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Interview: A.K. Hangal/actor
At A.K. Hangal’s modest apartment in Santa Cruz, he says, “Last week, when I had gone to Delhi to receive the Padma Bhushan, there was another big function where I received an honorary membership.” Then he opens his black wallet, takes out a laminated card of the Press Club of India and says, with a twinkle in his eyes, “Now I am a member of your profession.” At 89, his mind is razor sharp and he moves around easily, a much-loved thespian, who has acted in 250 films.
Excerpts from an interview:
How does it feel to win the Padma Bhushan?
When I first heard that I had received it, I could not believe it. Unlike most people, I was not trying for it. I never thought I would get it. But someone phoned me from Lucknow and told me, “Mubarak, mubarak.” I told him, “Don’t joke, how can I get the Padma Bhushan?” Then I read about it in the newspaper. What really gladdened me was when I heard it was an unanimous decision.
It’s been a long journey for you: from Peshawar to Karachi to Mumbai. How would you describe it?
It was full of events. I started out as a freedom fighter as well as an artist. In Karachi, I was jailed for two years because of trade union activities. Then I migrated to Mumbai with only Rs 20 in my pocket. I joined the Indian People’s Theatre Association. I am its chairman today. I took part in campaigns like the Shreyas Maharashtra Andolan, to divide states on linguistic lines. And then I was dragged into films and have had a long career.
What is the secret of good acting?
If you want to be a good actor, you have to be a good human being. I also had to work very hard to look natural on screen. I had to analyse the character; see from which class he came from, what was his historical background, which community he belonged to; what was his economic status?
To have a better understanding of human beings, you also have to mingle in society.
Are you happy with the films that are made now?
Every age has its products. People change, the situations change, and this is reflected in the films. Now, there is a different kind of acting.
When I acted, I talked from the soul of the character. Today, many actors talk with their muscles (laughs loudly). It is more body now than soul. I am not blaming anybody. Society has become shallow. Everybody is chasing money. Consumerism rules. Very few people are interested in reading or philosophy or the deeper aspects of life.
When Amitabh Bachchan was in Lilavati hospital, O.P. Nayyar was also hospitalised at the same time. But nobody went to meet Nayyar. What could be the reason behind this neglect?
Because Amitabh Bachchan is famous while Nayyar is not.
But Nayyar was famous at one time?
That was a long time ago. Supposing I am very busy today. That means, I am useful to many people. So if I die, they will all come for my funeral. But if I am unemployed, no one will come, except my family and some friends. It happens in every profession, not only in the film industry. So why cry about it? This is human nature.
Bal Thackeray called you ‘an anti-national’ when you attended the Independence Day celebrations of Pakistan in the city. Do you feel bitter about what happened?
He gave the order to boycott my films; he asked that I should not be given work, and halls where my films were being shown were attacked. At midnight, I used to get threatening calls. I was unemployed for two years. My wife died, my son’s wife died, I was in hospital, without any money. I was in big trouble during those days. He forgot that I worked with his father in Shreyas Maharashtra Andolan. I was a freedom fighter before he was born. But see, where he is today, and where I am. I am not against anybody. Why should anybody be against me?
What was the reaction from the industry?
There was plenty of private support but no one was willing to speak out in public because they did not want to antagonise Thackeray.
What does the word ‘hangal’ mean?
I belong to a Kashmiri Pandit family. Hangal means stag (a deer).