Television

"Imitating people is a natural art. It cannot be practiced" : Suresh Menon

He chats with the sultry Negar Khan, in a discotheque, as Amol Palekar's famous screen characters Lakshman Prasad Sharma and Ram Prasad Sharma. While chatting with Gurdas Mann, in a dhaba, he is Navjot Singh Siddhu. With Mandira Bedi, he chatted up as Krishnamachari Srikkanth.

With Abhishek Bachchan, he was the sports coach in a park, and while rendezvous with Farah Khan he was dressed up as principal in a class room. The 'Pillai' character that he portrayed - about the man who always lands up at the wrong place at the wrong time - has become a household name. That's the interview specialist funny man Suresh Menon (Star Giraftar, etc Supermard, etc Haseena ) for you.

"I know and love to make people laugh and will continue to do so," he says.

His other shows include Pandey Pillai (musical comedy), Meri Jaan Hindustan (musical travelogue). Menon has also done many ads and worked in films like Ashoka, Doli Saja Ke Rakhna, Dil To Pagal Hai, Badhai Ho Badhai and Masti among others.

Excerpts from a chat with indiantelevision.com's Vickey Lalwani:

 

How did you start your career in the entertainment industry?

Just like any star-struck youngster would, I started out by trying out my for films in 1993. I went to Dev Anand's Navketan office and gave him my pictures. I waited patiently for three long months, but nothing happened. Then, I devised a trick to promote myself. I called up bigwigs, including the likes of Yash Chopra, introducing myself as an advertising agency professional. I then asked them if they are interested in casting a hero for their next project. I use to fix up appointments with them under pretext of showing them portfolios of wannabe actors. I used to go with just three portfolios - those of myself and two friends. They soon caught my game (chuckles).

 

So, it was a tough struggle at first…

(Interrupts) You can say that again.

 
"Shekhar Suman has political connections. When people make comments on friends, it's not taken seriously"
 

When did the struggle end?

My luck began to improve, later that year, when Zee and other satellite channels were launched. Due to the huge channel spurt, almost everyone got work. Today, the scenario isn't as different. No actor can remain unemployed for a long time; there are many channels and shows and many other media-related opportunities (pauses).

 

Which was your first major break?

It was Main Bhi Detective on Zee TV and then came Shanti and Sorry Meri Lorry.

 

And then followed films, right?

(Smiles sheepishly) Yeah! I always wanted to become a hero. I used to keep long hair and wanted to be as famous as Amitabh Bachchan.

I had realised that comedy was my forte; I could make people laugh. When I heard that Priyadarshan was in town, I called up Good Knight Productions but they did not take me seriously initially. Later on, they called to ask me if I was only keen on hero roles. I said, 'Koi bhi role chalega' (anything will do). They asked me to go and meet Javed Akhtar for Kabhi Na Kabhi. Akhtar saab looked at me and said that I was doing the role. Unfortunately, I could not carve my niche in the films. But, I guess, everything happens for the best and in its own time.

In '99, etc happened.

 

You have quite a quirky method of interviewing people, what with the famous get ups and all. How were these ideas conceived?

It was my brainchild. 'Hi, this is Shah Rukh Khan, blah, blah, blah' has been done to death. I decided that I should play characters.

I dressed up as a principal when I interviewed Farah Khan, for heard that she treated her actors like students. I became a 'bhai' when I interviewed SRK and told him that he had disturbed my business by saying 'main hoon NA It works, actors laugh and loosen up. It all started with Amitabh Bachchan when I dressed up as Pillai and he could not refrain laughing when he saw me. The ice was broken and the conversation became easier.

Actually, I had done that to hide from Bachchan. That man can look into your eyes and make you melt (pauses).

 
"I think most politicians do not know how to laugh at themselves"
 

Go on…

Recently, I even became Simi Garewal, Krishnamachari Srikkanth and Navjot Singh Sidhu. Srikkanth has been an old favourite. He was better to portray than Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara. He did not take his cricket seriously. But till date, I have not seen any batsman hitting the ball as hard as him.

 

Have all actors liked the concept such thematic interviews?

Only Fardeen Khan didn't seem to appreciate. He asked me to take off the moustache and wig. I initially asked my crew if we could pack up. I felt terribly hurt. Even I have an ego. You may be Fardeen Khan, but even I am not a non-entity. I went on to remove the make-up and things settled down, but the interview thereafter was very boring. Fardeen's interview was the most boring interview I have done so far

 

Who does your make-up?

