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Interview Gujarati Hindi

'A different pleasure in doing negative roles' – Kiran Kumar birthday special

The actor discusses his long career and explains why he dislikes the title, Amitabh Bachchan of Gujarati cinema.

Photo: Shutterbugs Images

Keyur Seta

Kiran Kumar has been a recurring face in films since the 1970s and television serials since the late 1980s. Not many may know that Kiran Kumar has acted in more than 500 films in various languages and shot around 7,000 episodes of television serials in a career spanning close to 50 years. In all these years, Kiran Kumar has played the hero, villain, father, brother, hero’s friend, and many other roles.

On the occasion of his 66th birthday today (20 October), Kiran Kumar speaks candidly about his long career as an actor, the changes he has witnessed in Indian cinema over this period, his experience at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune, and why he dislikes being called the Amitabh Bachchan of Gujarati cinema. Excerpts:

What are birthdays to you generally?

Birthdays don’t hold too much importance for me. It’s just another day in my life. And I am not a party person at all. But I like to spend my birthday with my family: my wife, two children and sisters. We eat and cut a cake. I do puja. My family knows what I need so they present it in the form of gifts. It’s not a special day. But it’s great to receive presents and love from the family. 

At what point in your life did you feel you should get into films?

From the moment I was born! I was born in a filmi family. My father [noted yesteryear character actor and villain Jeevan] was an actor. For me, film is not just a means to earn money. It’s a sacred place. Whenever I go to a studio, it is like going on a pilgrimage. Films are a source of my life. They are close to my heart and soul, rather than [simply the means that help to fulfil] mere physical needs of my body. 

You have been working for close to 50 years and done more than 500 films. How do you look back upon your journey?

It has been a fantastic journey. I have done 500-550 Hindi films, around 80 Gujarati films, and also starred in English, Punjabi, Bengali and Malayalam films. I have explored all languages. A film is a film. Languages don’t matter. I have also done around 7,000 episodes on television. So, my journey has been a rollercoaster ride; sometimes up, then down, and again up!

It is more like the sea. Not like a stagnant lake. My life is all about the 40 years I have spent in the industry. My best friend has been the camera. 

Pran, Kiran Kumar and Narendra Nath in Jangal Mein Mangal (1972)

From the huge number of films you have done, which ones are really close to your heart?

Yaar, this is a very difficult question. But the few films that are close to me are Jangal Mein Mangal (1972), Aaj Ki Taaza Khabar (1973) and Bindiya Aur Bandook (1973). Tezaab (1988) and Khuda Gawah (1992) hold a lot of importance for me. Of my recent films, I liked Bobby Jasoos (2014) and Brothers (2015). 

You are an FTII graduate. How did it help you hone your skills?

I got to learn a lot. The experience was very good. But no institute can teach you acting. If you have the skill, FTII polishes it.

The two years I spent in Pune were very interesting. Our professor [Roshan] Taneja saheb helped me polish my skills and reduced my flaws. He taught me the importance of the pause. He made me understand that acting is not just about speaking but also about listening. Taneja saheb has been the real guru and he holds an important place in my life.

What are your criteria for agreeing to do a film? 

There is a ghanti [bell] inside the head of every actor. After hearing a role, if the ghanti rings, one must do that film. We do some films when the ghanti rings. We do some just for money. We say yes to some films because our friends are making it. Sometimes, we do it if it is a big banner. 

You started off as a hero and then went on to do villainous roles too.

Yes, I have done positive and negative roles. I have been a brother, father, son. I am glad to have done all types of roles. I did all types of roles that came my way and performed them with passion. 

Kiran Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan in Khuda Gawah (1992)

What difference does one experience while switching to villainous characters from positive ones?

It is okay if you don’t have a lengthy role. Even if you have 5-6 very good scenes, it is enough. I have done good positive roles. And there is a different pleasure in doing negative roles.

I have played negative roles in Khuda Gawah and Tezaab and enjoyed it. It is a pleasure working with Shri Amitabh Bachchan, who is the star of the century. He has been a source of inspiration for all of us.

Now that you have mentioned Bachchan, it reminds me that you are often fondly called the Amitabh Bachchan of Gujarati cinema.

No, I am a very small actor compared to him. It won’t be right to compare me with Amitji. I feel the kind of actor he is and what he has achieved, I am not even 10% of it. 

How different was it working in Gujarati cinema after working in Hindi?

Films might have different languages, but the basic language of cinema is the same. The medium is the same. I have got a chance of doing some interesting roles in Gujarati cinema. My Gujarati film Dhantya Open was recently released. I had a very interesting role in it.

Just like Maharashtra, Gujarat is my karmabhoomi [land of destiny]. The land of Gujarat has given me a lot. I always carry Gujarat on my head. The people and filmmakers there gave me a lot of love and respect. I earned a lot of fame there. The land holds a special place for me. Even today, whenever I visit Ahmedabad or Baroda, I feel at home. I also love Gujarati food. I go completely vegetarian when I visit Ahmedabad and Baroda. 

There has been a positive shift in Gujarati cinema in the past few years in terms of content. 

That’s a very good change. Some good films are being made. Some light-hearted realistic cinema is also being made. The old tried-and-tested themes have finally changed. Even the city audience is watching Gujarati films in multiplexes. I hope this continues. 

Kiran Kumar in his younger days

Your father Jeevan was a well-known actor. How was it growing up with an actor father? Were you aware of his fame during childhood?

It was fantastic! I knew my father was an actor. I was proud of my father’s work, but I never had an attitude about it. I used to feel happy that my father was an actor and a lot of people knew him. It was a tremendous sense of joy. But he would leave behind his status and roles in the studios. At home, he was an absolutely normal person. He was more a friend than a father. I related to him fantastically. 

In all these years, you have been witness to some massive changes in the content and style of filmmaking.

These days Hindi cinema — I always prefer saying Hindi cinema. Bollywood, Kollywood and Tollywood are such bakwaas [rubbish] terms — is growing. Some very good directors have entered. Young blood is bringing out new concepts. These days content works, even if it is a small film. On the other hand, big films with big stars but no content aren’t doing well. The audience understands this. I feel Hindi cinema is growing up in leaps and bounds. 

Do you believe artistes have more opportunities today?

Absolutely. An actor can sharpen his craft in films, TV, web series and theatre. Today, even theatre is growing. To prove yourself as an actor, you have to do theatre. I am also doing a play called Charlie 2, where I am playing a double role. 

You have been working in TV ever since the time we had only one channel, Doordarshan. It is said that such an era can never be repeated.

Exactly. The shows during that time had strong content. Nowadays, we are shown the same things about bahus [daughters-in-law] with unrealistic jewellery. But a few shows with good content are able to do well. Our serial Yeh Un Dinon Ki Baat Hai has become very successful. It depicts the 1990s, so it has a different story. 

What are your upcoming films?

Some of my upcoming films are Gold [starring Akshay Kumar], Dosti Zindabad and Shiva Super Seven.