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Reel life Krishna stays spiritual but promises to stay away from politics



By Nishtha

Nitish Bharadwaj, who played the role of Krishna in the popular television series, ‘Mahabharata’ is back in action. After dabbling in film direction, he is reprising the same character which made him a household name more than two decades ago. Bharadwaj is essaying the role of Krishna in Atul Satya Koushik’s  play Chakravyuh, based on the story of Arjun’s son, Abhimanyu. The play was recently staged at Kamani auditorium in New Delhi.

In a conversation with NewsGram, Nitish Bharadwaj talks about his career, Mahabharata, spirituality, his tenure as a Member of Parliament and why he will never go back to electoral politics. Excerpts from the interview.

Nishtha: You were working as an assistant veterinarian in Mumbai before you joined the film industry. As professions, being a vet and films are poles apart. Why did you decide to pursue acting?

Nitish Bharadwaj: I am trained in the Marathi theatre as an actor and director but I never knew I would take it up as a profession. In 1985, I felt stagnant in the field of veterinary medicine so I decided to pursue my hobby and make it my career. Then I started doing theatre professionally and also performed at Prithvi theatre. I did a couple of films in Hindi and Marathi, then came Mahabharata and everything changed. I was performing a play at Prithvi theatre called ‘Gul-e-Gulzar’, which was an adaptation of ‘Importance of Being Earnest’ by Oscar Wilde. From Prithvi theatre’s office my name was recommended to BR Chopra. They called me for a screen test which I was not keen on. I felt I was young and less experienced to play Krishna. In spite of saying no, the role kept coming back to me. My mother encouraged me to take up this role saying that this one of the best roles and since I have read about it through literature, I shouldn’t be worried. So, I took a plunge.

N: Playing Krishna in Mahabharata, a show which was immensely popular in the country, did you experience any instances where people touched your feet or addressed you as ‘Krishna’? Does it continue even now?

NB: It happened even then, it happens even now. People have the memory of Krishna’s portrayal done by me engraved in their minds and they have accepted it. ‘Aastha’ (devotion) of this country is unmatchable with anywhere in the world. It goes to the extent of blind belief. It is up to the individual to maintain that people’s ‘aastha’ or break it by commercializing it. I have maintained that respect for the people and my fans.

N: You have been touring for the play ‘Chakravyuh’ for a few months now and also reprising the role of ‘Krishna’ nearly after 25 years. So how has been your experience? Is it nostalgic to play the same character that made you a household name?

NB: It is nostalgic because after Mahabharata for BR films, I did Vishnupuran and Ramayana with Smiriti Irani but I always refrained from repeating my performance of Krishna. There was one opportunity where a channel had told Ravi Chopra to create Mahabharata where I would play Krishna again. But I said I do not want to compete with my same performance. But after two decades when Chakravyuh was brought to me, this was a new format of theatre. It is very poetic. It has extensive use of poetry which I had never done before in Marathi or Hindi theatre. I can remember prose and dialogues but had a difficult time in remembering poetry so I took this up as a challenge.

N: Playing a powerful and intense character like ‘Krishna’, did it change your belief systems personally? Were you drawn towards spirituality?

NB: The character impacted me tremendously. I was a very religious man before, now I am a spiritual man. I practice the philosophy of Bhagwad Gita. Many people say that it is a Hindu book but I disagree, it is a book of spirituality. It is a book about art of living. It is a book of managing your life and your afterlife. I believe that by doing right things in this birth, my next birth is going to be easier.

N: You were also a Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) Member of Parliament from Jamshedpur. How was your experience being  a representative of the people?

NB: In my tenure, I had to fight with wrong beliefs and wrong traditional values within the society. For example, I don’t believe in caste system whereas in Jamshedpur I encountered so many people who strongly believed in it. But it was a satisfying experience doing good things for people. I delivered speeches in the Parliament whether it was on civil aviation, atrocities against women and children, uniform civil code among others. It was a good platform but I was a little disheartened because I would prepare for Bills and debates but then something  used to happen and the Parliament used to adjourned. Then those Bills never came up for debate again. The job of the MPs and MLAs is to talk, debate and legislate policies. The entire preparation would go down the drain, so I used to be a bit disheartened. But overall, I had a satisfying tenure as an MP.

