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Nehru death anniversary: Here is what 'screen Nehru' Dalip Tahil has to say

In an exclusive conversation, Dalip Tahil, who has portrayed Jawarharlal Nehru three times on the big and small screens, speaks about India's first prime minister.

Keyur Seta

Many artistes have played important characters from history in films. But Dalip Tahil is one of the rare ones who has played the same historical character not once or twice but three times in his career!

Tahil has portrayed freedom fighter, Congress leader and India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (2013), Samvidhan (2013, TV series) and Bhaai: Vyakti Kee Valli (2019, Marathi).

On Nehru’s 55th death anniversary today (the prime minister died on 27 May 1964), Tahil shared his thoughts on the towering personality on whom he has done a fair amount of research to be able to portray him on screen three times.

“Our former prime minister had an important contribution to India’s freedom," the stage, television and film actor said. "His impact was seen on a lot of people. He himself used to encourage people, which is what India needed then. He became a politician and a leader but he was a poet at heart.”

Anyone who has been keeping track of Indian politics lately would know how Nehru has repeatedly been denigrated and blamed for current problems even five decades after his death.

Asked about this, Tahil said, “Politics is something I would not like to get into, but it is a field where anybody can say anything to anyone. We all make mistakes. And the whole atmosphere and period was such that India had faced Partition and got independence after 200 years. He had to run the country in such a situation. There was poverty and not much funds. I will always applaud the way Panditji took care of the country in such conditions.

"At that time who had the experience of running a country? Who could have said then that he or she would have run the country better? When he became the PM, it was a new thing for him too. He was learning how to do things and whom to take inspiration from. His only aim was that he should take the country forward.

"It is easy to point fingers and call out mistakes in hindsight and blame him. Go back 70 years and say how you would have managed things.”

Nehru's character played an important part in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. Tahil recalled the time he spent with the real Milkha Singh during the making of the film.

“Milkha Singh saheb himself took me to a golf club and said that if Panditji hadn’t suggested it, he would never have gone to Pakistan again. He said Panditji turned his whole life around!”

Tahil appeared as Nehru in just one scene in the Pu La Deshpande biopic Bhaai, but it was a memorable scene. “It is an important moment when Deshpande meets him and suggests that like Akashwani [All India Radio], the [government's] TV channel should be named Prakashwani. It takes guts to say it in front of the prime minister. [Director] Mahesh Manjrekar asked if I would like to play the role while we were shooting for the web-series Selection Day. I said yes in a second,” the veteran actor said.

Tahil also pointed out that Nehru hailed from a rich family. As a schoolboy around the turn of the last century, he used to get a large (for those times) sum as pocket money and his residence in Allahabad had a tennis court and swimming pool.

Farhan Akhtar as Milkha Singh and Dalip Tahil as Nehru in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag

“Panditji could have spent his life in luxury and comfort," Tahil said. "But he helped people by spending his father’s money, helped make the Congress. This is very difficult. How many rich people would be willing to leave all their wealth and tread on such a path?”

Tahil also pointed out that it was Mahatma Gandhi who brought about the change in Nehru by asking him to visit India's villages. “When he saw the condition of the poor and the farmers, he realized his path," he said.

Curiously, the veteran went on to make a point that Congress supporters might find sacrilegious. “I feel if Panditji had been alive today, he might well have been in the BJP, standing with Narendra Modi,” he claimed. Asked why he believes so, Tahil said, “Because he always felt he should do something for the country, for people like the farmers and the downtrodden.

“Unfortunately, he couldn’t live longer to do more. But he did whatever he could for the nation.”