'An actor is not man enough if he is not greedy' : Shekhar Suman

"Have to go, get poked and made fun of by Shekhar Suman on Movers and Shakers," wrote Khushwant Singh, renowned author and columnist, after being invited for the show. Later, he returned home in a gleeful mood after a session of wisecracks made at each other's expense. "That's precisely the whole idea of coming on the chat show. To explore your own funny side and laugh at yourself," says Suman. "It's like when I put a question across to you, don't complain as to why was it done this way or that way? Just play," he quips.

Considered a blabber-box by some, Suman is rated one of the best television personalities of the millennium by many. A student of history before stepping into the television world, he did theatre and movies - some good, some terrible - before making his bow on television with
Dekh Bhai Dekh and Main. He has enjoyed tremendous success over the past few years in television serials and now anchors Movers and Shakers, a talk show, and Jab Khelo Sab Khelo, a game show, which have further cemented his claim to tele-fame. At this point he can be safely termed the king of television, Amitabh Bachchan and his Kaun Banega Crorepati gameshow not withstanding.

After every steep rise there is a sudden fall is the standing wisdom but Shekhar Suman has his own take on it. "You reach the top of one mountain, then there are other peaks waiting to be conquered," he quips. And as if to prove this Suman, who would "cringe" while watching some of the not-so-good (that's putting it charitably) movies he's done, is back to acting on the big screen with Kundan Shah's
Kasam Se after a nearly eight-year gap.

As if the self -proclaimed "
greedy" actor's donning the mantle of 'Personality of the Millennium' isn't enough, the never-say-die actor wants to give the likes of Billy Crystal a run for his money by hosting the Oscars. "Oh wish I was there hosting the Oscars when I see it," he asserts with typical Suman bravado.'s correspondent Harsha Khot met Shekhar Suman at his residence in Andheri and went away quite impressed by the experience.

Excerpts from the interview:

How do you select a role? What sort of role appeals to you?

I cannot exactly pinpoint what excites me. But I normally get a feel of whether I'll like it or not after it is narrated to me. A role of a blind man, a psychopath, a comatose character would excite me. It would depend on how the character is written and sketched and the way it is going be presented. I suppose the excitement occurs when the director reads out the story where the characterisation is not too sketchy and it is a well-delineated role. The excitement also occurs when I have to think and re-think what effort it will take to bring out the character.

How do you work towards bringing out a character?

It is an internal mental thinking process. It not something that you put down on paper and say you would go from A to B to C. It's an internalised process. I don't think first of all that in India you have such complex characters to play. But within the periphery you can play them in terms of shades of attitude and circumstances. The attitude is very important in the character. That should decide everything else. That would decide the way he behaves, the way he dresses up, the way he thinks and what sort of equation he will have with others. These are some of the factors that decide how the character would be like.

After I listen to the role, then I give a thought to fleshing out the character. But then again I don't do a lot of homework. I would definitely think about it, but I would not overdo the whole thing, because I feel for a lot of performances it is better to be an instinctive actor rather than a method actor. Somehow, no matter how clever you are, the method starts showing, while when the acting is instinctive, straight from the heart, the viewers enjoy it. A method is well planned, orchestrated as in well organised. It's a mechanised and robotic way of emoting. For instance say my hand moves here in a certain way, in a certain direction, just while talking facing the lights in front. In this you are so conscious about the method that somewhere the emphasis shifts from the role to the method. There is nothing wrong in that.

There are a lot of people who rely on method. In fact Dustin Hoffman's anecdote about method acting in Marathon Man is a well know story. He followed this method, where he would run for miles together and come exhausted to the set and promptly faint. Exasperated, he asked his director what should he do. To which the director replies: 'Try acting.' When you act instinctively, the acting is straight and you are reacting straight to the given situation or the character. I think there is great honesty and truth in it which people relate to.

Do you follow any aspect of method acting at all?

