Mohenjo Daro actor Narendra Jha: Ashutosh Gowariker deserves 20/20 as a person

The Haider actor speaks about his character in Mohenjo Daro and shares other interesting information related to his career. 

Keyur Seta

Narendra Jha has been an actor for more than 15 years. But it was his performance in Vishal Bhardwaj’s Haider, as Shahid Kapoor’s father, that brought him into the limelight. Today, Jha has an impressive line-up of big films awaiting release – Mohenjo Daro, Raees, and Kaabil.

In an exclusive chat with, Narendra Jha speaks about his role in the Ashutosh Gowariker film and his career so far, among other things. Following are translated excerpts from the interview which was conducted in Hindi:

How did you venture into acting?
I am a post-graduate from Jawaharlal Nehru University. I became interested in acting back then as I used to do plays. But it was also important for me to clear my semesters. After completing my PG [post-graduation], I decided to venture into acting. Though I also made a serious attempt at the civil services, it didn’t work out. Now, I feel that whatever happens happens for the good. If I had become a civil servant, I wouldn’t have been talking to you right now about my acting career (smiles).

How did your family react to your decision?
When I told my father that I wished to become an actor, I expected him to react in a certain way. Instead he supported my decision but also felt that I should first take proper training so that people will take me seriously. Following his advice, I did a diploma in acting from Sri Ram Center (Delhi). Then I migrated to Mumbai and got my portfolio done. I kept getting modelling offers; for that I never had to search for work, though there is nothing wrong in looking for work. Soon, I started getting offers to act in television serials.

How did your entry into films happen?
When I was doing TV in 2001, I got a chance to act in Fun2shh – The Dudes Of 10th Century (2003). Since I was the main hero in Ashtavinayak Cinevision’s TV serial Amrapali, they offered me the role of villain in the film.

Soon I got a chance to act in Shyam Benegal’s Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose – The Forgotten Hero (2005), where I played Habibur Rahman. He was one of Netaji’s three confidants. I also got a chance to act in Southern films. I did the Telugu film Chhatrapati (2005) by SS Rajamouli, the director of Baahubali (2015). It also had Prabhas. The film was made in Hindi as Hukumat Ki Jung. I was the main villain called Bajirao. Even today, people call me by that name down South.

Haider (2014) was the film that got you noticed the most. 
I was shooting for a TV serial when I got a call saying Vishal Bhardwaj wants to audition me. I was a bit reluctant as I was busy with the serial. But destiny had written something for me. Two hours after I gave the audition, I got a call from Vishalji. He said you are such a good actor, you should be in the mainstream. To hear such words from Vishal Bhardwaj was very encouraging. It meant he must have seen something in me. 

Click below to listen to Narendra Jha speaking about his character in Mohenjo Daro

Do you think you should have entered mainstream films earlier?
No, I never feel this, because there is a right time for everything. We are nobody to do things as per our will. A few things get fixed naturally. If I had entered mainstream 10 years ago, maybe I wouldn’t have taken my art to the level I have taken it right now. I could have done more than 50 films, but quality is more important. I receive a lot of offers, but I don’t take most of them because there is nothing challenging for me. There is money, of course. I can earn Rs2-4 crore by doing 10 films. But I wouldn’t get satisfaction, especially [of the sort that I get] after doing a Vishal Bhardwaj film. When people appreciate your work, there emerges a certain responsibility upon you.

There is a huge difference in working in TV shows and films. How challenging was it to adapt to different mediums?
There is a big difference, but it wasn’t challenging for me. In fact, it suited me because I was able to do both, TV and films. There is this compulsion of time in TV. If a production house isn’t able to deliver an episode on time, then maybe they are fined Rs10-12 lakh. It also hits their reputation. Plus, you don’t get time to think in TV. But that is not the case in films. Coming to performances, it is not that I perform 25% less in TV. I enjoy both. 

If you achieve a lot of success in films, would you still act in TV shows?
If I get a challenging role, I will, definitely. Aisi koi kasam toh maine khai nahin hui hai [I haven’t made any such vow].

A lot of actors believe that theatre provides maximum satisfaction. As you started off in theatre, do you miss it?
Theatre definitely helps in laying a strong foundation. It helps you gain a different type of confidence. But I don’t miss theatre. As an actor, I have some staff. So, if I involve myself in theatre now, I might not be able to earn much and pay my staff. So, even if I feel theatre provides more satisfaction, my practicality says I need money. Such amount of money will come only through films and TV. 

You recently unveiled your look from Mohenjo Daro. What exactly is your character in the film?
My character in the film is emotionally attached with Mohenjo Daro’s culture. You must have heard him in the trailer saying that Sarman [the character played by lead actor Hrithik Roshan] has arrived to save Mohenjo Daro from the atrocity of Mahaam [the character played by Kabir Bedi]. Sarman has to deal with a lot of things. So, my character becomes his guide. My character has lost everything while opposing Mahaam all his life. This has made him insane. But he still manages to guide Hrithik and take him to his destination. He is like the conscience and soul of Mohenjo Daro. 

Did you instantly agree to do the film?
I never instantly say yes to anyone, although Ashutosh Gowariker is a brilliant director. As a human being, I will rate him 20 out of 20. As I director I will rate him 19. I am saying this because he is a terrific human being. He provides all the love, warmth, and care an actor desires from his director. 

You have played sensible characters mostly. Would you also be comfortable doing a madcap comedy like Housefull 3?
I would love to. In fact, I am trying to do one. I have such offers currently.

Do you think Mohenjo Daro’s clash with Rustom will affect its performance at the box office?
I am not the right person to comment on this. 

But do you think it is healthy for two big films to release on the same day?
Why not? It is such a big country. Lots of people watch films. There is a particular class of society that has to watch films. In the past, two films have done well despite releasing on the same day. It happened with Lagaan and Gadar (2001). So, it is not a big issue. I am sure people must have calculated how both films would perform. So you never know.

These days, even kids are seen discussing whether a film will earn Rs100 crore or 200 crore. Do you think this can be a criterion to determine the success of a film?
I don’t think so. It is an amount that definitely matters. Only those who are investing money would understand this. If a person invests money and earns out of it, nothing can be better for him. But I don’t think actors should get affected by such calculations. I am not a big actor. I don’t think about such things.

If your film doesn’t work at the box office, how much does it affect you as a person?
It definitely concerns me. If I work with someone, I take a fee for it. When I am on the sets, I realize how much they spend. So when a film does well, I feel good. If a producer doesn’t earn well, how will actors like me get more work?

You also feature in Raees and Kaabil. Any other films in the pipelne?
I am playing the lead in My Father Iqbal. It’s an independent film. I am also doing 2016 The End, where I play a cop.