Birthday Special: Jackie Shroff, the reluctant hero

Birthday Special: Jackie Shroff, the reluctant hero

Feb 1, 2023 - 14:30
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Birthday Special: Jackie Shroff, the reluctant hero

Along with Mahesh Bhatt’s underrated Kaash, Hero remains Jackie Shroff’s finest performance to date. Unlike his colleague Anil Kapoor, Jackie has never been picky. It shows in the quality of their respective oeuvres.

While Anil Kapoor was single mindedly focused on being a star, Jackie didn’t care as long as the money to look after his family kept coming in.

“I never thought I’d become an actor. Once I did, I never thought I’d become a star. When that happened I thought it would be over in a few years. I never thought I’d last this long,” Jackie once told me.

Unlike some of his brassy publicity-hungry colleagues, Jackie Shroff is very shy in public. He hates talking about himself. And if you insist on doing an interview with him, he will speak in mumbled half-sentences, and ask you to fill in the gaps. Once his most constant male co-star asked him, ‘why doesn’t he market himself better?’ and he replied, “Because I am not a bar of soap,” Jackie mumbled.

Jackie loves to sing. Rather than converse he will sing to himself especially Dev Anand numbers. His favourite singers are Mohd Rafi and Kishore Kumar. He loves Rafi Saab’s Main zindagi ka saath nibhata chala gaya from his favorite film Hum Dono. Jackie also sang on screen for his own character in Shiva Ka Insaaf. Jackie starred in the first 3D film in Hindi Shiva Ka Insaaf in which he played a super-hero, Zorro mask and all. Jackie’s son Tiger sought inspiration from his father for A Flying Jatt where he played a super-hero. Farq itna hai, Jackie’s super-hero flew. Tiger’s sank.

Jackie’s favourite actor is Dev Anand whom he unabashedly idolized and copied in his earlier days. Jackie also had a crush on Asha Parekh. When he finally met her, he couldn’t stop blushing.

Though Jackie is a month younger than Anil, he played Anil’s older brother in Ram Lakhan. When I once asked Jackie about this, he gave me a classic reply. “Kya farq padta hai, Dost? Dev Saab was older than all of us. Yet he was the youngest hero of Indian cinema.”

Till Dev Anand’s death, his self-declared biggest fan Jackie Shroff continued to connect with his idol once every fortnight. It was a self-imposed rule. Jackie had to catch up with Dev sahab.

“It wasn’t for him, it was for my own sake. I hero-worshipped Dev sahab, from the first to the last day. My mother was his biggest fan. She passed it on to me. My earliest memory is of being sent to school by my mother with that famous ‘Dev Anand puff’ hair,” Jackie confessed in a sentimental moment.

Interestingly, Jackie ended up playing henchman to Shakti Kapoor in Dev Anand’s Swami Dada, after being offered the second lead. “I was to play the second lead to Dev Sahab. Then he got big star (Mithun Chakraborty) for that role. He felt sorry for me. He told me there was one role still open. I had to stand quietly behind Shakti Kapoor throughout. Did anyone ever say ‘No’ to Dev sahab? I’d blindly do any role – big, small, cameo or walk-on for him.”
Dev Anand was also Jackie’s spiritual guru. “He taught me so much about life, cinema, goodness and being kind to others. I never ever saw him raise his voice at anyone. ”

Apparently Dev Anand’s one catchphrase to Jackie was about his search for new talent. “Koi nayee ladki hai kya? Achcha chalo ussko bhejo mere paas. Dev sahab was constantly on the look-out for new talent. The fact that some of his most prized female discoveries chose not to work with him after he groomed and made them into stars really hurt him. Dev sahab would search for new girls on the rebound. That’s the sad truth.”

Jackie was preparing to direct a film for Dev Anand. “Would you believe it, he offered me a film to direct under the Navketan banner! Jackie’s spiritual guru sent him letters offering advice and wisdom. “They are my most precious possessions. They’ll be handed over to my son one day. I’ve them laminated and on the wall.”

How does Jackie feel about being a role-model to so many actors as Dev Anand was to Jackie?

Jackie brushes off his iconic status. “Aisa main kabhi nahin sochta. I am what I am. I never thought of myself as a star. My son Tiger is the star.”

Subhash K Jha is a Patna-based journalist. He has been writing about Bollywood for long enough to know the industry inside out.

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