Method in many small doses, yes. Something like when you have to cry; it's an emotional scene and you do not want to use glycerine, you obviously bank on something called emotional memory. An actor also has a bank of experiences, which he can draw on from memory where you think of a situation and those emotions. Other than than at times I really would not mind taking a few rounds around the sets for a little exasperated look but that's it. I would rather react instinctively than do my homework on how do I say my lines differently.

Do you see to it that the characters you play are different?

I guess so. There are people who have seen me closely and have let me know that the character I played in Dekh Bhai Dekh, his reactions were different from those of the one in Reporter. In Reporter the role demands a very unassuming, well meaning, down to earth more intense investigative journalist.His manner and attitude were more intense, more ponderous and in terms of dialogue quite opposite to the character in Dekh Bhai Dekh.

Mandira Bedi with Shekhar Suman in tele serial Main
Samir Hegde in Reporter was so different from Samir Diwan in Dekh Bhai Dekh. They both were coming at the same time and both had same name. Another serial is Main where the character has lots of attitude, a tinge of snobbishness and shades of arrogance. Meanwhile, what I do in Movers and Shakers is my persona. That is me. I don't play any character but I am handling different characters. Like I said there are not such strongly etched characters that would be mind-blowingly different. The thing is that in India you don't see strongly sketched characters. Take for instance Amitabh Bachchan. In all his movies you would see the basic Amitabh Bachchan ingredients: his voice, his reactions, his looks are essentially


Even actors like Shahrukh Khan and Dilip Kumar are not so different. As against the situation abroad where you get strongly etched characters. When Dustin Hoffman is in different roles he is difficult to recognise. It takes a couple of minutes to realise, oh, this is Jack Nicholson, or Robert De Niro. So keeping in mind the given situation; within limits, we try and give different shades in terms of stressing on the character's attitude.

On your chat show Movers and Shakers are you cautious about rubbing your guests the wrong way. Has it ever happened?

Yah, of course I take care about that. So far I have interviewed nearly 1,300 people and I never felt that I had rubbed someone the wrong way but inadvertently, unknowingly, unwittingly, it may just happen. In fact it happened only recently in an interview with a famous poet lyricist who I will not name and who has a terrific sense of humour. The interview went off very well and it just sort of dropped out while we were talking about how one should learn from mistakes and not repeat them. And I said there are people who get married twice. It's a mistake of every man who gets married.

See, basically this is a general statement. I think all of us who are married make fun of our marriage, but it is not taken seriously. All husbands make fun of their wives, but it is only a sweet way of looking at it. If you read Shatrughan Sinha's column in Filmfare most of the jokes are directed at his wife. All people with a sense of humour will make fun of their wives. Sometimes you might not want to hurt somebody but it just happens. Sometimes, people become defensive. Maybe they don't want to talk about it then I swing around to something else because the idea is not to hurt but to have fun. Fun but not at somebody's cost; I don't get personal on the show. We are known for professional competence or incompetence. But then again it is a matter of perception, what is good for you may be bad for me, and vice-versa. Honey for me could be poison for you.


Shekhar Suman with communications minister Ram Vilas Paswan in Movers and Shakers

I have interviewed nearly 1,300 people and I never felt that I had rubbed someone the wrong way but inadvertently, unknowingly, unwittingly, it may just happen.


How did you handle the situation?

It wasn't that bad. The slips are there because you weren't careful enough. Had I been more alert it wouldn't have happened.

At times on the show you manage to hit right on the button and bring out a crucial point of view in a humorous way which otherwise could have been taken in a different way. How do you manage that?

It is purely the intention. Like I said, my intention with all my guests is not to hurt them. I have high regard for them. They are there because of their talent, and I obviously respect their talent. All the people on my show are there because I respect them, if I didn't they wouldn't be sitting across talking to me. What makes it so special when they come on Movers and Shakers is they know they are going be in for a funny time. However their reactions also depend on their frame of mind at that time. When they come on the show they laugh at themselves. The idea is not to be derogative.

How do you prepare for the show?

I don't.

Don't you read up to keep in touch with news and such?

