Reconstructing B’wood’s original villain
Reconstructing Bollywood’s Original Villain, Think Bollywood villain and one of the first names that come to your mind, is Prem Chopra.
Think Bollywood villain and one of the first names that come to your mind, is Prem Chopra. One of the few actors to have been working in the industry for more than five decades - from the black-and-white era to the new millennium- and is still going strong and is a legend in his own right.
This fascinating memoir, penned by his daughter Rakita Nanda and told in Prem Chopra’s words, reveals the story behind the man people loved to hate. From his time as a young boy who used to wait outside the Clarks Hotel in Shimla to catch a glimpse of the film stars who stayed there, to being mobbed by fans at the same hotel many years later.
Reviled by film viewers for his lecherous on screen avatar and loved by his colleagues off screen, Prem Chopra is essentially a family man – a great son, brother, devoted husband and a doting father to three daughters. Prem Naam Hai Mera, Prem Chopra is an intimate look at the life of one of the most enduring stars of the Indian film industry. Catching up with Chopra chatting on his favorite hero, Amitabh Bachchan…
Your children must be used to seeing you bash up and get bashed on screen all the time.
Yes, except earlier they were babies and now they were watching films and asking questions. I often wondered how my children felt seeing me play a bad man and getting beaten up on screen by Amitabh Bachchan. Did they love him like the rest of the millions, did they hate me? They were constantly told that Papa just plays the bad man but is a good man in real life. This had to be understood; it was a job that resulted in a good education for them. So they shouldn’t believe what they see on the screen.
How and where did you first meet Amitabh Bachchan?
‘Pyar Ki Kahani’ (1971) was one of my earlier films with him. I had already seen him in ‘Parwana’ (1971), having been invited for a trial at Rajendra Kumar’s Dimple Preview Theatre by Navin Nischol. Navin and I lived in the same building and were friends. The film was passable, but I stopped to ask him who the tall boy in a negative role was. I was told that he was a poet’s son.
Before that you were associated with Rajesh Khanna films and delivered many hits together?
The transition from the romantic Rajesh Khanna era to the Amitabh Bachchan angry young man era was smooth. I had been a part of films even before Rajesh Khanna and learnt that the only way to survive here is to mind my own business, so I would go for shootings and get back home. I enjoyed socializing, I still do but I never crossed a line and always maintained my distance. I never forgot that I was first an actor. I worked on my art and craft, never worked to be a part of an exclusive camp.
And how did you reinvent yourself from time to time?
It was around this time I felt that the portrayal of the villain’s character needed a makeover. And as though the scriptwriters had read my mind, I got an opportunity to play one of the best roles of my career in ‘Do Anjaane’ (1976). Dulal Guha’s able direction helped me evolve my character and present him in an interesting way. The character worked with the audience and the scriptwriters and directors now scrambled to write meatier roles for me in their stories.
You have spent a lot of time during outdoors with Bachchan any favorite memory?
During ‘Trishul’, Shashi Kapoor, Amitabh and I were drinking at the Oberoi. After three drinks, Amitabh started playing the sitar and we lost count of time. Finally one of us opened the curtains and we were shocked that it was almost dawn. Shashi and I decided to go back to our rooms. I was so drunk that I was supporting myself against the wall on the way to my room. Later everyone joked that if anyone had opened a door before I reached my room, I would have walked straight in and tumbled into their bed.
Any other memories…?
Yes, during the shooting of ‘Kala Patthar’ we were on a long outdoor shoot when the media was invited to visit the sets. The journalists were curious to find out who between Amitabh Bachchan and Shatrughan Sinha had the better role and asked the same question to all on the sets. It was getting embarrassed so I finally said that I played the industrial tycoon and Sinha, Bachchan are my employees… so clearly I have the best role in the film! Everybody was relieved and the tension was diffused temporarily as everyone had a good laugh.
You have worked with the best old and new talent in Hindi films?
I have been fortunate to be around since the time fo the the B&W cinema era to the present multiplex movies’ era. I’m privileged to be loved and respected by my peers and the youngsters. I believe I was selected on the basis of the role and my talent and it was fascinating to be working with the best talent at that time - namely Salim–Javed, Manmohan Desai, Yash Chopra and Manoj Kumar, those were such special days, we worked hard and partied hard too.
Last, how does it feel to have your daughter write a book on you?
Oh it is the best feeling; she has not just recapped my journey in this book but made me so proud of her. All of us, my wife and other children are very proud of her achievement. She is not a professional writer but she has done a remarkable job, in fact the book and the experience is special because she has written it.