Jeetendra on cinema, music and his children

An Interview from July 2010
JeetendraUnlike Alice, I’ve always enjoyed my romps through wonderland. I really liked Meena Kumari, her Dil Ek Mandir (1963) with Rajendra Kumar is one of my favourite films. There were so many others too, their names I’ve forgotten but their memories still charm. Growing up, I spent a lot of time in the darkened theatres. I idolised Dilip Kumar, I’ve seen all his movies, 30-40 times each. Once, when I was shooting for Farz (’67) at Vijay Studio, he was on an adjacent floor, filming Ram Aur Shyam (’67). We met, he spoke and I stared at him, speechless!

Somewhere along the way, I got caught up in the business of making movies and stopped watching them. But about three-four years ago, I caught up with the pastime again. Now, every Friday, with some friends like Rakesh Roshan and Saawan Kumar Tak, I stroll into the PVR theatre in Juhu. We sip a cup of coffee, then, go for the latest movie. It’s so much fun watching it with young people and listening to their comments..

There was a time when I was called the wizard of the box-office. I had numbers at my fingertips, perhaps because those numbers were working for me. Today, honestly I am clueless about the kind of cinema people want to see. If I think a film will be a superhit, it turns into a debacle and vice versa. The exceptions have been Krrish(2006) and Wanted (2009).

Salman Khan’s Wanted was a remake of a Telugu hit, Pokhiri, a typical melodrama with plenty of maar-dhaad (action). I’ve done my share of action films too, including Jyoti Bane Jwala (1980) and Meri Awaaz Suno (1981).

Back in the 1980s, the Hindi remake of a Telugu hit usually was a blockbuster too. One reason could be that we were both catering to an audience with a similar taste in cinema.  That’s changed now.

Today, we have different audiences for the multiplexes and single screen theatres, for the rural interiors and the urban metros, for India and the overseas. Rarely do we come across a film like 3 Idiots (2009) that cuts across the country and continents.

Music has also changed. In our time, every word had to be pronounced clearly so people got it. Now words are drowned by beats as rhythm scores over lyrics. Love songs have disappeared along with socials. Baghbaan (2003) and Waqt (2005) were the last two family dramas that made an impression.

I like the promos of Khatta Meetha (2010) too. With Priyadarshan guiding him through South remakes, Akshay Kumar has developed a commendable comic touch and evolved as an actor.

In the present scenario I feel outdated. Balaji and Alt Entertainment has a film coming up next Friday.Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai (2010) is set in the ’70s. That was my era, an era of jam sessions, raw passion, the evolving underworld and flared bellbottoms. The look is right, but I can’t claim any credit for it. It is my daughter Ekta’s (Kapoor) baby. I hope I like the film, and hope others do too!

The debacle of Deedar-e-Yaar drove me South’

The 1980s took off on a high note for me with Aasha (1980) turning out to be a big hit. Three years before, I had done Apnapan with director J Om Prakash. I had liked his Aap Ki Kasam (’74) but had not expected this complicated story, simply told, to do so well.

By the time we completed Aasha, my expectations had risen but it got off to a slow start. The lukewarm response forced J Om Prakash to change the climax on the suggestion of well-meaning friends. Fortunately, before the tweaked ending could be incorporated, collections picked up. Such miracles happened at the time. Back in the ’60s, my Farz (’67) and Jeene Ki Raah (’69) found favour after four weeks and 11 weeks respectively. Today, a film is out of the theatres in four weeks.

My career was on an upswing when I committed one of the biggest blunders of my life. I produced Deedar-e-Yaar (’82) and it took me back 20 years. It was made in Rs 2 crore and I lost every rupee. The cops who had been stationed to control the crowds when the advance booking counters opened outnumbered the people queuing up. And to think that someone else was making the film initially but I took over the project. That’s destiny!

My guaranteed blockbuster cut a large hole in my pocket. When you are poor, you don’t miss the luxuries but once you get used to them and they are suddenly lost to you, it’s difficult to do without them. I had to get them back, even if it meant migrating to another city.

The debacle of Deedar-e-Yaar drove me South. The film units there are more organised and their way of working matched my inherent discipline. A film was wrapped up in 30-35 days. I knew when I’d get paid and could plan how to repay part of my debts. Rarely did I miss a deadline. And in seven years, I acted in about 60 films!

Many of these were jubilee hits with gorgeous South Indian heroines, from old favourites like Hema Malini and Rekha to new sensations like Sridevi and Jaya Pradha. I was a big fan of Sridevi. I had seen several of her South films and when K Raghavendra Rao came to me with the Hindi remake of Ooriki Monagadu, I suggested Sridevi’s name for Himmatwala (’83).

Jaya Pradha had done the Telugu original and in those days we usually went with the same actress for the Hindi version. I think Jaya was a little hurt but I made it up to her later with films like Sanjog (’85) and Sindoor (’87). And forged a successful pairing with Sridevi too.

Sridevi was a disciplined lady, a great co-star and a fabulous dancer. She didn’t need more than a few rehearsals. Being a parrot who only copied steps dance directors demonstrated, I needed a few more rehearsals. But she never complained. She did every rehearsal with me. And thanks to her, I have chartbusters like Tathaiya tathaiya… and Taki ho taki… (Himmatwala) to my credit.

Tathaiya tathaiya… was shot in a riverbed and it’s tough dancing on sand. But Sridevi made it easy and fun. And the song today is representative of the ’80s. I danced on matkas (earthern pots) and santaras(oranges). And set a trend!

No alcohol
Several of my South socials were shot in Vijaywada. We would travel by train from Chennai. As soon as the train crossed the Godavari bridge, I would abstain from alcohol. There was no religious significance to the move, I just went off liquor when in Vijaywada. And this made me more focussed on my work. Mawwali(’83) that had me in a double role with both Sridevi and Jaya Prada, was also shot down South.

Half-way through the film, we went to Mauritius to picturise some songs. The Prime Minister of Mauritius visited the sets. To make him happy, we went through another mahurat shot, mid-way through the film.

Another big hit was Khudgarz (’87). Shatru (Shatrughan Sinh) was brilliant in the film, we had some great emotional scenes together. The film got us many more offers. Shatru would joke that we had become the Raj Kapoor and Nargis jodi of the ’80s.

I’d started out with V Shanataram socials like Geet Gaya Pattharon Ne (’64) and Boond Jo Ban Gaye Moti(’67). But these films were different. For one, they were made in the Madras studios but they didn’t turn me into a Dakshin Bhatariya (South Indian). The atmosphere on the sets was very cosmopolitan, with a mix of Bambaiya actors, a director usually from Andhra Pradesh and local technicians. I didn’t pick up much Tamil or Telugu in the 10 years that I spent down South. I’d learnt Marathi in Mumbai but by the time I migrated to Chennai, I was too old to pick up a new language.

I missed out on my children’s growing up years too. If it hadn’t been for my wife Shobha who flew down every Friday with Ekta and Tusshar, so we could spend three days together, I might never have known my kids. In retrospect, I regret the folly. I had gone down South to make a quick buck. But I didn’t need to stay there beyond a point. I could have made the same movies in Mumbai too. It was stupid!

Today, I’m so proud to see my children having made a success of their lives. I became an actor to make money. Coming from a poor family I had no option but to slog. Ekta didn’t need to work, yet she chose to follow the hard path and went beyond being Jeetendra’s daughter.

Ditto Tusshar. I loved him in Kya Kool Hain Hum and Life Partner. And Golmaal has become a brand name. My son is a better actor than me, only I was luckier.



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