At 23, actor Nitish Bharadwaj became the poster boy of Indian mythology after he touched audiences’ hearts with his role as Lord Krishna in the epic serial ‘Mahabharata’ in the 90s. In an exclusive interview with Nation Next, Nitish Bharadwaj speaks about his role in the latest movie Kedarnath, his popularity as Lord Krishna, his stint in politics and more…
Audience is loving your role in Kedarnath movie that stars Sushant Singh Rajput and Sara Ali Khan. You play Sara’s father. Please tell us something about your role…
I play Sara’s father. I play the kind of father, which I’m not in real life. I play a priest Pandit Brijraj Mishra or Panditji, who’s orthodox and opportunist and who uses his daughter for his personal gains. He’s involved in local politics and has an aspiration to rise politically.
Your dialogue in Kedarnath – Nahi hoga yeh sangam, fir chahe pralay hi kyu na aa jaye – has been trending on social media. People have been making jokes on it – some are relating it with their studies, some with their marriage, etc. You’d said it in a serious context but people made it look caricaturish. How do you respond to this reaction by the people on social media? Is it dangerous?
I don’t respond to such reactions. Whatever people are writing (trolling) on social media, they’re doing it with everybody. There are people on social media who want to troll anyone and everyone. They’re finding loopholes in everything. How can one react on such things? There are better things to do in life.
How was it working with Sushant and Sara in the film?
It was great working with both Sushant and Sara. Sara is brilliant. She has a curve for learning. Learning is an on-going process. Knowledge is such a big boon. One should always remain a seeker in life. She’s really evolving that ways.
You’re the poster boy of Indian mythology and Lord Krishna is considered to be a rational, patient and progressive. In Kedarnath, you play an orthodox father. How sure are you of your acceptability to the audience?
The audience today has changed. Yes, I played Lord Krishna and people accepted me as one to an extent that my popularity still remains. People look up to me as Lord Krishna even now. But when people enter into a cinema hall to see a film, I’m sure they know what they’re getting into (vis-à-vis characters). The story of Kedarnath has been edited and shot so tightly, that they’ll hardly get anytime to think otherwise. The audience starts questioning your character only when there’s a flaw in the story. But in Kedarnath, everything is believable and realistic. There’s no scope for audience to question anything.
You’d directed Marathi film Pitruroon starring Tanujaji. How was it working with her?
Working with Tanujaji was great. I needed a fresh face in Marathi cinema for Pitruroon. My producers were in fact very unsure of casting her. They asked me why would Tanujaji do this film. But my question was that why would any actor refuse it? I spoke to her and she immediately called me up for narration. Tanujaji by the end of the narration was in tears. I let her be on her on own for a while. After a long pause, I asked her for her reply to the narration, to which she said, “What to you mean by reply? I’m doing this film!” She said that because her character in the film is a widow, she’d shave her head to look real and feel her role. She’s phenomenal, well read and a professional. In fact, she was the most professional person on the set! Even today I’m in touch with her. My team members and producers initially were iffy of casting her. They thought we’d not be able to handle her but she was brilliant.
You joined politics and won Lok Sabha elections from Jamshedpur in 1996. Then after few years you abruptly retired from politics. You’d even said that BJP had wilfully ignored your potential. What made you say that?
I said that because I know I still have the potential. Certain middle level politicians (not very established ones) start feeling insecure by the popularity of an actor. If an actor is popular and he speaks their political language, then things get difficult for them. I never recited Mahabharata’s dialogues on stage as a politician. I gave hard-core political speeches. And this is what created problems for certain tier two politicians. I don’t believe in wasting my time and energy in struggling to convince people for something. The difference between cinema and politics is that your good performance in politics (while rising) creates more enemies for you. Where as in cinema, your good performance as a director, actor, etc., gives you good work. So I voluntarily retired from active politics. Though I’m a BJP supporter, I don’t contest or campaign in elections.
At 23, people wanted to touch your feet wherever you went, girls would stand at your doorstep and your mother would end up imagining you when she offered prayers to Lord Krishna. What were the pros and cons of being this successful?
Yes, my mother would do that! And that’s the best compliment for me so far. My mother would tell me that whenever she prayed, my face would come to her mind. The dialogue writer of Mahabharata Dr Rahi Masoom Raza, once when we were shooting, said, “Come and sit next to me.” I thought I’d committed a mistake the way he asked me to sit next to him. He said, “Kabhi kabhi hum jo likhte hai, hame lagta hai ki humne kya likha, lekin hamare likhe hue ko jab aap bolte ho toh humko lagta hai ki humne kya likha!” (At times when we write dialogues, we feel that we’ve written them ordinarily but when you mouth the dialogues that we’ve written, we feel we’ve written them so well). That’s the biggest compliment coming from a dialogue writer of his calibre (a calibre that’s missing in Bollywood today).
Speaking about pros and cons, I could manage success well as belief is a part of the Indian culture. People know every artist who plays Lord Rama or Goddess Sita even in villages by their characters. I have had a simple middle-class upbringing where spiritually I’ve always believed in striving for sadhana. I learnt to respect people who touched my (Lord Krishna’s) feet. I’d remind myself that the reverence was for Him and not for me.
You played the best Lord Krishna compared to other characters. Do you think your portrayal as Lord Krishna gets overshadowed by any role you do?
My role as Lord Krishna in Mahabharata is a landmark role! I don’t expect people to get gaga over my other roles the way they’ve gone over my role as Lord Krishna. People always look up to something that gives them hope. They don’t look up to a weak person or a person with weakness. So I don’t expect people to look up to my character in Mohenjo Daro or Kedarnath. I’ll be happy if my role as Panditji is appreciated but people can’t look up to my role because my character is not someone whom you can look up to. Panditji’s weakness in Kedarnath creates a drama for the main story that belongs to the hero and the heroine. If Panditji wasn’t shown as a weak person, the story would have fallen flat.
You disappeared from the television for almost 15-20 years. Did you make some wrong decisions vis-à-vis your career?
Probably I didn’t handle my career too well as I tasted success too early in life. I didn’t have the right advisers; also my parents weren’t from the industry so even they couldn’t give advice me. I had distractions and deviations. I made some wrong decisions. My career went one step ahead and five steps behind then. But I learnt my lesson. Wrong decisions put me on the path of sadhana and I learnt the much-required lessons for my soul. We’re all spiritual beings who are here for human experience. All the trials and tribulations are a part of human existence. Those 15-20 years of I wont say ‘oblivion,’ but not being at the same peak has taught me a lot about life, which makes my writing and direction of better quality today.