Interview Hindi Marathi

Birthday special: Vikram Gokhale on the craft of acting and the art of making films

The veteran gets candid about his struggles and the need of the hour for Marathi cinema.

Keyur Seta

Veteran actor Vikram Gokhale has been working in Indian cinema for more than 50 years, and is a known name across generations. A recipient of the Sangeet Natak Akademi award and the National award, Gokhale has displayed his versatility across genres. He also belongs to a family that has been closely connected with Indian cinema since its nascent stage.

On his 72nd birthday today, Gokhale spoke exclusively with about his life, career, struggles and the need of the hour for Marathi cinema. Excerpts:

Your great-grandmother Durgabai Kamat was the first female artiste in Indian cinema. Your grandmother Kamalabai Gokhale was the first female child artiste in India. Your father Chandrakant Gokhale was a renowned actor. So was performing arts the natural career choice for you?

No, it wasn’t the natural choice. I never knew that I would be an actor. I never knew what acting is. I was not compelled or forced in any way. I had to take a leap in the dark. I jumped and I am here now. I might have been a big name in the Indian Air Force had I entered it. I cleared both the examinations for the air force. But I couldn’t get in for some reason.

It must have been interesting growing up with such stalwarts of cinema.

I always used to have good conversations with my grandmother and father. It was always a very healthy and exciting discussion. My job was just to listen to them and understand the era when they were active. Also what problems and pains they had to go through. At the age of 87, my father expired, but till that time he was active and working in films.

There were too many incidents in my father’s life. We were very poor. I wouldn’t even want an enemy to go through all that. That was the reason why I leaped into the darkness. I didn’t know what to do. But as soon as I started knowing, I realized that it is an art of creating illusions. Everything is false over here, but one must carry out the illusions in such a way that they look true. Learn this technique. But we need to convince ourselves first and only then can we convince the audience. For that you need faith, learning and a lot of effort. If I am not convinced, how can I convince you? For that we need to study, which I have been doing for the past 50 years and will continue. 

So how did your acting journey begin?

It was for the stomach more than anything else.

You then started enjoying it?

Yes, once you accept a particular profession, you have to have faith in it. But if you keep wasting your time in something you don’t like, then that isn’t good. I entered this profession in 1968. Maybe a bit earlier, but it isn’t worth counting.

Vikram Gokhale in Agneepath (1990)

You started off with theatre. How important is it to do theatre at the start to shape your acting skills?

I will tell you in detail. Different people will give you different answers. If someone asks me why I do theatre, I would say it is because the student of theatre, acting or direction in me would get to learn something new each day. It’s not because I get a response instantly from the audience. Sometimes that response can be unfavourable if you say something wrong, which won’t be liked by you and the writer and director. The actor is at fault here.

I have been doing theatre for more than 50 years to increase my calibre and show it more. For example, I have to do a show in the afternoon and then again at night. I feel in the next show I have to do it better. I need to search if I committed any errors. I need to be restless. The search has to be there. So, theatre is important for all those who understand this.

But if people feel that once they do theatre they can work in any medium, then it’s wrong. There is a big difference in film, television and theatre acting. Only the one who knows this would understand what I am saying. Those who feel theatre gives you instant response from the audience won’t understand what I am trying to say. 

What did you enjoy the most — films, theatre or TV?

I enjoyed all the media I have worked in, be it theatre, TV or even radio. Radio is also a medium and a very important one. You must know how to use your voice and how not to use it. You must know the technicalities. So, I am very happy with all four media because I know the ins and outs.

You have been working for more than 50 years. How would you describe your journey?

I am writing a book on my journey. It’s not an autobiography. It’s something to be told to the younger generation. I have started writing it. It is about where I was, where I have reached, what I studied, what I learnt from various people and who all from the actors, directors and technicians helped me learn. 

When is it getting published?

(Laughs.) It won’t happen soon. It will be a very big book. Generally in autobiographies, a person describes how good he is and how bad the world is and how he became a victim of atrocities. I don’t want to write all this. It’s all about my learning and how the upcoming generations should learn. Otherwise people write how many cars they bought and how great they are. How they helped the needy and how they were conned, etc. This is what happens in autobiographies. 

You have acted in parallel cinema as well as hard-core commercial films. Do you see any difference in both?

Yes, there is a difference. Parallel cinema is something a section of the audience doesn’t like. They say, 'What art film is this?' I have done such films and also commercial films like Agneepath (1990), Khuda Gawah (1992), etc. I have done films with Salman [Khan], Shah Rukh [Khan], Dharmendra and Jeetendra. Aamir [Khan] is the only star with whom I have never worked.

Are you eager to work with him? Both of you must have met quite a few times.

Absolutely. He is so good. We have met a lot of times. He knows me well. He had once sent me a message saying that he likes my work very much. If I get a chance, I will work with him. 

Vikram Gokhale in Anumati (2013)

You recently won the Filmfare award for Best Supporting Actor for Natsamrat (2016). Your work and your on-screen bonding with Nana Patekar were appreciated a lot.

We have worked together in theatre too. We have been working in films. He is an old friend. Nana took his first step in a play by Vijay Tendulkar in front of me. He was in shorts then. This was 40-45 years ago. At that time I was a professional actor. Nana was absolutely new. I know him since then. He is a very good friend and a very good actor. He is such a nice person. I also like Dilip Prabhavalkar a lot.

