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Interview Hindi

From Munna Bhai’s heart patient to Rajkummar’s dad in Stree, Atul Srivastava recalls his journey

The veteran actor gets candid in an exclusive conversation with us. 

Keyur Seta

The name Atul Srivastava might not ring a bell immediately. But his cheerful face with a moustache would surely make you recall his characters from numerous television serials and movies. “People remember me through my characters instead of my name. If you show my picture, they would feel they know me, as if I am someone who visits their place for tea,” he said laughing, during an exclusive conversation with us.

Srivastava was recently seen in a series of well-known films like Bajrangi Bhaijaan (2015), Toilet: Ek Prem Katha (2017), Stree (2018) and Batti Gul Meter Chalu (2018).

Interestingly, the role that has earned him the maximum fame is just a cameo in Rajkumar Hirani’s debut Munna Bhai M.B.B.S (2003). He played the character of an over-acting fake heart patient in Sanjay Dutt’s fake hospital. The actor, however, had initially refused to play such a small role.

“I didn’t know that such a small role can become known. I didn’t know that the film would become such a big hit. So, I had refused. But Rajesh Mapuskar, who was the assistant director, insisted that the character requires an artist like me,” said Srivastava. “Raju ji [Rajkumar Hirani] also felt that as he had seen me in TV serials. I then decided to do it.”

Watch the scene below: 

The result of his decision was for everyone to see. “It became an important part of the film, which became such a big hit. They then called me for the second part (Lage Raho Munna Bhai) also, where I played a dhobi. We developed good relations. Raju ji is a very down-to-earth person,” added Srivastava.

In Stree, he had an important scene with Rajkummar Rao where he is explaining to the latter about sex but in an indirect manner.
Recalling that scene, he said, “You can imagine how difficult it must have been. He is a middle-class person living in Chanderi. So, he has to be at least somewhat orthodox. Hence, there had to be some maryada. While taking note of that, I designed the character and by God’s grace it became successful and the way I wanted it to be.”

Srivastava also gives credit to his co-star. “Rajkummar also has a big role in it. He is such a fine actor and he gave such good support to me. He used to change his body language in between, so I used to scold him saying, ‘Meri baat suno poori! Dekho, aisa hai beta...’ This looked so natural that people appreciated it even on the sets. We enjoyed it,” he said.

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Srivastava recalled his recent meet with Rajkummar. “Although I am his senior, he is a star. But he just has no attitude. He is very supportive. I met him recently. He said, ‘Aapne kamaal kiya.’ [You did well] I said, ‘Kamaal tumne kiya. Tumhari film hai.’ [You did well. It is your film]. I said the scene turned out well because of him,” he said.

With Shahid Kapoor on the sets of Batti Gul Meter Chalu 

Apart from Stree, Srivastava has played a father in Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Toilet, Batti Gul Meter Chalu and Kartik Aayan and Kriti Sanon’s next Luka Chuppi. But he tries making sure they don’t appear repetitive.

“You will find all my father characters different from each other. In case the storyline and character are the same, I work on it to make it appear different. Toilet and Batti Gul Meter Chalu were two films back-to-back with the same director. If the unit itself feels the character and body language is the same, what to tell about the audience?” he asked. “So, I made a different get up with a beard, wig and created new characteristics.”

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He added that it does feel bad when a film in which he did well flops at the box office. “My character in Gulaab Gang (2014) was so good but it got wasted as the film didn’t become a hit. The same was the case with Bombay Velvet (2014) where I played a minister,” he said.

The actor shared that he is selective even when it comes to advertisements. “If I am asked to play a character in an ad who just stands on a side, I don’t do it. I didn’t do one such ad which had Amitabh Bachchan,” he said.

Srivastava feels it was good that he realized his physical appearance won’t leave an impact. “I understood that I needed to increase my talent and intelligence to such a level that it brings out the wow factor in me. I worked day and night on my skills in Delhi without thinking about money. Then I felt ki meri dukaan pe maal achha aa gaya hai. A lot of people asked me to come to Mumbai before but I didn’t as I hadn’t made a slot for myself,” he said.

Atul Srivastava

When asked about his background, he said that he was initially interested in becoming a sportsman. “But when I went for the selection in [class] 10th, I realized there are way better players than me. I realized that my alternative field has to be acting. I used to be a caricature on stage during sixth standard and people used to applaud,” Srivastava recalled.

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Like many other actors, he started off with theatre in the 1980s. “I then did two-year diploma from Bhartendu Natya Academy [in Lucknow] from 1984 to 1986. Then I went to Delhi where I did folk theatre for 10 years. I also did workshops. I migrated to Mumbai in 1994 and did the television serial Kashmakash. I have done 110 serials. Out of these 65 have been comedies,” he said.

Srivastava doesn’t miss theatre though. “I don’t miss it because I teach students at BNA sometimes. It gets me charged. In FTII (Film and Television Institute of India) some theatre students are invited for three months. I teach that batch. I have also taught at Big TV’s institute in Noida and IFTI (Indian Film and Television Institute) in Meerut,” he signed off.

Apart from Luka Chuppi, Srivastava will also be seen in Yahan Sab Gyani Hain and One Love.