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Not just an American in Bollywood: The Evolution of Prashantt Guptha

Interview by Mike Barnum

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Born and raised in Queens, New York (his family hails from Jaipur, in the Indian state of Rajasthan), Prashantt Guptha has had an artistic bent almost from the very beginning. As a youngster he took part in local festivals where he would often dress in costume, and later he began appearing in stage productions. His father’s love of old Bollywood further inspired Prashantt and helped lead him to consider a career in film.

In 2006 the aspiring actor was cast in the made-in-Guyana comedy Rainbow Raani, which then led to a part in an Indian romantic drama titled Ek Vivaah…Aisa Bhi starring Sonu Sood and Isha Koppikar. An extremely versatile actor, Prashantt has appeared in a variety of roles such as that of a bus passenger victimized by a witch in Kaalo, a doomed film-maker in 6-5=2, a spurned lover in Issaq, and a cruel police inspector in Identity Card. In last year’s superhit Neerja, Prashantt had a pivotal role as an Indian-American terrorized by hijackers, and in his most recent release, the eco-thriller Irada (2017), he plays a Punjabi Sikh battling industrial corruption.

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Amrya Dastur and Prashantt Guptha in IRADA

Though now based in Mumbai, Prashantt still keeps a U.S. connection as his family continues to reside on the east coast where they have a successful jewelry business. On the professional side, he is a partner in the Los Angeles based development and production company, Mulberry Films, as well as acting as India’s ambassador for the Festival of Globe – Silicon Valley. Recently, while visiting California on business, Prashantt was kind enough to talk at length about his work…past, present and future.

Mike Barnum:           It seems a number of things led you to become an actor.

Prashantt Guptha:   My interest for acting stems from two factors in particular. Growing up in New York, the community had annual cultural programs during the festival of Diwali, and I was a regular participant. I believe I started at the age of 3. In that category there was a costume based segment in which we could dress up like any famous character. I remember having once been Lord Shiva, and another time, Prince Salim. As I got older, I started dancing, doing poetry recitals and stage drama, and collectively, over the years, I feel this is where the actor in me was born. The other major aspect to support this inner drive was my father’s deep rooted love for classic Hindi cinema, like the films of Dilip Kumar, films made by Bimal Roy, and the music and songs of the 1940’s and 50’s era. So, very secretly, film appreciation and the craft of acting was developing, and it all came out around my turning 18.

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MB:     In a few of your films you are credited as Prashant Kumar, but now you are known as Prashantt Guptha.

PG:     I was born as Prashant Kumar Gupta. In my early years, I dropped the surname and hence a lot of my profiling online is under the old name.  The altered spelling was a desperate act of succumbing to numerology to make the name add up to a more favorable energy.

MB:     How did things get rolling for you?

PG:     My start was as methodical as asking my family for permission to pursue an acting career and to enroll in acting classes if I promised to also pursue a finance degree in college. I had to also graduate from both within four years and dive right into the unknown world of showbiz. My father had one basic instruction: “Go and figure it out, you have my support. If you lose interest or heart, stop and join the family biz.” My first stint in front of the camera was a commercial for a then newly launched marriage portal called Shaadi.com. It did well, came on TV regularly and was even in print in all the ‘desi’ papers.

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Prashantt (in jeans jacket) with the rest of the cast of RAINBOW RAANI

MB:     Tell me about your debut in Rainbow Raani.

PG:     Yes, Rainbow Raani was my first feature film and it was shot in Georgetown, Guyana. It didn’t have a release except for in Guyana. I got involved through a big Bollywood show promoter in New York by the name of Kamal Dandona, who introduced me to the producer/director of the film, Mickey Nivelli. Mickey happened to also live in Forest Hills, my childhood town in Queens, New York. I still remember my first phone call and he was as warm as ever, and still is. He invited me to his home and assured me the lead role was mine. Since then, I became his star-boy (as they say in Guyana), assistant, and like a son. You would be delighted to know that he was originally called Harbance Kumar when he was in Mumbai, and he was the close friend and manager of legendary Indian film star Sunil Dutt.

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MB:     Afterwards you then shifted to India and quickly found work there.

PG:     My first film in India was Rajshri Production’s Ek Vivah… Aisa Bhi (2008). A simple referral, walk-in meeting and a follow-up a few months later made this film happen and trust me, this was the easiest to obtain. But the journey thereafter, hmm, that’s a whole different story.

