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“To me, Mumbai is Hollywood”

South star Jagapathi Babu in conversation with team Box Office India

BOI: What was it like working with Mr Rajinikanth In Lingaa?

Wonderful! He is not a regular person like we are. If I say ‘not like us’, it will sound as if I am saying that he is mental! (Laughs) He is very down-to-earth and I learnt so much from him. He is unbelievably good to everybody. In fact, when I did my first film with him in Telugu, I thought he was just being really nice. After a while, I realised that nobody can ‘act’ like that. So I thought that either he is the best actor in the world or he is the best human being in the world. I believe the latter is true.

BOI: Is that why did you decide to work in Lingaa?

100 per cent! The moment they told me he was there in the film, I told the producers I was on board. I didn’t want to know about the subject or the remuneration because I enjoy the travel even more than my character. Travel is the high point of the film and he is above me, above all people, so I learnt a lot from him. I especially used to like it when his fans would come to meet him. I made it a point to go to his room see the reaction of the people before he arrived, after he arrived and while he was there. He is so real, he just walks into the crowd. Those people are fanatics and anything can happen when a superstar does that. But he just walks in. I mentioned this at the trailer launch too, that people come to see him with such frenzy but they stop in front of him, quietly, with respect for him. That’s the kind of aura he exudes.

He gave me an autographed book on spirituality and I told everyone at the trailer launch that this was the first and last autograph I would ever receive. I am not an autograph person, and I don’t needlessly flatter people. I like to say things the way they are.

BOI: You have completed a journey of 25 years. What has it been like?

Wonderful. Movies are magic and it is the only medium where one person can see himself in 360 degrees, whether front, back, profile, whatever, and in different roles and characters. And the fans that you have are amazing. Of course, you also get to see the best girls! The lead is always supposed to look nice and the girls are also supposed to look their best. And I love women. There are no two ways about it! (Laughs)

The best part about being an actor is that even the politicians in my country are not known to everybody but I am known to everybody in Andhra. So I can walk into the CM’s office any time. Even if a cop catches me, he sometimes lets me go. Where else can this magic happen? And you meet so many wonderful people like Mr Rajinikanth, and such talented technicians, and you travel to so many places where you have not been before. And you also have lunch and dinner at some of the most bizarre places like graveyards! There is so much variation in our lives that life keeps ticking and it’s fun all the time. I would also say that movies keep families glued together…because most of the time, you are not there at home, so you don’t fight with your family! So being an actor is the best arrangement! (Laughs)

BOI: You must have seen ups and downs in your career.

My career began with a down. I don’t know about Hindi but in Telugu, there is this term ‘iron leg’. It’s like a jinx. So if this one guy comes to my office, my office shuts shop. That’s the sort of leg I had when I started out. Initially, six-seven of my films flopped and then something happened and my films began running. Finally my leg turned golden and platinum and again it went back to being iron. And the cycle continued. So I keep telling people in my industry, that I have never changed my leg; it’s you guys who keep coming up with these analogies. Actually, RGV gave me a godfather-like break in Telugu films. He gave me a role in Sarkaar. We did that film first in Telugu 15-17 years ago. That’s when he recognised that I had a good voice. Till then, my voice was rejected by all the other filmmakers. Once RGV showed faith in my voice, everybody followed suit and started offering me dubbing work.

But, then again, all the biggest stars including Mr Bachchan went through a bad phase. Everybody goes through bad phases and good phases. That’s so true of life itself. Things keep changing, nothing is static. My father is a big producer and director but I am happy with what I have, I don’t crave for more. I am not dying to achieve something. And I don’t dream. I live in reality. At a time when I wanted to do only one film, I ended up doing 100 films. So I am happy. When change came, I was happy. I realised my market as a hero was over. There was no point crying and talking about it over and over again. It’s really not worth it. So I changed my mind, thought of this particular side of acting, checked it out, and it’s much better now.

BOI: Now you’re playing a negative lead in the film…

Not only negative, I am doing any character. Now I want to do characters aged between 35 and 65, and any character that interests me. The duration of the role doesn’t matter, whatever I get, even a close-up shot, is enough. I want people to say, ‘Wow, he has done a good job. That is what I want, not length of screen time.’

BOI: During these 25 years, haven’t you once tried to do a Hindi film?

I didn’t get any offers. Basically, I am an introvert and am not a typical cinema person. Not that cinema people are bad but I don’t attend parties and network. I see a lot of false recognition at these places and I cannot get along with false people. But the fact is, I haven’t got any offers for Hindi films. In fact, RGV was supposed to make a film but it didn’t happen.

BOI: You have never approached anyone from Bollywood?

No. I don’t believe in approaching anyone. Good directors and producers know whom to approach. Even if an artiste is small and living in a village after retirement, a good director or producer would go there if necessary. And when they don’t want you, they don’t care who you are. RGV and I have been friends for 30 years, before each of us started our respective careers in films. I was telling Ramu that he could approach me with a film but he would need to be convincing or I would the respect I have for him. So, both ways, I believe creatively everything has to match. If they are looking for me, they will find me.

BOI: Do you watch Hindi films?