There are good actors even in today’s generation. I have always respected the young generation of actors, directors and writers. It’s not that only people of our times were good. There wasn’t such exposure in our times. We couldn’t even think much then. But these people can think.

Do you regularly watch new films?

No, I cannot watch. I don’t get time to go to the theatres. I have a library at home of books, as well as films from around the world; not just Hindi. I have some 50-year-old classic films of Hollywood. Like I have 52 films of [Alfred] Hitchcock to study. I also have films of people I admire in India like Om Puri, Naseer [Naseeruddin Shah], Dilip [Prabhavalkar] saheb, Amitji [Amitabh Bachchan]. This is good study material. For example, Amitji was fantastic in Paa (2009). Lovely actor! I keep studying at home. There is no specific place to educate yourself like school, college or theatre.

You are also a regular actor in Marathi cinema. What is your opinion on the current situation in Marathi films?

There are people who are ready to invest money in Marathi films. There are different intentions of those who want to invest. There are some very good people who are interested in being permanent producers and not just one-time producers. One-time producers are like those mushrooms that grow during monsoons. They don’t even know the ABC of filmmaking. They don’t know how to invest, study, and recover. It’s just that they have money so they put it in. There are [other] people who make good films regularly. They come with great enthusiasm. 

But, a big but, when six films are released on one Friday, the audience gets divided into so many segments. Such competition is not seen in Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Punjab and Gujarat. They give preference to their films. Over here, they first prefer to see Hindi films. Then they will see a Marathi film, if time permits. They have no idea which film to see. Then hardly any Marathi film sees a second week. What is your recovery plan? Nothing. Still people keep making films. I feel like society members, 10-12 people should come together and invest Rs10-20 lakh each, then a good film can be made. No need to burden one person. This will also take care of the publicity and promotions. And each person’s burden would be Rs20 lakh instead of Rs2 crore. Only then we will survive. 

Vikram Gokhale in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam

You have directed one film, Aaghaat (2010). But after that you haven’t tried your hand at direction again.

No, it’s not that I didn’t try. I am ready. I tell people to look at it from the point of view of business. I don’t like it when producers say, 'I have Rs2 crore. It’s fine if it gets washed away. I just want to make a film'. Don’t tell me this. I want people to say, 'I have Rs2 crore. I would spend Rs1 crore and I am fine if I get Rs1crore and 10 lakh in return. But I want my money back. Tell me how you can. Tell me the story'. Then I will see that the audience will have everything they want and the film will be completed in under Rs1 crore.

I returned Rs7 lakh to the producers when I made Aaghaat. The budget was Rs90 lakh, but I completed it in Rs83 lakh. People should feel that this person will spend it as if it is his money. It shouldn’t be that we made it in Rs1 crore 20 lakh, so give Rs20 lakh more. What’s the point then? Then we will have to stand with our heads down. You need to have planning. If there is no plan, you might even end up spending Rs1 crore and 50 lakh. But spending under Rs1 crore is called business.

You create faith by making a film in as less time and as little money as possible. Few people understand this. If someone doesn’t like my views then it’s fine.

Don’t know why people are so against economics. It’s very simple. If you start selling tea, you calculate the cost of stove, kerosene, gas, sugar, tea powder, milk, vessels, glasses and rent, official and unofficial. After calculating this you decide the cost of a glass of tea. 

What advice would you give to aspiring actors?

At times actors reach a height and feel that they have achieved all. Don’t think this way. A hit is a beginning. Don’t forget where you were. We should think whether we would prove ourselves in the next film, TV serial or play. For this, they shouldn’t get typecast. Once you get typecast people get tired of you. Have the courage to say no. Keep studying. They should also save money. If one or two films become flops, nobody will ask you. Even a dog won’t come to help you. There is no free lunch for anyone. Save 50% of what you earn. We don’t have any provident fund or pension. Don’t spend unnecessarily on expensive cars, mobiles and other things. Save the money so that in case you don’t have any work you can still survive. You won’t need to bow down to others. 

What are your forthcoming films?

I have Aiyaary with Neeraj Pandey who made A Wednesday (2008), Baby (2015) and Naam Shabana (2017). There are many films. I have a film with Revathi. I have done Shivaji Park Dadar Mumbai 28 with Mahesh Manjrekar. It has Dilip Prabhavalkar, Shivaji Satam, Ashok Saraf and Satish Alekar too. 

Today is your birthday. Here’s wishing you a happy birthday. How do you generally spend your birthdays?

Thank you very much. Since many years, I have been donating Rs1 lakh each year. Will do that as long as I have the strength. I will be meeting [chief minister] Devendra Fadnavis and give Rs1 lakh for the chief minister’s relief fund. Whether it is for the welfare of our farmers or jawans, whatever it is. Sometimes I do such a thing for Vikas Amte and Prakash Amte. Sometimes it is for the welfare of organizations for women whose husbands have either left them or who are widowed.

After that, I belong to no one except my wife for the next 24 hours. I will check into an undisclosed five-star hotel and will just be with her. It’s not necessary to talk a lot, but just to be with each other. It’s not that I call my children and grandchildren. If they are busy in their lives, why bother them? And if they feel like visiting, they will either visit me before or after my birthday. The day of the birthday is spent with my wife.