MB:     Why did you choose to go to India for acting roles?

PG:     As an Indian in New York, the opportunities were limited. So to make a film career, it was between Mumbai or Los Angeles, and my connect with Hindi films was far deeper, especially at that time, hence I moved to Mumbai.

MB:     You have appeared in a couple of interesting horror films, with Wilson Louis’ Kaalo (2010) being the first.

PG:     Kaalo was well made and a phenomenal experience in the making. To have an actual creature-feature come out of Bollywood is not an everyday attempt by a producer who has a low-budget, a non star-driven cast, and perhaps not a big enough audience for the genre. Kaalo was a clean-cut attempt at creating something new for audiences. It’s been over 7 years since its release and it is still regularly shown on TV. I have liked several horror films, but more so the ones made in America.

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With Madhurima Tuli in KAALO

MB:     I remember being impressed with the child actress in the film, Swini Khara. What was your impression of her?

PG:     She was great, and is all grown up now. I haven’t met her since the making, long time. I have observed though that children are a common feature in horror films. Not sure why. But as a performer, she was wonderful.

MB:     The film takes place in the desert. Where was it shot, and what were the filming conditions like?

PG:     The film was shot entirely in a village in Jaisalmer district, Rajasthan and it was scorching HOT. No tents, no vanity vans. One full month traveling to the location in a bus and then stationed in a make-shift kind of van and shooting in the sun all day. It was a full daylight shoot so once the sun started setting, we’d pack up. We were told much later that the actual village we shot in was haunted by night. No one could stay there and come out alive.

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Prashantt Guptha (center) is one of several doomed travelers in KAALO

MB:     Your next horror film was 6-5=2, which is about a group of young people hiking in the wilderness where they intend to make a film, and it is a remake of the Kannada language movie of the same name.

PG:     A Bangalore based producer-friend of mine introduced me to the producer who had acquired the rights to remake 6-5=2 in Hindi. Bagging this film was a simple process of referral, based on the previous films I had done, like Issaq and Identity Card. I was cast as the lead, Siddharth, who is an aspiring cinematographer and pretty much the whole film shoots from his point of view.

MB:     Like Kaalo, this film was also shot on location, and the scenery is breathtaking!

PG:     The entire month long schedule of the film was in the state of Karnataka, from where the language Kannada comes. Only whilst shooting there did I come to realize that the mountains, jungles, and outstations of this state are so gorgeous and serene. The trekking was very difficult in many situations, and that brought much reality to the look and feel of the story and characters.

MB:     Do you recall anything about the cast and the crew?

PG:     Like any film, there are some nice and not so nice people. I recall everything and will have to conceal my views for the sake of diplomacy. (Laughs)

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With Disha Kapoor and Niharica Raizada in BLAIR WITCH inspired 6-5=2

MB:     How does the Hindi version compare to the original Kannada version?

PG:     Frankly, I found the Kannada version better, or more authentic. Horror is the type of genre which is really tough to remake. I watched the Kannada version to understand what I was getting into, and it scared the lights out of me. Possibly because I was going in without expectations, as opposed to my own version wherein I shot and lived through the making of the film. That must be why I was less scared [by the Hindi version]. Overall, the Kannada version just seemed more raw and actual found-footage type, whereas the Hindi version had a few people who got involved and ‘attempted’ to make it cinematic. That doesn’t work for the found-footage formula.

MB:     And the Kannada version did better at the box office then the Hindi version.

PG:     The Kannada one was a true Blair Witch success story. The Hindi version wasn’t, for the reasons mentioned. More than anything, every film and person has its own destiny. Lack of promotional strategy also deters a film’s success.

MB:     Are you a fan of horror films?

PG:     I am personally very scared of horror [films]. My heart starts behaving in a very unsettled way and that is not my ideal choice of cinema. Having acted in two horror films already, I can say, though, that it is a genre that is much underutilized in India, and if made on a tight budget and based on characters/urban legends/superstitions that are widely prevalent in India, it could do well, especially today, if commissioned by Netflix or Amazon.

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As Siddarth, a budding cinematrographer, who faces an evil entity in 6-5=2

MB:     Issaq (2013) was a nicely done retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and you have quite a juicy role in it.