N: You ended your association with the BJP in 2007, what was the reason behind quitting politics?

NB: After my tenure as an MP, I was in Madhya Pradesh looking after the organizational part of BJP. I was also the party spokesperson. I felt that the party had not used me to a level of my full potential. The educational background, the kind of exposure I have had in my life, the hard work and sincerity I had put  in my job, it was not reciprocated by the party. I had given about 13 years to the party and thought that I was wasting my time. So, I quit electoral politics in 2007. But, I am a loyalist by character and I still have a strong belief in the political ideology and philosophy of the BJP.

N: Any word of advice for the struggling actors out there who are still looking for their big break?

NB: Struggle is inevitable for everybody in every field. Eventually, your talent will sail you through. My advice would be to hold on to your art and polish your art before you come to film industry. Because once you enter in the cinema world, the craft is so demanding that if you want to survive you have to be the best. If you don’t deliver you won’t be given another chance. So make your foundation strong.

N: There have been several attempts to remake Mahabharata on television but it failed miserably. What do you think went wrong?

NB: The first reason is the changed scenario of Television, In our time Doordarshan was the only channel for the entire country, so it was a forced viewing. There was a certain amount of newness and freshness to the medium. People from the film industry with high achievements were doing TV so the production value was great. Also, since no special effects were available, the focus was on writing and the content. Now, the content seems to be diluted or compromised with more emphasis on special effects.

The failure is not because of the writers but due to commercialisation. At our time, writers had to create content for a one hour programme every week. Now they have to churn out a 30 minute long programme daily. Creativity is not a factory line product and you can’t expect writers to write fast and give you quality content. In creative arts, quantity and quality do not go hand in hand.  Even for the actors today, television has become a medium for making money, barring a few. For us, there was hardly any money but we were passionate about what we were doing.

N: So what is next for you? Will the audience see you in a commercial Hindi film or would will explore your talent on the stage and behind the camera?

NB: I am shooting for a big budget Hindi movie now but can’t divulge into details. I have already completed another feature film called Yaksh where I am playing the titular character. It is physiological thriller and will be released soon. I have also finished the screenplay for my next film, which hopefully will be in Hindi. I will be also doing more shows of ‘Chakravyuh’.

N: In the future, any chance you would consider going back to politics and contesting elections?

NB: No, that is done. On one hand, I have an opportunity to showcase my art and talent to the people and get their direct responses. On the other hand, in politics, even if I display my talent, there are so-called middlemen who decide my future. I have taken that right from them. They will not decide my political future. When I showcase my art, if I can act well they accept me or else they reject me. It is a direct conversation between the masses and myself, which I prefer.


Next Story

Here’s why Bollywood Films Don’t Win Oscars

Find out why good films do not get more screen time

Bollywood is arguably one of India's most well-known brands globally. Pixabay


There’s no denying that cinema, especially Hindi cinema, has tremendous influence on contemporary Indian culture. Bollywood is arguably one of India’s most well-known brands globally. Having spent five decades in showbiz, I am often asked some common questions at various forums — international conferences, social media and familial get-togethers. Let me try and answer a few of these questions. This is the latest bollywood news.

Why do Bollywood films not win Oscars? First, we must understand Academy Award, the official name of Oscar is an award given by a few thousand (7,000-odd) members of American Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Only recently, a couple of non-American artistes and a few technicians have been included in the voters’ list of the academy. We must remember until China emerged for a select number of Hollywood films, 70 per cent of the revenue of a Hollywood film came from their domestic market. Hence, all awards and promotions were largely US centric.

Academy members, bulk of whom were retired artistes and technicians, were largely ignorant of global cinema. Condescendingly they gave out one award for best foreign film every year. A lot of canvassing and trade marketing and PR happens before nominations and winners are announced. Indian filmmakers don’t have either adequate skill or money for this promotion.

Besides, there is no substantive financial fallout by winning this award. For some it’s a mere ego massage. At the end of the day, I don’t see much difference between a Filmfare award and an Oscar. As neither impact the box office returns of a film and both involve a lot of lobbying and PR. Oscars and similar awards cannot even ensure the people involved get work because of these awards. Of late, our media has gone on a hyperdrive every award season, egged on by an equally ignorant bunch of social media ninjas.

