EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW- part 1 - Rakesh Bedi, life, struggles and lessons
Life in the filmdom is not a bed of roses, its a path for the dedicated and patient souls. Ace actor, comedian, playwright, producer, director and poet Rakesh Bedi shares his life and times, struggles and feat, exclusively with TNB's Consulting Editor Rana Siddiqui Zaman
Rakesh Bedi, the man who knew his route and followed it to the hilt
The legendary Hindi / Bengali filmmaker Hrishikesh Mukherjee who gave Bollywood a new genre of films like Chupke Chupke, Anand, Abhimaan, Guddi, Gol Maal, Khubsoorat and Namak Haraam etc, was severely ailing physically in 2006, but he was absolutely fit mentally.
He was an avid watcher of the comedy serial Yes Boss (1999 to 2009) and a fan of Rakesh Bedi, who plays Mohan Shrivastav, a junior creative personnel in an ad agency.
So much was he in love with Bedi that he used to call him at his home every week-ten days, discuss the part he played and asked him lots of questions.
One day, this Dada Sahab Phalke Award recipient told Bedi, “Rakesh, if death comes to fetch me, I will ask Yamraj (the God of death) to wait and take me after I watch you in Yes Boss!” And they laughed heartily.
Mukherjee a few days after this conversation with Bedi died at 83. This remains the “biggest fan moment” for this 66-year-old actor comedian, writer, producer, director, author and poet.
Bedi shares this with me over the phone in an exclusive interview, below.
Bedi, who dawned onto the Hindi film world in the late seventies and was seen in almost every other film as a comedian and/or in other support roles till most part of the 2000s, shares his life story: from struggle days, to passion for theatre, from things that upsets him in the creative world of films, to how he likes to carry on life without any baggage, life in lockdown to his next plans.
The best part is, his patience and his humility. Due to corona induced weakness, I didn’t have much strength to hold on to the phone and talk for a long time, Bedi saheb was kind enough to send me all the answers by voice note – quite many in numbers. After answering all of them, he wrote, “Aaaaaahhhh! Finally, done!”
Here is an excerpt from the long interview
Rana Siddiqui Zaman - You have spent nearly eons in the film world, theatre and television industry. Obviously the experiences of working in all three forms must have been different too. But at a time when you entered the industry, acting was neither considered a lucrative career option nor really stable. How did you convince your parents that this was the only thing you wanted to do?
Rakesh Bedi - When I entered the film industry in 1970s, things were very different. There were apprehensions in the family because we didn’t know anyone in the industry. I didn’t know where to start, what to do, how to do and so on. But my father told me, “If you really want to be an actor, start with theatre first.” So I came to Delhi and did lot of plays. I also started my own theatre group with a friend Shailender Goel and we did lot of plays together – lots means lots. Really!
We did all kinds of plays – amateurish, semi-professional types too - all sorts. Those were the times when we used to do everything on our own – from selling tickets to mounting posters to acting and directing. After that I joined FTII (Films and Television Institute of India, Pune), as it was the only proper channel to reach the film industry.
There was not much hindrance from the family because my mother’s side was already into creative arts. My mama (maternal uncle) was inclined towards arts and my nana (maternal grandparent) was an actor and he used to do plays with the likes of Pran Sahab, Amrish Puri, his elder brother Chaman Puri at Shimla’s prestigious Gaiety Theatre. So, there was not much hindrance from them.
Now, telling you about the type of theatre we did, I am reminded of a hilarious incident. We were going out to paste posters of our play titled “Zehar” (poison) in the dead of the night. As we were mounting posters on a wall, some police personnel passed by us. They saw the word Zehar and started asking us several questions and were ready to arrest us, as they thought that we were some terrorists who were calling out people to spread ‘zehar’ in the society and so on. With great difficulty we convinced them that it was the name of the play, and showed them the name of the theatre and the timings it was being staged at. They asked us to enact a scene to be assured that we were not lying!
So, at 2 in the night, we were actually enacting a scene in front of them on the open road, to assure them of our clean identity!
Obviously, we were spared!
RSZ - Was being a part of Theatre groups and FTII helpful in the film/ TV world at all? Or students like you still needed a Godfather or some jaan-pehchaan to make inroads into this creative world?
RB – The reason that I joined FTII was that I wanted to learn the art and craft of the theatre, its nuances to become a good actor who knew his job well! Second reason was that if I didn’t know anyone in the film industry. I knew at FTII I would make some contacts, acquaintances, some new friends from the industry to get a foot hold there, and that actually proved right.
For instance, when I passed out of FTII in 1976, (I joined in 1974), at the convocation I was performing a play and I was also an emcee of the programme. Guess who was the chief guest at the convocation? G. P. Sippy who had made the super hit Sholay in 1975 which is still running in some cinema halls in India. He watched the play and said, “Rakesh, you come to Bombay. I will cast you in my film in a major role.” The name of the film was ‘Ahsaas’! That was it! That marked my entry into the film industry of Mumbai.
RSZ - Did you wish to begin with, or do comedy only, or was it a destiny-made career for you, as despite doing so many serious roles, you have always been acknowledged more as a comedy stalwart ...