PG:     You are right. It was a Hindi adaptation of the story and the director’s treatment was to make it very stylish and contemporary, set in present day Varanasi. It surely was very in-between. Issaq broke the mold of my limitations as an actor. It opened my horizon to approaching and accepting any and every role that has substance to it. It was negative with shades of jealousy, lust, vengeance, and a bit of a romantic side. I enjoyed the process of getting into that space. It requires you to tap into certain aspects of your own persona that you would otherwise keep tamed at bay. I enjoy characters that require me to get out my comfort zone.

MB:     And at times your character was also quite humorous.

PG:     Comedy, as so I am told, is my forte. In a film of mine called Identity Card (2014), there are quite a few humorous situations created by my presence, albeit a serious film. There was no slapstick effect, but there were some subtle and yet deeply tickling moments of humor in my character. And yes, comedy is a genre I love.

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As the vengeance seeking Preetam in ISSAQ

MB      Your biggest film to date is Neerja, the story of the 1986 hijacking of Pan Flight 73, and you have received a lot of notice for your role.

PG:     I am honored and grateful that I got to be a part of this film as it surely is one of the greats of current Indian cinema. The exposure and mileage I received from this film opened many doors for me.

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With Sonam Kapoor in a tense moment from NEERJA

MB:     It is a very serious and somber film, what was the filming like?

PG:     The set was alive and kicking. But the environment in the aircraft was as you saw on screen. Very few people know that the film-making approach to this movie was quite unique. Some of the shots in the plane were actually an hour long. Actually sleeping, actually using the bathroom, or using the upper-deck, all in real-time. It was kept real. The hijack in the film was designed just as in the actual incident, and never before [filming] had the [actors playing the] passengers ever had any interaction with the [actors playing the] terrorists. It was a genuinely successful experiment.

 

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At The Festival of the Globe – Silicon Valley with his  19th JANUARY co-star Deepti Naval

 

MB:     You have done two Kashmir based films.

PG:     19th January (filmed in 2014) has yet to release and is a very hard-hitting drama based on the actual genocide of the same date, in 1990. Beautiful music and an interesting role for me as a modern-day National Investigations Officer doing a case-study on what had happened back in ‘90. The film stars veteran actors Deepti Naval and KK Raina. Both this film and Identity Card were shot in Kashmir, though my portion of 19th January was shot in a Mumbai studio. Specifically, Identity Card was shot in Srinagar and I have only fond and safe memories of it. Beautiful location!

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With Saurabh Shukla in IDENTITY CARD: EK LIFELINE

MB:     Your involvement with Identity Card went beyond just acting in it.

PG:     Oh yes, I was involved in promoting it in the USA for release, and showing the film to various distributors. Not an ideal scenario for an actor, but I tend to give added value to the films I do, especially when a big studio isn’t involved. The film will always be close to my heart. I got much appreciation and acclaim for it.

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As Inspector Dogra in IDENTITY CARD

MB:     Your most recent release is the conspiracy thriller Irada.

PG:     Irada was special because it brought me into the company of acting legend Naseeruddin Shah, and allowed me to become a sardar. It was an overwhelming experience, growing my beard for so many months, understanding the Sikh faith, going to Gurdwara, and of course the actual feel of shooting in Punjab’s prime cities, Patiala and Bhatinda.

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As Bhagat Singh in IRADA

MB:     So what can we expect from you in the near future?

PG:     There are two films ready for release but until announced, I’ll have to keep my lips sealed on that.

MB:     When not making movies, what keeps you busy?

PG:     For relaxation, and all other times when I’m not shooting or working, time is spent in the gym or with my kids and wife, as well as watching film after film or reading book after book, traveling and more often than not, constantly meeting people in the industry. Networking is essentially the name of the game.

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At the premier of IRADA

MB:     You are a modern day actor but you, like your father, have a soft spot for the classics, don’t you.

PG:     I am a huge fan of vintage films and songs. HUGE! Amongst actors, Dilip Kumar and Balraj Sahni of that era and the songs of Lata Mangeshkar, Mohammed Rafi, Talat Mahmood and Hemant Kumar. As you are a well-wisher, can you pray I do a film with Amitabh Bachchan soon! (laughs)

MB:     You won an award at the Rajasthan International Film Festival in Jaipur where noted actor Om Puri was being honored. What was the experience like?

PG:     That was a memorable experience for a few very specific reasons. It was the first time this festival was happening and I received the most prized honor of the evening, The Pride of Rajasthan. Being a Jaipur native, this was very special. The added glory was to receive it not only in the company of Om Puri, but to receive it in the presence of my parents.