There is a guy at etc Arun Gere. He works on my entire look.

 

You even dressed as Simi Garewal. How did it feel to dress like a woman?

(Laughs). A lot of work goes into the making of a woman, much more than what goes in the making of a male celebrity. During childhood, I used to throw a tantrum if someone applied a lipstick on me. Today, I am doing it passionately for my profession (laughs). Strange are the ways of life!

 

You imitate a lot of celebrities. How can you imitate people? How much do you practice?

Imitating people is a natural art. It cannot be practiced. Although, you need an eye for observation. If you have a knack of imitating someone, you can certainly better it. But if you don't have it, you cannot generate it. That does not mean I can imitate everybody.

Like for one, I cannot imitate Bachchan, Sunny Deol, Jeetendra. This is where my characterisation concept helps. You need not sound exactly like Bachchan to do a spoof on him.

 

Have people called you and said that why are you imitating them? Has anybody felt offended?

Not yet. Just once, SRK asked jokingly, 'Tu mere ko imitate karta hai?' I just replied, 'Shah Rukh, imitation is the best form of flattery." He smiled. Actors take it in their stride. They have learnt to laugh at themselves.

 

Have you imitated Balasaheb Thackeray?

No. But I believe he has a very good sense of humour. A man who made cartoons has to be a funny man at heart.

 
"You need not sound exactly like Bachchan to do a spoof on him"
 

Then why haven't you imitated him? You just said that 'imitation is the best form of flattery'.

There is a very thin line here. What if I cross that? Surely, I don't want some Shiv Sainiks throwing stones at my house. Somehow, I have kept away from the political arena. I think most politicians do not know how to laugh at themselves.

 
But has the channel too contributed? I mean, will it allow you do an imitation on Balasaheb?

Yes. The channel won't let me touch any political party.
 

But what about Shekhar Suman...

(Interrupts) Shekhar Suman has got away with murder.

How?

Suman has political connections. Even Bharat Dabholkar has made comments on Shiv Sena. When people make comments on friends, it's not taken seriously.
 

Is it easy to make people laugh?

It's not easy. Even if they do laugh, you can't hold their attention throughout the show. People laugh for a while, they invariably get distracted. Nobody can go on laughing. But if with every joke or one-liner I get 20 per cent of my audience to laugh, I think I have done my job.

 

What you do when you get less than 20 per cent results?

I start doing something different. I don't believe in bound scripts. You cannot have a rigid format for gags. Like for once, I was talking about chemical warfare and the reactions that I recived were not up to the desired level. I shifted the topic to a local train. I said, "I was enjoying my train ride so much that I didn't realize that the train had stopped and the movements I was feeling was because the guy behind me was moving." (laughs)

 

You mean to say vulgar jokes go well?

It's difficult to say. You have to constantly keep experimenting. Humour is something that is very relative. We often experience that in daily life. Crack a joke, one person may laugh till tears roll down his eyes, the other person might call it a poor joke!

 

Getting slightly specific. On a 1-10 scale, how do you rate the Indian sense of humour?

Two!

Sad but true. For instance, if I crack jokes about Malyalees in Kerala, I would be booed. Indians are too sensitive. They take too much interest in insignificant things. I do not know whether to laugh or cry when some so-called righteous women protest against Mallika Sherawat's show of skin. Have these same women botherd to clothe the poor people on the roads? Our priorities are so wrong. Even if we feel correctly, we don't voice it right.

 
Elaborate.

Like, if we are impressed with Sonia Gandhi's decision not to become PM, we will refrain saying it in public just because of her origin is foreign. At least, I have no reservations on this.
 
But she had no choice. The Left parties refused to lend support...

(Interrupts) The same left parties are still going to bring this government down!
 
Are you trying to say that you grow as a person, if you develop a good sense of humour?

Exactly. Sab TV is contributing to this cause. I wish Star Plus too should take some initiative. Somebody is plotting a conspiracy, somebody has died, somebody has vanished... there is an overdose of all this.
 
You have an uncanny resemblance to Sajid Khan. Comment.

You are the nth person telling me that. My wife once suspected that Sajid and I were sleeping together (laughs).

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