The return of the bad man...
His name brought fear to the eyes of many. His name sold films at the box office until he was gradually reduced to playing character roles in many films. Now Prem Chopra is poised for a comeback. RANA A. SIDDIQUI speaks to the man who was in Delhi this past week for the shooting of "Dhund"... .
`DON'T YOU feel afraid being with me,' he queries with rehearsed horrific expressions on his face and laughs his heart out without waiting for an answer. Clad in all blue, he has now grown old... not quite a true blue but close. And one dare say, stylish and wise. Words are not very clear when he speaks but expressions are. He terrifies you with his grandeur, leaves you pensive with his philosophy and surprises you with his wits and patience.
Prem is his name. Prem Chopra, they call him.
Yes, his is the name that forced many new mothers to abandon any thoughts of christening their new-borns after that human emotion - love, or as they say in Hindi, Prem.
That must have surely reminded you of his arrival and dialogue in Raj Kapoor's blockbuster "Bobby" in which he makes a small but impressive appearance. This short role made him a household name in early 1970s.
Unlike many other villains, the seductive style of Prem's dialogue delivery won him applause in the bad world of Bollywood. Be it "Main woh bala hoon jo sheeshe se paththar ko todta hoon" in Sawan Kumar's "Sautan" or "Paisa bahut badi cheez hai" in "Saboot", he placed himself comfortably when villains like Pran and Ranjeet reigned in Hindi cinema.
Now seldom seen as a villain, Prem Chopra makes a comeback as a `senior don' in Hindi films. As Al-Qaida chief in Sawan Kumar's yet untitled film. And as a scheming industrialist in "Dhund", the shooting of which brought him to Delhi recently.
At New Delhi's Hotel Hans Plaza, Prem Chopra seems restless, witty, humorous and honest to the core.
"Oh I am not left with lion's share of films these days. See these directors, they are inflicting torture on me, they make me the father of all beautiful queens. I am Aishwarya Rai's father in `Radheshyam Sitaram' and Priyanka Chopra's dad in a K. C. Bokadia's film. What do I do? All beautiful girls are taken away by today's young baddies... "
For this graduate in arts from Punjab University, Bollywood came much later. He was working with The Times of India as its Circulation supervisor in late `60s.
"In the beginning I would promote the paper through door to door sales. After the office hours I would do theatres and also parade around all studios to lap up some role."
He worked in Punjabi films out of which "Chaudhary Karnal Singh" in which he played the title role won many national awards. But it did not help him climb the ladder of success in Bollywood.
Hence, he did some insignificant roles in films like "Woh Kaun Thi", a Sunil Dutt-Sadhna-starrer.
FROM PREM CHOPRA WITH LOVE: Prem Chopra in Delhi and (right) sharing a joke with with "Dhund" co-stars Apoorva Agnihotri and Divya Palat.
"It was not easy to work in office and films together. I never used to be spared time for myself. But I had to survive anyhow."
So he kept working till Manoj Kumar's "Upkaar" came to his rescue. After "Upkaar I left my job to do films full-time."
However, success came to him only after "Bobby". Later, a lot many villainous roles in "Trishool", Kala Patthar", "Do Anjaane" "Aas Paas", Kala Sona" and so on - all runaway hits and he became the most sought after villain till early `90s when heroes started playing negative roles. One also saw him in not-so-plum roles in "Phool Bane Angaare" and "Chori Chori Chupke Chupke" recently.
Surprisingly, he does not nurture any grudges against directors who have nearly brought the era of a "through and through bad character" in films to an end. "What's wrong with heroes playing negative role? In fact, it is good because earlier a bad man would be a bad man only -- hated, discarded and cornered all together but now the audience at least tries to go behind the face of the character. They try to know why he has grown a villain and that is a positive change at societal level also," philosophies Prem who thinks after all it is the villain who makes the hero emerge triumphant and helps audience make a difference between the good and the bad. Hence, in films he had been happy playing bad man only. "Oh I had no patience for lip movements in songs and running around trees," he confides.
But he is certainly not happy with what villains have been reduced to in Hindi films.
"Today they are reduced to playing cheap and vulgar characters that arouse frontbenchers' interest. Unfortunately, they sell also. For how long can one say that he will not compromise with the changing times? But it is disheartening to see them in senseless moulds," his face turns grim making him look older than he actually is. Times have made him also compromise with the changing attitudes in Bollywood.
"I have started playing small character roles having little or no significance. What can I do? These are the only roles that are offered to me. How can I go on saying no to them? I have no choice," he minces no words while revealing his actual position in Bollywood today.
Still waiting for a substantial role, he surprises you by telling that the most interesting character he ever played was that of a father of a girl who is possessed by some supernatural power in a South Indian film "Jaadoo Tona" in 1960.
"It was a major success in Mumbai and ran in cinema halls for a year," he recalls.
Few people know that he is a voracious reader of "anything from junk to classics." Sydney Sheldon remains his favourite writer, "Fountain Head" his pet book. He also calls himself an amateur poet.
"I write in Urdu, some amateur couplets you know," he feels shy of reciting them.
However, there is no regret in his voice as he looks back at his long career. "Earlier actors were looked down upon. Now with Hindi film industry making global waves, cine stars are taken seriously and command respect. Now, even an actor can aspire to be the Prime Minister or President. See, wasn't Ronald Reagan, the former President of United States a small-time actor in Hollywood?"
You nod. And move on. Prem Chopra may not scare you away today but he is still has a formidable presence.
Photos: R V Moorthy.
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