Vinod Pande: How Farooq Shaikh helped me with casting of Ek Baar Phir

When the filmmaker came to India, he took the help of Shaikh who guided him with a few endorsements, setting Pande along a chain reaction that eventually became the cast of Ek Baar Phir.

Sonal Pandya

Director Vinod Pande wrote and shot his first film, Ek Baar Phir (1979), in London. But when it came to the film’s casting and songs, he had no choice but to come to India. He arrived in Mumbai to get the songs recorded by Raghunath Seth.

Initially Pande was a little lost, but he managed to find his way. “I didn’t know many people in India, but I knew Rajendra Kumarji and Raj Kapoorji. I had met them through the BBC and I had good relations with them. At every occasion, Mr Rajendra Kumar would discourage me and tell my friends, ‘Please say something to him, he’s crazy’,” he recalled.

Pande was staying with a friend in Worli, Mumbai, when he made Farooq Shaikh’s acquaintance by sheer accident. “Underneath was a laundrette where I would give my clothes. I started talking to the owner. He mentioned his friend, Farooq Shaikh, who was also an actor. I knew of him and immediately thought of him to use as the lover [of the wife] in the film. I didn’t want to cast that part as yet, but I thought I might not find someone in London. He came to me but he said he couldn’t do the role as he was committed to Yash Chopra for Noorie (1979).”

Deepti Naval and Suresh Oberoi

Even so, Shaikh helped out the newcomer with alternative names. He said, “Shaikh recommended Kanwaljeet Singh. I also asked him whom he would recommend for lead actresses. He said he had two actresses in mind, one was Smita Patil and one was Deepti Naval. I vaguely knew Patil. She used to be a newsreader for Doordarshan. Her news producer was a friend of mine from London, Amar Sinha. We met her but I think she was already doing Shyam Benegal’s film as a heroine. I still suspect, till today, that she did not take me seriously although she was to hold it against me later on.

"Then Deepti Naval came along. Farooq had told me about her. We did the reading for the role right at my dining table, she did such a good job at the reading, it went on for two-and-a-half hours. I had decided by that very evening that she was the one for the role, but I still asked Rajendra Kumar if I was going on the right path.”

Unfortunately, Singh was also tied with up with a Yash Chopra project and couldn’t do the film. Singh recommended another actor. Pande said, “He sent along an actor named Suresh Oberoi who rang me up one day. I was very impressed by his voice. He asked if he could come over to meet me. He said, ‘You might not like me, I do not quite look like a star.’ The role was of a film star. He came and I met him. He did a four-hour reading with Deepti Naval. Then I asked him to give me a day or two to think things over.”

Even though Pande had pretty much decided on Oberoi, Naval also recommended Naseeruddin Shah with whom she was working on Benegal’s Junoon (1979). Before coming to India, Pande had also considered Benjamin Gilani. Eventually, he decided on Oberoi and Naval for the main roles.

Deepti Naval with Pradeep Verma

One part remained, the young art student Vimal that Naval’s character Kalpana meets and develops a relationship with. Pande laughed and said, “I thought of doing the role myself, I was still young. Maybe somewhere I had the urge to act, but I restrained myself.”

When Naval arrived in London she brought with her some photographs of an actor. He recalled, “They were completely wrong. I said, ‘I’m not looking for this!’ The actor was posing like a hero. [It] is a role of a simpleton, a complete opposite. But she insisted that I talk to him. So I phoned this guy called Pradeep Verma who lived in a hostel in India. Later, in an interview with Stardust magazine, Verma said, ‘That day the hostel telephone worked!’ It wasn’t working on the other days. I did an international call with him, shrieking across the line and taking his audition. Trust me that’s how it happened.”

And that is how the leading trio was cast.