There was an unusually cool breeze that April afternoon as the Arabian Sea swelled on the shores of Mumbai’s Carter Road. Shades, denims, checked shirt and a cap that resembled the local Maharashtrian topi were apt for the maverick who hits the high notes of humour and spontaneity. Puffing on a rustic bidi, his gesticulations nearly resembled the tide beyond his ninth floor verandah. Revelling in a good half hour of Urdu sher o shaayri, he nearly forgot all about the interview. His rugged local Mumbaiya lingo interspersed with stylish Gujarati and then, impeccable English in his legendary baritone, made my trilingual tete-a-tete with Jackie Shroff a treat.
Known to be a darling of the masses, the 62 year-old Bollywood icon is in great spirits after the box office success of his recent film Romeo Akbar Walter, the John Abraham-starrer espionage thriller. While speaking about his struggle, parents, son and upcoming projects, Shroff shared gems from his fascinating life of toil, faith and success. Excerpts:
Q You hail from an ethnically diverse background.How has it influenced your thought process?
Tolerance! My father was from Rajkot in Kathiawad, Gujarat and my mother, from Turkmenistan, which was then a part of the USSR. Both didn’t have a problem marrying someone from a land far away from theirs. I learnt the value of tolerance and coexistence, respecting and loving each other as fellow human beings.
Q Do tell us about your initial struggles.
When I was working as a travel agent, I was spotted standing at a bus stop and approached for a modelling assignment. The next morning I was called to the person’s office and I got the assignment. I became a model and after a few years I met Dev Anand who offered me the role of playing the second lead in his film. But then Mithun Chakraborty gave his dates and he got that role while I was made to play Shakti Kapoor’s henchman!
Q What are your childhood memories of Teen Batti in Mumbai’s seaside Walkeshwar area where you lived as a young man?
I have the sea within me, I am a coastal boy. I have salt in my blood and love to be close to the sea all the time (looking prophetically at the swelling waves from his verandah). This is the sea that took my brother. I watched him drown, he was 17 and I was 10. But I block out that memory and still love the sea.
Q Your recent stint with regional cinema saw you in the Gujarati film Ventilator. Did your Gujarati roots make a difference?
It was truly a fantastic experience. I would love to do regional cinema. It was a journey back to my roots through my father’s language, Gujarati. It intrigued me to discover how many diverse dialects are spoken within the Gujarati language.
Q India’s collective nationalistic sentiment often resounds in espionage movies. Do tell us about Romeo Akbar Walter. What inspired you about the story to play the role of the chief of R&AW?
It was a biopic of the patriarch of Indian intelligence and espionage, the late Ravindra Kaushik or “Black Tiger”, the legendary R&AW agent and Indian spy. How could I ever say no? It was the seed he sowed (digging his finger inside a potted plant to demonstrate!) that has grown into this massive tree, India’s intel network that is protecting all of us even as we speak. The director Robbie Grewal did an amazing job and handled me really well. I was juggling two diverse roles, one in the web series Criminal Justice and the other as the said intel chief in Romeo Akbar Walter. I feel undercover is something so “undercover” that not many know about it. But to be able to play the R&AW chief was something totally satisfying. It was my life’s second biopic after that of Wing Commander Bajwa in Border.
Q Your son Tiger is known for his stark individuality.Do you still see shades of Jackie Shroff in him?
Individuality is the word! I am happy to see my boy excel in dancing, fighting, have a great physique and also have an intense emotionality. He has developed the art of beautifully handling emotions. I think he frowns like I do! There’s something about him that resembles me when he frowns, his eyes maybe….
Q What are your upcoming projects?
Prasthanam, a Hindi remake of the 2010 Telugu blockbuster of the same name, Bharat, Firki and Saaho.
Q Do you plan to dabble in production?
No. I just want to remain an actor but produce Public Service Announcement films that focus on welfare topics like HIV, hygiene and healthcare, martial arts for women… though of course, the men have to be taught to behave first.
Q Who is the one person who has influenced your life most?
My mother and her heart. I have my mother’s heart.