Bheeshma Pitamaha', 'Shaktimaan' or 'Mukesh Khanna'. The choice is yours. Theatre person, sometime movie actor and ultimately tele star, Khanna has come a long way. Not forgetting he is also a business man. He spoke at length to 'Nupur Rekhy' about his talents and business and the two TV personnae that he has to constantly live out. To which he says: "I simply love it."
How did 'Mahabharat' and 'Shaktimaan' happen?
Earlier I did not believe in destiny but after 'Mahabharat' I started believing. You see what happened was that when they were looking for people for the series all they wanted were tall people so I got noticed for that. They offered me the role of 'Duryodhana' but it was a negative role and I refused it. So I got landed with 'Bheeshma Pitamaha'. The role and the serial were a super success. Later Doordarshan again wanted to make a serial with me so 'Shaktimaan' happened. It was entirely my concept and I had wanted to make a movie of it but then we decided to make a serial instead.
Why are you so against negative roles?
I will never do negative and weak roles because I feel I am responsible towards my audience. Morals are very important to me and I take my roles very seriously and the image I project even more so. If I do a negative role I believe I am sending out a clear message to a guy living in a chawl or 'Rae bareily' that even he can be bad. I strongly feel that heroes should not do negative roles as people think that if a hero like xyz can do it why can't he. They can deny their responsibility towards moral obligations but I feel that's wrong because 'showbizz or no biz' we all are answerable for the messages we give out as they have a strong impact. See even Manmohan Desai offered me a negative role right after 'Pitamaha' but I just didn't want to do it, as negativism is not in me. I can't do something which I don't have the capacity to do, and I anyway want to come on screen as a strong person.
You have a grouse against the film industry. Why?
Unfortunately in this film industry the market value and the saleability of the actor is what counts. His talent is not an issue. After my movies flopped there were still so many to be completed but they were all put on hold and even now there are some films where only three or six reels are still left to be completed. What I say is if you are a good director and you see a new actor who suits your character you should take him because you have to make a good movie. A director's concerns should be only that. But they will sign 20 movies with a hit hero even though he is unfit for the role and if later the same hero gives flops he will be dropped from any remaining projects. It's total hypocrisy.
You had a tough time breaking your bearded image. How did you do it ?
Yes you can bet I did but then again it so sad that in India an actor gets branded for his whole life. See 'Gufi Paintal' told me it that I'll never be able to break my 'Pitamaha' image. When 'Yalgar' was offered to me and I was to be the father of Feroze Khan I had no problem. If I could do a 160-year-old then certainly I could become a 65-year-old father. But it became a joke in the industry as I had not put on a beard and my 'son' [Feroze Khan] looked 55. And one thing that I swear I'll never do is a 'bearded role'. It's very irritating and it's not me. I have refused no end of offers as they required me to wear a 'daadi'. See there is nothing wrong with images but it's the repetitive roles offered that's boring. I need to have an image that I am comfortable with.
What methods do you follow in acting?
I don't believe in copying. I have no expectations and I am a very serious actor. I don't spend too much time studying but I need to have the script before hand and I need it all. I must know what I am doing and that's why when I was offered serial called 'Krishna' I had asked for the entire script before I said 'yes'. The people concerned couldn't digest this so I refused. And I like to act in the language I am used to as I am big here and this is where I got my recognition. I am wary of this method acting business. I don't try and get myself into a depression if the role demands a depressed character. I totally follow what Sanjeev Kumar used to say: "That an actor should be like a tap, just switch on and off when you desire and leave the image for the screen only." See the body is an instrument. Earlier I used to study the get-up of Clint Eastwood and I had all these files made of people I wanted to be like but I learnt that acting is all about mind resistance. Like at the FTII Naseerudhin Shah found dancing the most difficult thing to do but he overcame that just by understanding that if you have resistance to the character then you can't carry it off well. So basically I did yoga and got a distinction in the institute. And more than anything I look honest and honest men become actors.
Have you done something to improvise your acting skills?
I have cultivated my voice. I used to speak very fast and sometimes still do. My brother used to say 'pakode talta hai'. I used to go to British library and pick books on voice. I did a lot of exercises to get the depth and level of voice. But you can only give quantity and not quality as that you are born with and luckily I was. In Hollywood actors have such fabulous control over their voice, even a taxi driver will bring out such variations in his voice that every one will notice which unfortunately in our industry no one has not even Amitabh Bachchan or Dilip Kumar though he tried. We all go till Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, but in Hollywood they go beyond this and that is one of the reasons their movies come out to be more natural.
What would you say are your achievements?
I have achieved the super hero image, which I like and thus have started my own 'Shaktimaan'merchandising which no other actor over here has ever done. I have been featured in Wall Street Journal on the front page reflecting on my positive influence on children.I have received letters from the external affairs minister and the prime minister saying that I have done a very good thing in choosing the role of 'Shaktimaan' and keeping up to it. And for the first time in India there is going to be a new video game called 'shaktimaan' on indiagames.com.
Whom do you take as your idols?
I have no idols. I respect Dilip Kumar. See if you consider someone as your idol then the camera will never let you come out as yourself. Raaj Kumar used to never take glycerin but in one of the scenes where we had an extremely emotionally charged scene I came across so strong that for the first time even he took glycerin. So I feel my not having any idol has only helped me as that gives me lot of naturalness.
What is 'Shaktimaan' in real life?
Well, for starters I am not married and not because I do not want to be. Maybe it is destiny. 'Shaktimaan' does not smoke or drink or gamble. I never abuse ever, maximum I say is 'stupid' or 'gaddha' (donkey). I don't believe in shouting or getting angry. Rather I believe in action. I am a blue belt in martial arts but generally I don't like to use it. I have immense respect for women and I always like the atmosphere around them to be graceful. I am not aggressive or offensive or insecure maybe because of 'Pitamaha' as that role gave me tonnes of confidence and yeah I believe in religion and god.
What are the things you have quit doing?
I have never done anything I never wanted to do. I never do anything, which will spoil my image, and to quite some extent I have stopped signing television and movies completely. I have become a producer and believe in giving. I have even refused a 'Subhash Ghai' movie. I no more have a secretary as they are of no use to me. I enjoy acting and choose my roles very carefully. I don't believe in soap operas and my 'Bheeshm' production house will never make a 'Hum Paanch'. I will surely make a Star Wars remake with special effects.
What is your trade mark?
I always carry a scarf as my style but otherwise I am not very particular. But I do select my own dresses and have my own tailor