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With actor Om Puri (left) and producer Rahat Kazmi (center) at the Rajashathan International Film Festival

MB:     I understand you have also bagged an endorsement for a company out of Rajasthan.

PG:     Yes that’s true, though a formal announcement and campaign will be launched in a few months. Once again, coming from a Rajasthan based company, it feels like I’m the potential poster boy of the state in terms of Bollywood.

MB:     What were your duties as ambassador of the San Francisco Global Movie Awards? Was this a one-time opportunity or will you continue to be involved with it?

PG:     In its first year in 2014 it was called The San Francisco Global Movie Fest. It then became The Festival of Globe in 2015, and yes it has continued and is now in its 4th year. In 2014, I was invited because the film Identity Card was accepted to the festival. That year they not only gave me a best supporting actor award for the film, but a few months later the festival’s founder, Dr. Romesh Japra, offered me the position of being the India Ambassador for the festival. My duties in this position include everything from curating films, bringing on stars and sponsors, and handling all aspects of its branding and promotions in India.

MB:     You have recently added singing and writing to your repertoire. Is this something new to you, or have you always harbored an interest?

PG:     The passion and talent has been there for a very long time, honed over the years, and now showcasing it for the world. The writing area will revolve around poetry and inspirational blogs, and the singing will start with producing covers of old Hindi songs.

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MB:     What brought you to Los Angeles?

PG:     Hollywood dreams, meetings, and much work in the film company that I’m a partner in. Major announcements coming soon!

MB:     You have been in show business for 10 years now, how has your outlook and your aspirations changed from when you first began.

PG:     Nothing has changed and everything has evolved.

Tarzan Comes to Delhi (1965) starring Dara Singh, Mumtaz, Bela Bose, Helen, and Bhagwan…pure joy!

 

 

 

Does Trilok Kapoor make you swoon? Well, he certainly affects Madhuri that way in the 1943 film VAKIL SAHEB.

for anyone who wants to swoon over Trilok. Seriously, he is IT 001

Another amusement from an old issue of FilmIndia magazine

Another amusing photo caption from the pages of FilmIndia magazine.

 

Even if you are only a casual fan of Bollywood, you must get a copy of this fabulous book by Todd Stadman!  Funky Bollywood!

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This is no dry, dull academic essay (of which there are way too many of out there already), instead you will find a witty, sharp, and fun filled read awaiting you as Todd discusses a wide range of 1970s Hindi (and regional) action flicks and the people who made them.

 

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Not only is it a fun read, but it is illustrated with tons of gorgeous photos, posters, and advertising memorabilia!

 

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Funky Bollywood is just as colorful as the decade it covers, and you will apprecaited the author’s genuine love for these films. Get your copy of Funky Bollywood, you will not be disappointed! Available at Amazon.com. Just follow the link: Funky Bollywood at Amazon.com

We all know Mahipal from his dozens of mythologicals, fantasies, stunt films, and thrillers, but did you know he also made socials? Well, here is proof! Mahipal starred opposite Nigar Sultana and Roopmala in the 1955 drama MADHUR MILAN.

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Possibly the film didn’t do well at the box office. It appears to be the only credit for its director, K.G. Punwani, and it certainly did nothing to turn around Mahipal’s career as a B-film artist. But that’s OK, I think we all preferred Mahipal in his action avatar, anyhow!

 

 

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Born in Ahmedabad, Ajaz Khan for a time labored as a taxi driver in New York City, while longing to work as an actor. Upon his return to India, he pursued his thespian dream, becoming a familiar face on television with roles in Karam Apna Apna, Kya Hoga Nimmo Ka, Rahen Tera Ashirwad, and Kahani Hamare Mahabharat Ki. Ajaz gained further exposure on reality television when he was crowned winner of Zoom TV’s Bollywood Club. And as a “wild card” entrant on season 7 of the very popular show Bigg Boss he gained even more fans and suddenly became a household name. Along the way, he had supporting roles in several feature films including Ek…The Power of One (2009) starring Bobby Deol, the Ramsey Brothers’ comedy/thriller Bachao…Inside Bhoot Hai (2010), Ram Gopal  Varma’s Rakta Charitra (2010), as well as several well received Telegu language films opposite the likes of Mahesh Babu, Ram Charan, and Nithiin. Back in Bollywood, Ajaz had the opportunity to work with living legends Shatrughan Singha in Rakhta Charitra 2 (2010), Naseeruddin Shah in Allah Ke Banday (2010), and Amitabh Bachchan in Bbuddah…Hoga Terra Baap (2011) . Having shown his stuff in character and negative parts, he earned a starring role in a low-budget drama titled The World of Fashion (2011), a movie he admits he would just as soon forget. But, as unremarkable as the film may have been, Ajaz deserves every bit of praise for giving an impressive performance and for showing that he had what it takes play a hero.

