‘A lot of actors auditioned for Wagle Ki Duniya, but R K Laxman rejected them all.’
‘He was the decision-maker, as the serial was based on his Common Man.’
‘He wanted a natural, who looked like a common man.’
IMAGE: Aanjjan Srivastav in the series Na Bole Tum Na Maine Kuch Kaha. Photograph: Kind courtesy Aanjjan Srivastav/Instagram
Aanjjan Srivastav brought alive legendary cartoonist R K Laxman’s memorable Common Man on the small screen, playing him in Wagle Ki Duniya.
Not many know that Aanjjan began his career aged 19 in Bengali theatre in Calcutta. Ten years later, he came to Bombay to begin his struggle and eventually become an actor of merit.
On his 75th birthday on June 2, Aanjjan tells Patcy N/Rediff.com, “When television came, my life changed.”
‘I was inspired by Balraj Sahni’
My father worked at Allahabad Bank and was transferred to Calcutta. That’s where I was born.
After graduation, I got a job in Allahabad Bank.
My father did not want me to make a career in acting, as he wanted me to have a stable job.
The atmosphere in Calcutta was very artistic, and I was drawn towards Bengali theatre and radio plays because of a maternal uncle.
I was inspired by Balraj Sahni.
I met him when I was young; he was shooting for a film with Motilalji in Calcutta, who died four days after I met him.
I saw Balraj Sahni shoot a scene, and learnt later that he was a member of IPTA (Indian People’s Theatre Association).
I started doing plays for All India Radio, and got acquainted with directors from different theatre groups. I started doing Bengali plays with drama groups like Kala Bhavan, Sangeet Kala Mandir and Adakar.
The Statesman newspaper praised my work in a play and my uncle appreciated it. He spoke to my father about letting me do plays along with my bank job.
I did plays for 10 years. I started with lead roles and slowly shifted to character roles.
I did a small role in Ajit Lahiri’s film Chamelee Memsaab (1979), and met (actor) Abha Dhulia through that. I asked her if she would guide me if I came to Bombay.
I came to Bombay in 1978.
‘I had no place to stay, no food and no job’
IMAGE: Aanjjan Srivastav gets his make up done. Photograph: Kind courtesy Aanjjan Srivastav/Instagram
My younger sister passed away in 1976, but before that, she told my father to let me go to Bombay and pursue acting.
My father told me to try my luck for three months, and return if I failed.
My struggle started after three months. I had no place to stay, no food and no job.
My bank wouldn’t give me a job, and I didn’t have one for six months.
Finally, I wrote to them and said that I won’t take a promotion for three years. I took a demotion and joined as a clerk.
I also got my All India Radio job transferred to Bombay and started getting some dubbing jobs.
‘I would often go to Hrishida’s house to eat’
IMAGE: Aanjjan Srivastav in M S Sathyu’s play Moteram Ka Satyagraha. Photograph: Kind courtesy Aanjjan Srivastav/Instagram
I met Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s uncle through a friend in Calcutta.
That’s how I was introduced to Hrishikesh Mukherjee.
Hrishida was very happy that I did theatre.
When he came to know that I had no job and not eaten, he gave me food.
After that, I would often go to Hrishida‘s house to eat.
I got the opportunity to meet other directors at his house.
He gave me my first film in Golmaal, in which I played a small role of an inspector.
I joined IPTA at the same time and made contacts there.
I came to know that Vidhu Vinod Chopra was making his first film Sazaye Maut (1981), and I got the role of Naseeruddin Shah’s prosecutor. That was my break.
Raman Kumar was doing Saath Saath, and he gave me a role.
Ramesh Talwar gave me Sawaal.
I started getting small roles.
M S Sathyu gave me my first big break in theatre in a play called Bakri. People in the industry started recognising me because of this play.
I got J P Dutta’s Ghulami and work started flowing in.
‘Kundan Shah gave me the biggest role of my life’
IMAGE: Aanjjan Srivastav and Bharti Achrekar in Wagle Ki Duniya. Photograph: Kind courtesy Aanjjan Srivastav/Instagram
When television came, my life changed.
I worked mostly with Kundan Shah.
I also worked with Aziz Mirza in Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman, and I did Manoranjan and Intezar with Saeed Mirza.
Kundan believed in me. He always thought I could do any type of role. That’s why he kept repeating me.
He gave me the biggest role of my life in Wagle Ki Duniya. A lot of actors auditioned for it, but R K Laxman rejected them all. He was the decision-maker, as the serial was based on his common man.
He wanted a natural, who looked like a common man.
I had worked for almost 11 years in theatre by then, but got better training while doing Wagle Ki Duniya.
I did seven roles in Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi (directed by Kundan Shah, Raman Kumar and Manjul Sinha). I did an episode in Nukkad too.
Dil Hai Tumhara was my last film with him. We did another one, PM Se PM Tak, but it never released.
Part 2: ‘Shah Rukh was not rigid’ Coming next week!