Yes, I watch a lot of Hindi movies because, in Hyderabad, Hindi films are quite popular. In fact, I know what’s happening here. And I must say Mumbai is something else. Basically, there is so much dignity of labour. People are respected here and even women can work freely and happily. Also, regardless of their social and economic conditions, people are smart and working together. Everybody looks like a hero and a heroine here. It’s a treat to watch Mumbai. In the evening, when you sit at a bar and watch everybody, you feel ‘Wow!’ I love to spend time in Mumbai. To me, Mumbai is Hollywood.

BOI: How would you compare the film industries in Andhra and in Mumbai’s?

Movies-wise, Hindi is much more evolved, Tamil too. Here, you see stars playing villain, anti-roles, character roles even cameos. They are open and that is what I am trying to do in Telugu. I always try to bend the rules, not break them because then I will be behind bars!

Basically, in Telugu, they are still not encouraging characters like me. Unless somebody bells the cat… but we need four to five people to bell the cat… then things will start changing. Otherwise, they are only stuck on heroes. Even when I used to play the lead, I never insisted that only I should figure in the film’s poster. All the main lead actresses used to be on the posters with me. In one film, I asked the producers to have the villain also in the poster. A film is not a one-man show. It is the result of team work. Only one hero can’t make a film a super-duper hit. That can happen but not all the time. But they are still stuck on heroes and not open to experimenting.

I did a film called Anthapuram, which was later remade as Shakti in Hindi. We did the same characterisation in Telugu and I was doing very well at the time. But I wanted to do this character and people asked me why I was doing a character role when I was playing hero in other films. I said I liked the character. I am not a hero in life; I am a hero only in the movies. And, basically, I am an artiste, not an actor who just delivers and leaves. I am not looking for roles where I have to run around trees, romance and take on 40 people, which is really stupid. I still can’t digest the concept. That’s where Hindi is getting much more superior day by day.

BOI: Can you name a film of yours that is apt for a Hindi remake, one which hasn’t yet been remade?

I cannot think of one but there have been a few films that have been remade. Anil Kapoor sir’s Judaai was a remake of my Telugu film Shubhalagnam. And we made the remake of the English film French Kiss, which was then made in Hindi as Pyaar To Hona Hi Tha. So four or five of my movies have been remade in Hindi. But I wouldn’t watch the South remakes. The first is always best.

BOI: How would you differentiate between the Tamil and Telugu film industries?

They are almost same. We also have very good directors and good filmmakers. Tamil is more experimental, they accept whatever is offered, a bad looking actor will be accepted there. Even our Telugu people will accept a Tamil person being bad in a Tamil film dubbed in Telugu but not in a Telugu film. They won’t accept it directly! (Laughs)

Dubbed movies are doing very well, really. But, in Telugu, they want actors and big names. Sometimes, I feel likekicking these fans. When will they grow up? They like the same old fights. Every story is the same, only the hero is different. And the audience enjoys that, they whistle even at unnatural things. They think that we are heroes and I keep telling them that we are not. Arrange a real fight and see if we can fight. Then you decide. (Laughs)

BOI: What kind of role would excite you in a Hindi film?

First of all, I want a director to not only direct the film but direct me, an artiste. I want directors to tell me what exactly they want from my character, which is very rare nowadays. I don’t find directors really telling me what they want me to do or how to do a scene. They just give me a brief and I do my bit. And I am bored of myself. So now I want to do something different and hence I am looking for directors who would take care of me.

BOI: How much of a change have you witnessed in the Telugu industry?

They haven’t changed because the people haven’t changed. They are okay with whatever is happening. Nothing special is happening but things are still running. If a bad movie runs, it upsets me, even if it is my movie. These people don’t grow up, they are fanatics and so stuck that they cannot get out. So the films have to be tailored to them as they are the audience. So neither is the audience changing nor filmmakers.

BOI: Are you content with your journey?

Yes, coming back to movies… being a hero or a lead is out of this world. The experience is exceptional and you cannot ask for more. This is the only industry where you are sitting in your house and the producer comes in with the suitcase of money. In every other profession, the worker has to go and take his money. These people come and say ‘please take the money’. So what else do you want? And as I said earlier, you are with the best girls all the time. I won’t mention the name of the actress because she is in Hindi films now but I wasn’t even introduced to her and the director said, ‘Babu kiss her now’. I said, ‘What!!! Come on, tell me her name first.’ (Laughs)

So the money you get, the respect you get and the love you get, you don’t get anywhere else. Even if I walk side by side with a big politician, people will look at me. Unlike with politicians, where people think he will do something for them, their love for actors is selfless. They just want our movies to run well. And if it keeps a marriage together, what else do you need?

BOI: Have you ever thought of turning director?

I am not all that talented. I have huge respect for directors that I believe in. They have to keep everything in mind, from locations, to the story, sets, hero, heroine etc. I always wonder how they pull it off because it is such a creative job. It is wonderful to be a director but I cannot be one.

BOI: Going back to Lingaa, at the trailer and audio launch of the film, every actor shared a memorable moment from the film. Can you share at least one unforgettable moment form the film with us?

I cannot remember anything but my experience working with Mr Rajinikanth. Fortunately or unfortunately, I got room next to him while shooting the film and it felt good to be right beside me. I thought if I were to fall sick at night, he would be in the next room if necessary I can always ask him to help and he will take care of it. That is the kind of a confidence I had in him. I treasure that feeling more than anything else. Other than that, I cannot think of anything else as the movie had to be completed in a short span of time. Everyone was so busy, there was no time to sit together and have a good time.

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