 

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Fast forward a few years, and a lead role in Lakeer ka Fakeer (2013) let his star truly shine. This hard hitting film shows how the actions of Mumbai’s underworld affects the lives of everyday people, and Ajaz received very positive reviews from critics and viewers alike. Lakeer ka Fakeer paved the way for lead roles in Ya Rab (2014) and the upcoming releases Love Day  and I Love Dubai. Currently he is filming for Puri Jagannadh’s Telugu language feature Rogue. No doubt, we will be seeing a lot of Ajaz Khan in the near future.

 

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Ajaz with Sonu Sood in the Telugu film DOOKUDU

 

Ajaz is known to be outspoken and blunt, but if you follow him on Facebook or Twitter then you already know that he also shows a great sense of humor, has a heartwarming devotion to his young son, and a gratefulness for those who have stuck by him through thick and thin. As a fan, I am delighted that he took the time to chat with me about his career; and as a film journalist, it is a pleasure to spread the word to English speaking audiences about this very talented personality. Hollywood, take note!

Mike Barnum:   Your family had no connection to show business, so how did your interest in such a career come about?

Ajaz Khan:      I did some plays in school and people said I was good. Then, when I grew up I did an ad for a local 5 Star hotel. People liked my face and I was told I should go to Bombay and try my luck. But my family was against it. I was from a middle class family and they did not want to support me as Bombay is expensive and we didn’t have a lot of money. But, I decided that if I don’t take a chance and face the risk, I cannot do anything. I came to Bombay and I tried my luck. I got my start in television and did several shows. I got [roles in] Karam Apna Apna and Kya Hoga Nimmoka. Again, after that, I have no work, so I am in a downer. But I did not give up. Along came the reality show called Bollywood Club on Zoom TV. I won that show and then I got a part in Ram Gopal Varma’s film Rakhta Charitra along with one other film, plus a chance to work with fashion designer Vishal Kapoor at the PANACHE Runway show in Kathmandu, as a showstopper along with Zarine Khan. So, I got very, very big chances from there on and I became a little bit known.

MB:        Your popularity soared with your entry into the competition show Bigg Boss [For you non-Indian’s reading this, Bigg Boss is similar to Big Brother, except that the contestants are all celebrities.]   

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Fellow BIG BOSS contestant Sangram Singh supports Ajaz at the promotion of YA RAB

 

 

AK:         After Bigg Boss, everything is history. People loved me so much. My honesty, my upfronting, my confidence. They liked it, and they loved me, and I am so thankful to my friends and to people who made me what I am.

MB:        Two of your most impressive roles are in Lakeer ka Fakeer and Ya Rab.

AK:          Working in Lakeer ka Fakeer and in Ya Rab were great experiences. These are my two solo hero films. So these were my first time. I did Lakeer ka Fakeer all on location. It was realistic cinema and I learned a lot. Then I got Ya Rab with actor Vikram Singh. It was written by Ikram Akhatar who is a very big writer, and director Mahesh Bhatt promoted it. And that was a very good experience to work with Manzar Sehbai, who is a known actor from Pakistan. The experience was mind-blowing and I learned from both films that I can take the responsibility of playing the protagonist and justify the character.

 

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With Manzar Sehbai in YA RAAB

 

MB:        And  both roles are very different.

AK:         In Lakeer Ka Fakeer I am playing someone who is a normal middle class guy named Fakeer Mohammad, who has a dream to really be something in life. In small slums, the dreams are small, but he dreams to drive taxi in Dubai. And he has a lot of problems because of the area that he lives in, which is notorious for crime. But the police system, politicians, and gangsters, they exploit him and make him into something else. A very different character from who I play in Ya Rab where I am an ACP officer named Rann Vijay Singh. He is from a rich family, very different guy from Fakeer, you know. Very sophisticated, very classy, very responsible. But at the same time he can die for the country.

