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“I have never understood the term character artiste”

Pawan Malhotra on playing Farhan’s coach in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag and getting into the character

On His Role

Rakeysh told me that he was making a biopic on Milkha Singh, and he had a role for me in the film. When I heard about the character I was to portray, I simply couldn’t refuse.

On Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra

I worked with Rakeysh in Delhi 6. He is one of those directors who has a vision and he has tried sometahing different in each one of his movies. The audience may judge him on the basis of hits and flops but, as an actor, I understand his vision and have faith in his work.

On Bhaag Milkha Bhaag

I loved the story of Milkha Singh. It’s a rags-to-riches, post-Partition tale. It’s the human side of the Partition, which is what touched me. It is an inspiring story for anyone. My parents lived through the Partition but their story was very different from that of Milkha Singh’s. His commitment to his work and the emotions he went through inspired me.

On his character Gurudev Singh

When I met Milkhaji, he was inspiring even at the age of 80 plus. He was happy to tell me about his past. He said it was his coach Gurudev Singh who saw the talent in him. Gurudev and Milkha were 10-12 years apart in age and his coach considered him a younger brother. To Milkhaji, he was his mentor and the young lad discussed everything with him, even his personal issues.

Getting into the character

I did not train as intensely as Farhan did but I did have to learn the body language of a coach. I was told, I too should look like I was once a runner. So the coaches trained me to adopt the right body language.

Length of the film

Many people assumed the length of the film would affect its fate. Look at films like Mughal-E-Azam, Maine Pyaar Kiya and Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! Each one is three hours long. I was worried about the length because I feared that my role would be chopped off if the length were to be edited. So I used to often ask Rakeysh, if he planned to shorten the length of the film.

Proud of himself

I am happy that everyone is talking about me after Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. I am also proud to say that I have never repeated roles throughout my career. I don’t understand the term ‘character artiste’. I mean, doesn’t the hero too play a ‘character’ itself in a film? Not many know that I have played lead roles in films like Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro, Bagh Bahadur and Brothers In Trouble. They remember me in Jab We Met but don’t remember my other films.

I had to say ‘no’ to films like Special 26 and Mere Dad Ki Maruti, where I was to play Ram Kapoor’s character. Ashima Chibber (the director) was prepared to change the character into a sardar but I didn’t have the dates. Then there was Kai Po Che’s mama’s character, which was later played by Manav Kaul. This role too had been offered to me.

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