Article Hindi

Narendra Jha (1962-2018): The actor who trusted destiny


The actor died of a massive heart attack at his farmhouse in Wada in the early hours of 14 March.

Keyur Seta

The name Narendra Jha might not be a familiar name among the masses. But those who have seen him deliver high quality performances in films like Haider (2014), Ghayal Once Again (2016), Mohenjo Daro (2016), Raees (2017) and Kaabil (2017), would agree that he deserved the respect of a star. His intense expressions and powerful dialogue delivery with that trademark baritone is something you can’t forget easily.

Interestingly, he had the aura of a star even in real life. This writer had the chance of interacting with him twice and on both occasions his confidence and presence of mind while answering questions made him come across as a highly experienced, seasoned star. In reality, he acted in only over 20 films.

Jha was born on 28 April 1962 in Madhubani in Bihar. He developed an interest in acting while he was doing his post-graduation from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi. Like many aspiring actors with no filmi background, he started off as a theatre actor. He had made a serious effort at the civil services, but it didn’t work out.

When Jha told his parents about his acting aspirations, his father asked him to take proper training. Hence, he got enrolled at the Sri Ram Center in Delhi for a diploma in acting. Following this, he migrated to Mumbai where he started getting modelling offers. This was soon followed by opportunities in television serials.

He started off with roles in serials like Shanti, Itihaas and Thief Of Bagdhad. But his first major work in TV came in the well-known series Amrapali in 2002. During one of our interviews, he said that he never had to struggle to find work. “I never had to search for work, though there is nothing wrong in looking for work,” he had said.

So, likewise, he got an offer to star in his debut film Fun2shh: Dudes Of The 10th Century (2003), which was directed by Imtiaz Punjabi. But his real arrival was in Shyam Benegal’s ambitious project, Subhash Chandra Bose: The Forgotten Hero (2004). He played Habibur Rahman in the film. The legendary filmmaker cast him again years late in his TV series Samvidhaan (2014), where he got the chance to play the important character of Mohammed Ali Jinnah.

In between, he kept juggling between films and TV. But the film that got him popularity was Vishal Bhardwaj’s Haider (2014). Playing Shahid Kapoor’s father Dr Hilal Meer, he had an out-of-the-box character of a surgeon who secretly operated wounded militants although he wasn’t one. When his wife, played by Tabu, asks him in the film, “Tum kiski taraf ho?” [You are on whose side?], he firmly answers, “Zindagi ki.” [I am on the side of life].

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

One might feel that a talent like Jha should have entered the mainstream Hindi film arena much before. But he didn’t believe so. When we asked him, he was quick to say, “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.”

During the course of the discussion, he also said that he kept refusing a lot of offers if there wasn't anything worthwhile for him to do. “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 [in a year]. 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 is a certain responsibility upon you,” he had said.

It isn’t surprising that Jha took up challenging roles in the coming years. His character in Raees (2017) didn’t have too much screen time. But its importance coupled with the actor’s act ensured that you take the character back despite big names like Shah Rukh Khan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui being present throughout the film.

It was the same case in Sanjay Gupta’s Kaabil too. Although Rohit Roy and Ronit Roy were the villains, it was Jha’s character of a cop that was determined to punish the deeds of the protagonist played by Hrithik Roshan. Of course, the hero wins but the character of the cop retains its dignity, for which the credit goes to Jha as well.

Mohenjo Daro saw him play a village mad man. His get-up and crazy antics won’t let you believe that it was him. His act in Shorgul (2016) has gone unnoticed, since the film bombed. He had just one substantial scene where he delivers a communally instigating speech. Not many would know that his character was based on real politician Azam Khan while his lines were the real words of another politician, Asauddin Owaisi, who was booked for his words.

His upcoming films include biggies like Saaho, which is Prabhas’s next after the blockbuster Baahubali: The Conclusion (2017), and Race 3, which featured Salman Khan.

Jha did a small, independent film Viraam (2017) last year. Incidentally, he had lost his father during the shoot of that film. But he didn’t take a break in order to ensure that the producers don’t face loses.

Ironically, it was also the last time he saw himself on the big screen.