 

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MB:        You did not stick to just Hindi language cinema, you have been very successful in regional films.

AK:         For fans I would recommend my south films Dookudu with Mahesh Babu, Baadshah with NTR, and Nayak with Ram Charan. All of my south films are very good and they were very good experiences. They work very professionally, they give you respect and they respect actors also. Acting has no language, it is only expression.

 

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Ajaz Khan shows his kind and gentle side

 

 

MB:        Most of your roles have been very heavy, very serious. But you are known to have a great sense of humor and you have done a few lighthearted parts. Do you see comedy roles in your future?

AK:         Yes, for sure you will see me in comedy roles. Jhol Company Public Limited is a comedy, in fact. A dark comedy. Love Day is a friendship comedy film. I like to show my comedy side more because I am a hero inside, not a villain. I Love Dubai is also a comedy film, Ikram Akhtar’s debut film, where I play a bad boy comedy villain. Yes, I am doing comedy. I love comedy.

 

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Ajaz takes on Rufy Khan in the Ramsey Bros. horror-comedy BACHAO – INSIDE BHOOT HAI

 

MB:        Rohit Shetty signed you on for a role in one of his films.

AK:         Singham Retuns has already released and Rohit Shetty ji promised me, but he did not give me any more work till yet. But I believe his promise that he is going to give me something. He is man of his word, so let’s see. There are a hundred people who promise me, but only one, Ram Gopal Verma, has followed through. He made his promise, so he is the man with the steel balls and he is a legend. Rohit Shetty is making two films, so let’s see. If he does, then I believe.

MB:        You have had the opportunity to work with some of the greats of Hindi cinema, including Amitabh Bachchan, and while doing Bigg Boss you got to know Salman Khan.

AK:         One of my very, very close friends [director] Puri Jagannadh called me for a cameo part in Bbuddah…Hoga Terra Baap. The film was to be with Amitabh Bachchan. I said “Wow!” and without giving it a second thought I did that role. It was a great experience to meet Mr. Bachchan. I learned so many things. He is so energetic and so punctual and on-time and extremely cooperative. He respects new actors and he taught me many new things. We had fun. As for Salman Khan, everybody knows that he is a very good mentor and a very good guy. He supported me a lot inside and outside, he loved me as a brother and, insha’Allah, in the future we will work together. I wish them both a long life and a happy future.

 

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Ajaz with co-stars Harsh Nagar and Sahil Anand on the set of his upcoming film LOVE DAY

 

 

 

 

 

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Mighty aka: Mighty Gill

 

Not long after I got hooked on Bollywood I began to explore India’s bounty of regional cinema, and when I got to that country’s Punjabi language films it was Harbajan Mann’s feature from 2004 Asa Nu Maan Watna Da that ramped up my interest in Pollywood (an interest which has grown steadily over the years, almost surpassing my interest in Hindi language films, in fact). Not much later I learned that Aryan Vaid, one of my favorite Bollywood actors, had lensed a Punjab film titled Ek Jind Ek Jaan (2006). I scooped up the DVD of the movie just as soon as it was released. Today it remains one of my top three favorite Punjabi films.

 

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Ek Jind Ek Jaan is a delightful movie; colorful, sentimental, family oriented, and full of wonderful songs and dances. It introduced me to people I would come to recognize as regulars in Punjabi cinema, like Deep Dhillon, Gurpreet Ghuggi, and B.N. Sharma. I was already quite familiar with the film’s stars Raj Babbar and the aforementioned Mr. Vaid, but it was my first time seeing actresses Nagma and Prabhleen Sandhu, both of whom are very good.  Then there was Mighty Gill. As one of the featured leads he also made quite an impression, and it turned out that this was only his 3rd film. In fact, it was also his final film! So what happened to his career, I wondered? Mighty was charming, talented, handsome, and had a very good screen presence. I wanted to know more about him, particularly why it was that there seemed to be so few “Mighty Gill” films!

It took a bit of searching, but I managed to locate the former actor (billed simply as ‘Mighty’ in his two Hindi films), who now resides with his wife and son in Australia. Born Mantej Singh Gill in a small town in Punjab, his family eventually shifted to the city of Chandigarhi. His lineage is that of a landlord family of Jatt Sikhs whose main occupation was farming and agriculture. Mighty’s parents were both government workers, but he himself was not particularly interested in a 9-5 desk job, so he chose to work in real estate, helping others make the right investment in agricultural, commercial, and residential properties.