The usual standard bit. The kind of preparation you are talking about is of course now second nature to us. We have completed nearly 600 episodes. We have 12 writers working on it. I also write, contribute ideas about how it has to be expanded. Every day I am sent the matter (stand up routines) which I go though and by the morning I am prepared. I rattle off about 12 minutes of stand up. And I am given the information about the guest, which I go through in five minutes before the show takes off.

You are in a position to choose any project that comes you way. What prompted you to do the Zenith computer ads which is a spoof on the talk show?

I don't see anything wrong it. A computer ad is a computer ad. The ad is a spoof on the talk show that's what the show is all about. I think it is funny. It appealed to me that they were doing it on the lines of Movers and Shakers.

You have the reached the pinnacle in television, what next?

I think when you scale one peak there are still new peaks to be conquered. I have gone through the gamut and rigmarole of all tele-serials. Television in terms of serials doesn't interest me at this point because I have done it all. Unless it is something different on a larger budget. And that's why I shifted to theatre and film. I find these more challenging. An actor is always looking for a new high. As for Movers and Shakers, the talk show is of course challenging. We have to create history everyday. It is very challenging like in newspapers you have think of new headlines and editorials, you have to come out with new ideas. As far as television serials go, today it is only a money-making exercise. I think they have run out of ideas. Writers are churning out the same trash so it doesn't appeal to me. Films are of course different.

Tell us about your forthcoming Hindi movie Kasam Se.

I am coming back in Hindi movies after nearly seven to eight years with Kasam Se and only because finally I found the right reason to do so. To an actor, the biggest excitement is either the role or the director that he is going to work for. Now I have both. The reason why I left films was I wasn't getting this kind of excitement. I have always admired Kundan Shah for the films he has made. He is a very easygoing director. Unlike everybody else, he doesn't carry an air of non-existent greatness. Since he is approachable one can understand him on as well off the set. He narrated the story about two friends. Sunil (Shetty) and I are friends and the story revolves around a will that has to come through a legacy and us trying to retrieve the will and the money.

What about the role you play in the movie appealed to you?

I play a lawyer who commits one faux pas after another. It's a fun character who makes more mistakes as the story proceeds.

Are you selecting only comic roles?

No, as a matter of fact the next movie that I am doing with Kalpana Lajmi is a serious role. In the movie the characters are quite serious, earnest, honest but yet keep falling into trouble. So there is a lot of fun in the film as the situations are hilarious. Then there is another movie about a cop and a prostitute. That's a very serious drama. Actually, I enjoy doing serious roles as much as comedy. It is just that people tend to enjoy comedy more since it leaves the audience with a pleasant feeling that lingers in the mind. Besides, nowadays people are occupied with serious thoughts and are often times worried and depressed so they look forward to lighter moments.

Which are the actors that you admire? Among them what is the common quality you like?

Definitely it's been Sanjeev Kumar, Dilip Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan. They are very competent actors. Sincerity, honesty, the craft they have shows through in their works. They know the craft. You judge a good driver by seeing the way the car is manoeuvred on the road. If the car chugs waywardly and if there isn't a learner sign on the car you know it is a women driver. (Suman has to get one in sideways). The same is the case for actors.

What tests your patience?

Inefficiency, incompetence and people who lack energy. At work I want things done right away and I presume that the people around me understand this for we are there for the same job. So if the assistant doesn't understand what I am trying to say, or the cameraman doesn't catch the right angle or the director doesn't know when to say cut, then I get angry. And when I am angry I am really horrible. That is one side of me that I hate. I lose my temper very fast and could be terrible and use bad words. That's the only part I dislike about myself.

Don't you intend to change it?

That is something a biological. I don't know what I could normally do to avoid them but yes I should try and control myself better.

What role would you be averse to doing?

Idiotic roles. That make no sense. The normal hero material roles which you get to see in Indian cinema. The ones where the actor is bouncing, dancing around trees in Switzerland and other places. I don't think I could do that or buffoonery. People think comedy is one of the easiest things to do, Especially when people know you have a good sense of timing. They give you anything stupid and expect you to make wonders out of it.

