not made any conscious effort to stick to the image and neither have I made any conscious effort to move away from it nor am I going to do that. That is not my job. My job is to do good roles. People think I am trying to deliberately go away from the image. No it is not that. After Krishna, there was only Dashavatar left to be explored. I have done that as Vishnu, as Vaman the dwarf, as Parshuram who is an angry sage which is not my image and nor am I like that and as Ram who is a Maryada Purshotam and I am not like that either. I break norms as Nitish. I don’t believe in any kind of limitation in the field of arts. So after having explored the divine emotions, Mohenjo Daro gave me an opportunity to explore human ones.
Tell us about your character Durjan ?
Durjan is an indigo farmer and has brought up this orphan boy called Sarman (Hrithik) but there is a background story which is a mystery. Durjan has kept it like a mystery. And when that mystery is unraveled, it has a huge impact on Sarman as well as the entire film. The moment Sarman is impacted with the revelation, the film goes in a different zone. And the pre-climax and climax becomes completely different. I am a guardian of that mystery.
What is the homework that you undertook as an actor to get into the skin of the character?
In a period film, 95 percent of the the homework regarding the same is done by the maker and not by the actor. An actor has to fit in. Being a thinking actor, I had my own questions like how did people greet each other in Mohenjo Daro? There was no namaste. Namaste is an off shoot of Sanskrit. So how would they greet? These nuances that an actor has to research about amounts to only 5 percent and the same is discussed with the director who has already done great amount of research and that is what I did. The overall questions I had about the language were discussed because the language of that civilisation is not yet deciphered. We don’t know what words they used. So Ashu created a certain Shadavali. A few words were taken from Sindhi language because Sindh is a part of that area. You have to create a lingo for the film keeping the base language as Hindi because it is a Hindi film. If you come out with a new language no one will understand it. He has used words like ‘Thora’ which means thank you and ‘Lakh lakh thorak’ which means thanks a ton. So as an actor, I had to understand and discuss these things and certain gestures.
Criticism has also been aimed at the costumes worn by actors in the film. What’s your opinion on the same?
What is available from that era? What is available is some ruins which show us the town planning that they had and you can make out that they were fine town planners. But as far as costumes and jewellery is concerned, there are hardly a few artefacts and statutes. You have somebody’s bust, a bearded man, a dancer and things like that. Very few things are actually available. And from that what actually appears is that they used to wear minimal clothes. Now if Ashu were to make a film with minimalist clothes, it would have been an adult film and everyone would have felt very uncomfortable and there would have been so much more discussion about these things. It would have been shocking to see the whole film where everybody is semi-nude. And he is in a populist medium of cinema where he doesn’t want to make an adult film. So he has chosen to give that freedom to his costume and jewellery designers to come out with something which will befit a period and I think that is what a maker should do.
You shot to fame with your role as Lord Krishna. But post that there was a lull in your professional career as you did only few films before taking off to London. Do you regret not having been able to encash on your popularity in the 90s?
It’s not correct to say that I couldn’t encash. It is correct to say my decision to go to London proved to be wrong in time. I thought I will do theater and radio and taste a different thing. I wanted to fly. But then that took me away from the roots of Hindi cinema. I did Nache Nagin Gali Gali, a movie with with Madhuri Dixit(Sangeet), a Malayalm film(Njan Gandharvan). So I was being noticed. I should have stuck around. But I don’t regret because I always try to see what I have achieved in life. Yes, it affected my career but at the same time, I saw a different world of theater and radio in UK. A different world of professionalism. At a time, when India was a closed window, I lived in a country which was so open – open thinking, democratic thinking and tolerant society which we are not even today.
Do you mean to say India is intolerant today?
India is intolerant today. If I express a thought from the scriptures, I am labelled as an RSS man. Why? Why does the media and the people of this country need to label everything as RSS anything that is so Indian. I am quoting from my own book sources and scriptural sources. It has nothing to do with RSS. If you talk about the Hindu religion , they say are you an RSS man. The picture has been created like that in this country there is no open debate about some other school of thought or a point of view. Say for example, there was a debate on TV about NCRET school books. Now school books have been written in a particular way by communists and the pro-Congress people and historians for the last 70 years. You should always allow students to be exposed to different schools of thoughts and pick up according to their mind what is right and wrong. You can’t push a particular school of thought down their throats continuously. And I have realised this after having educating myself through properly researched books after my education. So I always say, the day I took my degree as a veterinary surgeon, my education started after that. Till then I was only doing what was written in those books. The real education happens after you attain your degree. So today I say intolerant society because I am not allowed to express a school of thought without getting labelled whereas half the people in this media especially electronic media have done their courses in Oxford university where they were given this freedom.
Who are these people who label you?
The so-called liberals and the pseudo intellectuals in the society and in media.
You seem to have a grudge against media?
No. Infact I am a part of the media. Media and me can’t have grudges against each other. All I want to tell certain friends in media is you shouldn’t be opinionated. Even today, our media is not completely unbiased. Everyone in media especially electronic media seem to have an opinion that they force down others throats.
Are you talking about anyone particular from the media?
We all know who. There are a few and not just one. Media is not supposed to be opinionated. If you are, then you are a columnist. As a columnist, you analyse, you put forth your views and opinions. I have no problems with that. But in a television debate, a newscaster is not supposed to be an opinion maker. He has to be a moderator which we haven’t learnt even today.