 

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The screen name ‘Mighty’ came from his childhood nickname, which his mother used to call him. Directors liked it, and it stuck. It also fitted the muscular build he had sculpted over the years. As a child he was quite weak and fragile and was prone to bullying by his classmates. “They gave such a hard time to me,” says Mighty. “But during my last years of study I got into bodybuilding and worked extremely hard. Maybe it was a hidden anger for being bullied that pushed me to extremes. Now I feel thankful to them. Most of those people are out of shape now!” he says with a laugh.

After some modeling work and appearances in music videos, Mighty Gill found an opportunity to act in films. Here for the first time he gives the lowdown on his time in front of the camera.

Mike Barnum:    Your family had no show business connection, so what led you to a career in film?

Mighty Gill:       I never thought to step into modeling or films, professionally… things just happened. I was doing my graduation in Mumbai and later, for fun sake, I enrolled in a short term acting course. It was not of much use, but I made contacts from there.

MB:        And Tezaab – The Acid of Love (2005) was your first film?

 

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TEZAAB – THE ACID OF LOVE was a remake of the American film UNFAITHFUL

 

MG:       Yes Tezaab was my debut. Somehow I came in contact with its director, Mr. Shakeel Noorani. At that time he was in a financial mess and wanted to make a quicky film to set the meter rolling. He wanted to remake a South Indian film using a new star cast. He took screen tests and I was selected out of few other contenders. I was made to see that original Tamil movie, and I liked it… it was a clean, family film, an innocent love story. The search for the female lead was on during that time and I was happy as I had signed a three film contract with Gems Movies. But destiny had different plans and I was unaware of it.

MB:        As it would turn out, Tezaab would not end up being a family film at all.

MG:       Family drama and love stories were failing at the box office during that time, around 2003-2005, and bold movies were doing good business. Noorani was not in a position to take any risk and he and his team of assistants decided to make a bold film with a bold theme. They convinced me, and I felt that since he was a family man I knew he wouldn’t make a bad, vulgar film. So now [instead of remaking the Tamil film], we were doing a copy of the American film Unfaithful. Mahesh Bhatt, at the same time, was making a movie titled Murder with Emraan Hashmi, which was also an adaptation of Unfaithful, so there was a race. But because of strong backing, and being good strategists, the Bhatt camp took all the honey.

 

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Shruti Sharma and Mighty Gill in a publicity shot from TEZAAB – THE ACID OF LOVE

 

MB:       Your costars in Tezaab were Parvin Dabbas and Shruti Sharma. But I understand that things did not go smoothly.

MG:        Irrfan Khan and Shruti Sharma were originally signed for the film, and we even had a photo shoot together. Irrfan Khan backed off later, and Parvin Dabbas was selected [to replace him] for the role of the husband. Parvin is a good actor and was very professional. Shruti Sharma, being a non-professional, gave such a hard time on the shoot.

MB:        She was difficult?

MG:       I had a big fight with Shruti a couple of times during the shoot. We stopped shooting. The director and his team knew they had made a wrong choice with casting Shruti. They used to have to show her the contract papers in order to get work done. She and I were never friends and we used to talk only in front of camera. No ‘hi’ or ‘hello’… nothing of that sort.

By the time Murder was released our film could not find buyers. I want to tell you one thing, the bedroom scenes for Tezaab were shot very aesthetically, initially, and the film shaped up nicely, but in order to sell the film the bedroom scenes were shot again, and their duration was increased. The director wanted to sell it at any cost. It was at this time when I felt so hurt. I was made to do such things that I never wanted to do. I remember during the shooting of bedroom scenes, when they were using a body double of Shruti, I used to cry my heart out in the dressing room. The film makers tried to pacify me and were telling me that it’s just a part of my duty.

 

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Mahesh Bhatt’s MURDER, which was also a remake of UNFAITHFUL, reached the screen first, causing the makers of TEZAAB to switch gears in order to get their film noticed.

 

MB:        That must have been very difficult to have signed on to something and then have the whole essence of it change as it did.

MG:       I did it, being a professional and committed to my work, but after that my heart changed forever and my craze for filmdom vanished. After giving the last shot for the film I went to a secluded beach and cried and cried.

