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.