The scenes have to be conceptualised very well and written very well. An actor can only improvise and make the scene look better. He cannot make a sad scene look good, but he can make a good scene look better.

Has theatre helped you?

Yeah, definitely. Theatre is something that is right there in front of the audience. It gives you a terrific sense of confidence, to go out on a limb. Take risks as an actor. If you want to improvise, you should take a lot of risks.

How do you improvise on your skills?

My improvising is a reflex action. You just know how to go about it like if a person crosses the street and you are driving you don't know how you are going to brake you just hit the brakes.

What does it take to be a good actor?

Only God makes good actors. You have to be born with the art. It's like the difference between a real plant and an artificial one. You can make an artificial plant resemble the real one but nevertheless it remains artificial. Similarly you can be an actor. But the good actors are naturally gifted.

How would you define God?

Nature. The unknown powers which govern you. Genes. Destiny.

So what makes a good actor?

Imagination, mental sense of observation, honesty and a tremendous sense of recall. As an actor you have to be honest with yourself and your work for if it's a half-hearted attempt it won't help. Acting is not like homework that you do in bits and parts. A little now, a little later. You have to give it the whole. An actor is somebody who can imagine himself to be like that. I imagine myself to be a doctor. If I came across the doctor and have a sense of observation then I observe the way they behave, talk, walk and to be able to recall that and reproduce that needs a tremendous amount of imagination.

What is your opinion of critics?

It is their job, I suppose to each his own. Everyone has an opinion. You are there and successful because there are more people who are there and have a good opinion than the ones who don't. What matters is people think good of you.

How do you react to criticism?

Then again you are your best judge. I think you have to view it very objectively . And in the process re-analyse yourself whether it is said in the right context in the right way. You have to ask yourself 'Is he right about you?' and you can definitely find the answer in yourself. Then you could speak to your near and dear ones and do something about that.

Do you do that?

Yes, a lot of things that were said and not done it in a particular way, I have corrected my shortcomings. A good actor is also someone who more than 'what to do' knows 'what not to do.' And that 'what not to do' is important. If a good critic writes these are the things he should not. So when a person says something that makes sense that I tell myself, 'oh I shouldn't use that much of hand movement too often, yah, I think I blink my eyes and move my eyebrows a lot, I should control them. I tend to speak too fast and I lose on the clarity, but if I can speak fast and retain the clarity.' Yes, then he is wrong.

I realised my ability is to speak fast and retain the clarity. People say they relate to it. They come up to me and say, 'you have a lot of energy, you speak so fast.' Then I say I don't know. 'You must stick to it we like that about you,' they say. When you are able to be something, do something and people like it you have reached a point in a right way. People tell me I tend to squirm too much, and my wife said 'yes, they are right' and I realised 'yah, I look very ugly doing that,' so I make a conscious effort not to do that.

What are the things you would love to do but haven't been able to?

As an actor first of all, I should be in all the Hollywood movies. All those Oscars that go to Al Pacino should come to me. I should be there standing there making those speeches. I think one should be greedy. If you don't have that greed then the actor is not man? man enough.

I wish to read up a lot on economics, politics, help the underprivileged and society in any way that I am able to?. and play a musical instrument.

Are these just fantasies or are you doing something about it?

I am in process of keeping time aside where I could arrange for a tutor and learn the piano. So maybe in five years I could be playing a music instrument. It is not something utopian. I will do it.

So how do you see yourself?

From the way I look and see myself I think I am a fun-loving guy. I pass a lot of cracks at everyone, myself included. I think the first stone should be hurled at yourself, and I feel humour is imperative and an integral part of our life. You must learn not to take our life seriously, there's always a fun-filled side to it and you should see that. And I don't take anything too seriously either. Neither my success, not my failure and not my fame, for it is not here to stay. I think what is not to stay, what is transient, should not be taken seriously. But the way I react in M&S is not always me. In the interview section that is more of me, the way I react, I think those mannerism are mine.

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