MB:        Was your experience with the Punjabi film Ek Jind Ek Jaan a more positive one?

 

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Mighty Gill with Prabhleen Sandhu and Raj Babbar in EK JIND EK JAAN

 

MG:       You know, my experience with Tezaab was not really that bad, because eventually I realized what kind of person I am truly. I am certainly not attracted towards glamour and glitz. I got to know that I can work only in my space. And doing Ek Jind Ek Jaan was fun. Everything related to that film was good…the story, music, promotions, cast and crew, etc. Sadly, Punjabi audience rejected its main lead pair of Aryan Vaid and Nagma. Aryan is a good actor, but [as a hero] he just couldn’t make a connection with audience of Punjab. These days Punjabi audiences have more liking for singers turned heroes. Raj Babbar was also in the film and he and Nagma are well known [in Punjab], and they are good and humble too, but the film failed miserably at the box office.

This film has done good for me because the blame (black spot) that I have done an erotic film was washed off after its release. People in my circle remember me for Ek Jind Ek Jaan.

 

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Donna Kapoor and Mighty Gill in a scene from EK JIND EK JAAN

 

MB:        Besides Tezaab, you appeared in one other Hindi film titled Utthaan (2006).

MG:       Utthaan was made by my known friend Ujjwal Chatterjee.. I paid him a visit on sets and just did 1-2 scenes casually.

 

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Mighty (far right) had a supporting role in the Hindi film UTTHAAN which starred Priyanshu Chatterjee (standing)

 

MB:        Many performers in Bollywood have complained recently of the casting couch system. Was this also a problem for you?

MG:       Casting couch does exist in Indian film industry. Not just for girls, but for boys too. I remember once a famous film star’s secretary, who was a bisexual, told me that if I join their group I will do five films in a year, but if not, I will be reduced to doing one film in five years (laughs).

MB:        Had you ever considered the production side of film making?

MG:       These days directors are asking me to either produce or invest in films, but I cannot do this. It’s a risky business; in fact it’s 98% risk. One needs a great effort and tons of good luck and a stronghold to succeed in films. I have seen that out of 100% film fraternity, only less than 10% are earning well… the rest are just wasting time and money… but it’s a craze for glamour. Name ‘n fame, which keeps them going on and on. The television industry in India is doing good, though. There is a regular income in that. A little effort and perseverance can help you get good work [in television].

 

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Mighty in a scene from UTTHAAN

 

MB:        You made only a handful of feature films and then vanished from the screen. What happened?

MG:       I was losing my motivation. It was not a question of my bread and butter, so I set my mind and I just quit. I am not much of a social type; you know, going to parties and showing off. I just wanted like-minded people to work with.  I am a very simple person. To work in the film industry it doesn’t matter how you work in front of the camera, but how you carry yourself off of it.

MB:        So, no regrets at leaving the film industry behind?

MG:       I was certainly not cut out for all of that and I thought to quit. I am glad that I made that right move. Now I am happy and doing things my own way. And no pressure to look good all time! I have a beautiful wife and I feel content. I am happy and I have no regrets. I believe in living life proudly the way you want to live. I am blessed with a lot of good things in life. Although my priorities have changed now, and I spend most of my time and energies in my business and family, deep inside my heart I do still crave for good cinema. The element of simplicity has vanished in today’s films. We are getting superior in terms of technology, but on the creative side we are losing our grip. So I will end this with lyrics from Pink Floyd. “There will be war, there will be peace. Everything one day will cease. All the iron will turn to rust, and all proud men will turn to dust”

 

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The June, 2001 issue of HEALTH AND NUTRITION magazine featured a buff Mighty Gill on the cover

 

Though his acting career may not have reached the ‘mighty’ heights that (at least in my opinion) it could have, he still left a mark on Indian film history. And while he is not particularly keen on his work in Hindi cinema, with the Punjabi film Ek Jind Ek Jaan, Mighty Gill has at least one picture that he can one day very proudly show his kids and grandkids.

 

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A curry western? Judging from this advertisement for the 1947 film Namak, one could certainly be forgiven for thinking it to be an oater straight out of Hollywood! The action packed plot involves a robber known as Sher who becomes guardian to two orphaned kids – Gogo and Sofi, the offspring of another criminal, named Smith, who is killed in an explosion. This B-grade feature stars Dulari, Bhim, Dilawar, Habib, and Chandrashekhar.

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