Bollywood filmmakers don’t have either adequate skill or money for promoting their films to have them nominated for Academy Awards. Pixabay

Today, almost every organization from your neighborhood club to leading media houses run dozens of award shows where the only criterion for such awards is either to attract TV audiences or sell advertising. In most cases, strange categories of awards are created to “honour” every and anyone who attracts eyeballs. Many get paid to receive awards in person or at least some assured media coverage in lieu of being honoured. Our insecure creative fraternity collects these poorly designed trophies by the bagful, some TV media coverage and indulge in some mutual back slapping at these made-for TV shows and the accompanying red carpet and after parties, often in borrowed outfits.

Some organizations like IIFA and IFA are actually running a thriving business on the basis of these shows and awards. Similarly, while dozens of Indian films are screened in film festivals regularly, few win prizes at major festivals like Cannes or Berlin. The reasons are again akin to the Indian performance at the Oscars. Since there is hardly any economic payback (except an occasional Lunchbox or two) not enough time and effort are invested in the festival circuit. There is very little government support in this regard. If some younger filmmakers are carving a niche for themselves, it is only their talent and spunk which is responsible for their success. Media and audiences confuse red carpet appearances with a festival presence. The same set of half a dozen critics keep writing their obscure columns read only by few filmmakers and cineastes.

Another question I am often asked is why don’t ‘good’ films get screen time or are not even released in many cases? Again, the answer is simple. One cinema theater is a part of a business and not some film society promoting good cinema. When they have an oversupply of films every week, they obviously select those films which will have maximum footfalls. Why should they be responsible for either safeguarding ‘art’ or give opportunity to new talent at the cost of a haemorrhaging bottom-line.? For true cinephiles, there are enough film festivals where such films can be viewed. Besides, several film clubs and institutions hold regular screenings of award winning and off-beat cinema in dozens of towns and cities. I watch almost 30/40 such films at such screenings.

There is great exploitation and gender inequality in bollywood. Pixabay

We must remember India is a hugely under screened country. With a population of over 1,300 million cinema lovers and production of 2,000 films and just 9,000 screens, it becomes obvious that half the films will never get released as the cinemas can’t accommodate them. Since there is no embargo or qualification on producing films, all and sundry jump into film making, many with no talent and others with no resources. The result is several disgruntled filmmakers, writers, artistes and technicians and, of course, a small section of the audience. Leading the chorus of how unfair multiplex chains are is a group of film critics, cineastes and some cultural interlopers. Let’s not forget, since the beginning of cinema in India over a century ago, many a talented and brave people have fought against odds and not only succeeded but even made landmark films in spite of lesser cinemas.

A third question one is often asked is about the personal life of stars. Fueled by a surfeit of gossip, slander in media (traditional and social) and ‘insider information’, most people believe that all of us in showbiz are on some 24×7 party. The assumption is most of us are debauched, amoral, irresponsible and uneducated purveyors of lust, lucre and lubricity. I am often accosted by strangers and friends alike wanting to know about some young star’s purported love affair.

For many film folks specially, stars have nothing to do apart from sleeping around. Much to the disdain of my inquisitors, I have to disappoint them by my plain-speaking denial of existence of any such El Dorado in showbiz and the many modern myths that are nothing but fertile imagination hard at work. Less than .1 per cent of film professionals can even afford a luxurious lifestyle. Even the very few who do make millions do it at a considerable cost of losing their privacy, family life and even simple pleasures like eating out or going for a walk. A lot of the time is spent working in trying conditions for hours in grime and greasepaint. Even looking good all the time is a painful task. Stars today are under a severe fitness regime and often are under strict dietary restrictions. Filming long hours, sometimes in remote locations, is not an easy life.

Also Read- Doing “83” Was a Refreshing Change: Actress Deepika Padukone

It is assumed, largely based on hearsay and stray misdemeanors, that all film people are promiscuous. There is great exploitation and gender inequality. Of course, there is but perhaps far less than in other occupations. Nowadays, most production houses and all studios practice a healthy work environment and discrimination on caste, creed, language, religion and sex is discouraged. Today, there is a greater awareness and observance of copyright and seldom are writers, technicians, artistes, musicians and other creative professionals denied their credit. A $ three billion industry, employing over half a million people, is definitely not what people imagine. Behind tinsel and glamour, and neon lights, there is struggle, ignominy and loneliness. (IANS)