Jeet at his Grassroot Entertainment office on Lake Avenue. Picture by Anindya Shankar Ray
Leaning back on the sofa in his three-year-old office on Lake Avenue, Jeet keeps trying to mute his phone that keeps ringing; those who manage to get through shower him with good luck wishes for Awara. Midway through the interview a member of his office staff walks in with a box of sweets to share his birthday joy with “Jeetda”. Not long after that, a fanboy arrives from Salkia with a special “post-modern” portrait of his hero and is rewarded with a bear hug. Calls, fans, interviews, health bars, iPad... all in a day’s work for Jeet. “This is what keeps me going… if this is not there, you’re not there.”
So who are you in Awara?
I play a guy-next-door called Shurjo. He is an educated boy, a computer engineer who is very street-smart. He takes life casually and is a bit of a lover boy too. A bindaas guy living in the moment.
Playing the next-door-loverboy-turned-action hero, is that what you’re most comfortable doing?
See, there’s so much pressure and anxiety all around... career and family, this and that. The films that I do are a bit larger-than-life. They provide relief. For two hours people forget about their problems, enjoy and go back happy. Look at Rowdy Rathore, Bodyguard or Dabanng. What is so intelligent or cerebral about these films? It’s about entertainment. They help you feel rejuvenated and get back to your regular life feeling refreshed. I like contributing to that.
Is there an awara side to you?
(Laughs) Well, everything in life has a connection! In school on a Teacher’s Day I went to watch Amitabh Bachchan’s Inquilab with my friends. I was meant to return home at 2pm but of course I was late and my father went looking for me in school. Finally when I returned at 7pm, he shouted: ‘Puro awara hoye gechhish tui!’ Later when I used to go off for addabaji or to play carrom, I’ve had to hear the word ‘awara’ from my parents quite a few times! Now this awara has become a lot more responsible (smiles). Towards his family, friends, profession, social associates. He also knows that his fans and Bengali cinegoers also expect a lot from him.
You’ve just worked with Shayantika in Awara. How do you manage to tune in with new co-stars all the time?
You just need to rewind your life a bit to when you were a newcomer and remember how you’ve been treated by your seniors and colleagues. When I came into the industry, Priyanka (Trivedi) was more or less an established actress. She was very nice with me during the making of Saathi. Also Ranjitda (Mallick), was helpful whenever needed, and he shared his experiences with us. That’s what I try to be today.
You recently said at a business chamber meet that you’re keen to work in an urban, non-masala film....
I was asked given a chance if I would like to attempt an arthouse film, to which I said ‘yes’ because I haven’t had too much opportunity to do that except in Krishnakanter Will. So if I get the opportunity to work with directors like Mainak (Bhaumik), Srijit (Mukherji), Aparna Sen and Anik Dutta, I’m sure I won’t disappoint. See, an actor’s job is to understand the character — the EQ to realise how one should emote and the IQ to sense what kind of an audience he should target — and you have the directors to guide you. If you are a real actor you can do any role. But neither am I in a rush nor is there ‘no’ in my dictionary when it comes to anything positive. If something good comes my way, I will do it. Connecting with a wider audience through commercial cinema is tougher. I’ve seen actors who work in the other genre of cinema craving to work in commercial films too because they know how difficult it is to connect with such a large audience.
But recent reports suggest that commercial films are going through a low phase....
Low phase amiyo shunchhi, but how? The collections are much better than before. My last release was 100 % Love and it was a big grosser. 100 % Love’s title track recorded more than 13 lakh hits. Whether in Hindi or in Hollywood, commercial cinema has a connect with a wider audience. I’m making sure that I choose my subjects through intuition, ability and package.
So commercial cinema remains your priority number one?
How else would I get to say those heavy-duty dialogues like ‘Maar gur diye, ruti chini diye, cha phu diye kha…’ (laughs). There’s this dialogue that people heard in the Awara trailer the other day and have been tweeting ‘jiyo guru’ ever since. It goes… ‘Bel kaanta, golap kaanta, chor kaanta… jey joto boro kaantai hok na keno, taakey uprey phele debo!’ I love these punchlines.
When an Akshay Kumar says ‘Don’t angry me’ (Rowdy Rathore) or a Sallu says ‘Mujhpe ek ehsaan karna ki mujhpe koi ehsaan na karna’ (Bodyguard), these lines have an immediate connect with the audience. So I like saying them too. See, I have a long, long way to go. My target is to do 100 films. I’ve done 30-odd. Once I reach the 100 mark, I’ll be a little more relaxed and content. I hope God gives me the strength, physically and mentally, to pull it off.