RB – When I was in the second year of FTII, Saeed Mirza (filmmaker/producer/director/writer/author) was there interviewing the students. In my interview I had said even then, that I wanted to do comedy! This interview is still a part of the archives in FTII.
There was a reason behind why I said so. Everyone around me wanted to be a hero and we had those parameters in the film industry that a hero should look like this, a heroine should look like this, hero’s brothers or chamchas and villains should be of a particular way. So I had thought that since I didn’t have a hero’s built or height and I was also chubby faced, comedy would suit me best. And that decision of mine actually paid me rich dividends.
RSZ –Readers do wish to know about your struggle period, some anecdotes that you don't forget in Bombay (then); did it disappoint you ever?
RB – Struggle period was very very arduous as cinema was the only medium of entertainment then. Being from FTII and having some contacts helped me, so I wasn’t in as bad a state as many others. But yes, my struggle was immense too. Those days getting a role was as difficult as getting the money from the producer. They would make us parade around like hell to give us our own hard earned money.
I remember it well, once I went to one of the producers who had not paid my money for a long time. He had finally called to give me my money. He was standing at the gate of a studio. When I reached, he groped his pocket and fished our Rs.15, he gave me 10 out of it and kept Rs.5, saying, “I also have to go home!” That was in mid 70s.
I used to stay at a PG with many others who have made it big in Bollywood like David Dhawan, director Chitrarth, camera person… etc. Once I was left with just 50 paise in my pocket. It could not buy food but just six bananas those days. So I bought six bananas, ate them for dinner and slept thinking tomorrow will be another day! Kal dekha jayega!!
RSZ- What was the thing that kept you going in an industry that forever witnesses a surge of new talents who replace old ones, at times it's also 'a source' that gets more lucrative roles than the deserving lots. Would you mind sharing any such experience?
RB – What kept me going was the desire to do good roles and do best in anything that I do. So I kept on doing films and theatre simultaneously. I had been a very hard working theatre actor. I had always believed that whether the role you do is small or big, if you have done well, it will have a long shelf life. For example this year we are celebrating 40 years of our film Chashm-e-Buddoor. The film is still fresh in the minds of people. So, it no fluke that we are celebrating it even after 40 years! So, if you do good work, it is always recognised and has a long shelf life too.
RSZ - What has been your complaints with the creative world you work in now? The film and/or television world? What kind of films/serials do we still need to make?
RB - My basic complaint mainly from the television industry is, that they now do things as per the TRPs, as per the demands and the commands of the TRP rather. Jiski TRP aati hai vohi kiya jata hai.
When we were a part of serials like Shriman Shrimati, Ye Jo Hai Zindagi, Yes Boss etc., All of these ran for years and are re-telecast for its quality, I don’t remember any creative producer or assistant creative producer, or producers coming to the sets to command us to do what he wished.
The serials were writers’, actors’ and director’s baby and ambition. We all worked with great passion and heart. So those serials always remained in peoples’ hearts till date. Now-a-days, even a serial director often does not even know which serial he is directing. He just directs a scene he is asked to, and goes away as he gets money for that scene on a per day basis.
Our way of working was not like that. We all worked with great passion and bonding. And all of us contributed to all the departments be it acting, writing, directing, stagecraft, costume et al. In today’s times, people on the sets are really disintegrated. Kisiko kisi se koi matlab nahi hai. Koi dil se kaam nahi karta. Everyone is aloof and knows nothing about the other person and his/her work. There is a sense of detachment on the sets.
RSZ – Last but not the least, something about your family people barely know about. How and where did you meet your wife, who proposed whom, and about your beautiful children we know so less of. What do they do? What has been your most beautiful and most unlearning experiences of a married life and having children?
RB – I am married for past 36 years. I got married in 1985. Ours was almost an arranged marriage. We both proposed each other. I had a happy married life. We have two daughters. Elder one is Ritika Bedi, she is into Public Relations, media and production. Younger one, Ridhima Bedi is an actor. She has done lot of theatre with me and done lots of short films, and few good films, one of them is with Nagesh Kukonoor and one recently with Puneet Issar in which she plays a journalist. She is now looking for a good break.
Married life teaches you lots of lessons. One of them is, that ‘wife is always right’. This lesson one has to learn and keep practicing too (laughs).
Since lockdown is on, I am also on some house-bound duties. For instance, my wife handed over the duster the other day and asked me to dust the house. While dusting, I broke her favourite show piece by accident! It made a huge sound as it fell on the floor.
A proud husband and father, Rakesh Bedi with family. Wife Anuradha, and daughters Ritika and Ridhima
My wife came running and started fuming, You can’t do one work properly. You are busy on your phone all the time, sending messages and seeing whatsapp the whole day…“You are good for nothing…” she scolded me a lot, a lot!
But there is something called poetic justice you know!
The same evening, as she pulled the table cover she dropped a plate from the new dinning set, her mother had gifted her. This was her favourite set. Now I had a chance to get back at her.
I Said, “So you broke this plate now!”
She said callously, “Yeah..but it was old.’ I goaded, “No it was new”! She sprung in her own defence, “No no .. Yeah! It was new but I didn’t like it, actually! So, I was anyway planning to give it to someone, you see…”
So, now I know, women have a capability to come out of every situation, clean! (Laughs)
(to be continued...)