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September 18, 1998


Clinic All Clear-Rahul Dravid

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Fat lot of good

Saurabh Shukla. Click for bigger pic!
You see this plump chap in khakhi, talking so sincerely into the mobile phone and you guess he's busy. Particularly since the phone beeps so often. In Bollywood, having so many calls and being willing to chat on so long, is a sign of success. Then you find it is his wife who's calling. And not just for some business-like stuff about more provisions for the home either.

We remember he is just married, the wife being Barnali, whom he worked with in Ram Gopal Varma's Satya. The lady was Varma's assistant director. And we mentally correct ourselves -- Saurabh Shukla is not just an actor, but a writer too.

We caught up with Saurabh on the sets of the serial Colgate Top Ten at Filmistan studios, Goregaon. The man was mugging up his lines, breaking off to work on the script along with director Ajit Pal. And then back again.

As we watch him at work, we think of how, with the success of Satya, Saurabh proved he knew what the audience wanted and what the critics could still accept.

And still, as we watch, the man works on. A minute spent on the chat, another on his lines, and some on the director's new script. And then, finally, he gets up heavily to go and deliver his lines. Finally the unit breaks up for lunch.

Most relieved, you zero in on him and find Saurabh engaged in some boisterous chat with the rest of the unit. There are no airs about him; he's really one amongst them. This, you realise that the man's affability is a result of his roots -- firmly set in theatre. The conversation begins.

"I'm basically from the stage. I'm a playwright. I also used to act and direct," he tells you as you settle down.

"Theatre gives you scope to experiment," he says Two of his scripts found their way into plays at the National Theatre Festival and the man is mighty thrilled about it. "One was Uljhan and the other was Tandav. This was a major achievement."

He also wrote a serial called9, Malabar Hill, loosely based on the Count of Monte Cristo.

"I wasn't interested in writing. I didn't want to make it my career because it is not rewarding. It was at that time that Ramu (Ram Gopal Varma) called me.

But before that Vidhu Vinod Chopra had already called me. I was also writing Kareeb for him. Again, I wasn't the main writer, I was the associate writer with Kaamna Chandra and Abhijit Joshi."

Satya, Shukla tells you, was not a new subject.

"I really liked the subject. Ramu gave us full freedom to do what we wanted. And playing within the scenes was a good feeling. My favourite scene was when Satya and Bhiku Mhatre come back home after killing Jagga. Bhiku slaps his wife and she slaps him back when the friend goes away. That scene, was used to establish their relationship, was an experiment. I am proud of writing it."

Is what why the film did well.

"No one can answer whether it was the story or the performances that made the film click. But if you ask anyone in the unit, they will tell you the film clicked in its entirety. The script is absolutely right, meaning that the tone and the dialogues were absolutely correct. The characterisation was very well-conceived. But then it was the director who understood the script and added to it in the right measure.

"Finally it is a visual medium. The actors had tremendous understanding of the script. Like what Manoj has played, it can be played wrong and it can go terribly wrong. In Satya, there is no one thing that can be isolated as a good thing. There is a lot of darkness in the film but I don't know why film makers shy away from dark humour."

Click for bigger pic!
And now he is in big demand as a writer.

"I am writing one film for Vikram Bhatt, on the complex institution of the police, another for Ramesh Sippy -- a thriller. For a change, even I am happy writing a thriller. I don't accept everything and anything that is comes up for writing... Ah, then there is another film I've completed.

Like Satya, it is a different film, a 90-minute film -- an experiment.

Mr Bachchan too has asked me to write. But then, I'll write only if I get a good story."

And Shukla wants to act too, and has found roles in Subhash Ghai's Taal, Abbas Mustan's Badsha and Rahul Rawail's Arjun Pandit. He also has two films for release Zakhm and Mahesh Bhatt's Yeh Hai Mumbai Meri Jaan.

I am very lucky that I get such different roles. In Satya, I have a different role from that in Kareeb. The roles are poles apart. So people are reacting to my acting capabilities differently too.

"In Badsha I am playing bad guy. In Taal I play Anil Kapoor's friend, a kind-hearted man. Since Anil doesn't speak much, I play his official spokesperson. In Arjun Pandit, I play a cold-blooded killer interested only in death and cricket. He is not interested in anything. He just wants India to win. In Yeh Hai Mumbai Meri Jaan, I'm the owner of a company who is constantly under stress. In Zakhm, I play a kind hearted Sardarji."

Saurabhi wasn't interested in acting when he was younger.

"I wanted to be a good student, but failed. Then I wanted to be a painter since I was good in drawing when in school, But I feel I'm not a good painter now. I was also a good table tennis player, so I thought I'd become one. That too didn't happen. Then like every young Indian boy I wanted to be a cricketer.. Finally, I came into theatre and became an actor. Then I got into writing, but now I hope to be a director some day. I am not well-equipped for it now but will when I am."

Saurabh came with his parents to Delhi at the age of two from Gorakhpur. After finishing his schooling, Saurabh joined Khalsa College, New Delhi. In 1984, he entered theatre.

"Two years later, I started serious theatre and I did a couple of serious plays like View From The Bridge by Arthur Miller, Look Back In Anger by John Orborne, Ghasiram Kotwal and Hayvadan. I joined NSD Repertoire Company -- and not the school. One is the professional wing, the other the school wing. I joined them as an actor in 1991. In 1992 I did Bandit Queen and the next year I came to Bombay."

This was where he met his wife too. "I was working on Satya when I met Barnali, who was assisting Ram Gopal Varma in the film. We met, clicked and got married." That was very quickly dealt with.

But wasn't there were stories about how he waffled in proposing to her. "Oh that! I had acted in one episode of a serial called Rishtey, where I played a fat man. The name of the episode was Ae Mote! I was telling a journalist that the story was very much like what happens real life. The journalist interpreted it in his own way. Anyway, was not his fault."

Shukla is on top of the world and shows it.

"It's a great feeling being in love. You have someone to share something with you. I've been a bachelor for a long time and I know that if you don't start sharing, things tend to lose meaning. It doesn't give you satisfaction. You need to share your happiness, sorrow, money and everything.

I've not tasted success that way. I still have to go a long way. I just hope that I get roles and chance to write stories that I want to. It has been happening till date. No one has forced me to do what I don't want. I have not worked for money. I just wish it keeps happening. Wish me good luck."

We did.

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