And what would make Jeet say, ‘Bel kaanta, golap kaanta, chor kaanta…’ in real life?
Jeet won’t say it like that. He’ll put it differently. The fun of being an actor is that I can live so many lives in one lifetime.
What changes do you hope to see in commercial cinema here?
Every six months, things are changing now. Be it the technical side or the content. There are a lot of good directors already. The multiplex crowd has also grown. I think some fresh ideas are what we need. Ideas with a local connect and stronger regional flavours would make for a greater impact. We need some good technicians too to shape the look. If we can come up with something like Dhoom 2, it would take Bengali commercial cinema to a new league.
Shatru’s fight sequences brought a different edge and standard to action and I would give that credit to Rocky Rajesh, the fight master who also worked on Bikram Singha, Khokababu and now Awara.... Awara will be an important parameter for now. In the action promos you’ll see the kind of rope shots used and how neat they are. Let’s see how it does at the box office so that we can analyse what’s working and what’s not.
What do you feel are your strengths as an actor?
I leave the assessment to the audience or those who understand cinema. I’m just in the mode of enjoying the work I do. Be it a romantic scene, action or an emotional one. As long as I’m enjoying, everything is in sync and anything is possible. That I think is my strength.
What roles are you waiting to explore?
Oh, several roles. Choltei thakey mathar moddhye. Sometimes I feel I should do a film like Dhoom 2 or something like what Aamir Khan did in 3 Idiots. Then I get these weird ideas of wanting to play a man who looks sophisticated but is actually a psychopath....
What does being a darling of the masses mean to you?
In a way, getting love which we always crave for. A kind of unconditional love, that feels like bliss. A lot of people ask me ‘don’t you get irritated when so many people flock to you or want to talk to you?’ My answer is always, ‘Era jedin thakbe na shedin aami beshi birokto hobo.’ When they are around me, it’s bliss. Sometimes I’ve had tears rolling down my eyes. That roar of voices — be it at shows when I’m performing in villages or travelling to places within the city.
How is your company Grassroot Entertainment shaping up? Any lessons learnt as producer?
Yes, 100 % Love was a great learning process. I learnt a lot of basic things in terms of production aesthetics, scheduling, pre-production planning. Grassroot is still a beginner with a lot more to learn and experiment with.
What has changed for you after marriage?
Changes toh hoyechhei. They’re very personal but good. Also, many positive changes careerwise ever since Mohna has come into my life. She hasn’t tried to change me but there are things you come to realise about yourself and bring in the changes yourself. She has every right to criticise me and when she doesn’t like something she points it out. I take it in a positive way. So far, I haven’t heard anything critical about Awara from her end!
Things seem to have fallen into place for you, personally and professionally. Is the world a happier space for you now?
The time I lived in Bombay, from 1996 to 2001, I would have to do my own grocery shopping, wash my clothes and cook my own food. But even though I was struggling I was enjoying that journey.... Today I’m content… Bahut saare khwab hain, bahut kuch karna hai… I’m looking ahead and working on how to generate positive energy from my side and take in the same from others.
And your next film?
I’m doing two films with Reliance. One is a romantic action film with Shrabanti which I start shooting from end-July. The other is a stylised action thriller which is likely to be co-produced by Grassroot.
Your film that you’re closest to: Saathi for emotional reasons because it gave me this humongous recognition. Of late, Wanted.
What makes a man sexy... clothes, attitude, body: Attitude. That’s what you carry all the time.
What affects you more — a bad rumour or a bad review: Neither. Now that we have a direct connect with people over social networking sites, rumours and reviews don’t make a difference. The only thing that pinches me is if my film is not doing well at the box office or if the love of people is missing.
When you’re not shooting: I am in office or on evenings out with friends and my wife.
The last film you watched and loved: Vicky Donor. I’m waiting to see Gangs of Wasseypur.
Jeetendra Madnani or Jeet: You missed my third name, Jeetu! When someone calls me that, it means he or she is related to my past. At home I’m Jeetu, Jeetendra Madnani is my base and Jeet has brought me the love of the people.
Is Jeet your hero number one? Tell firstname.lastname@example.org