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Oh my god: stage to screen

In a career spanning almost three decades, Paresh Rawal has always let his work do the talking. So, when t2 met the 62-year-old thespian on a hot Thursday afternoon at his office in Juhu, Mumbai, it was a pleasant surprise to hear him talk about everything from godmen to publicity-hungry actors and, of course, his maiden film production Oh My God.

You had two releases last Friday...

Yes, and I didn’t want that. I requested Percept, the producers of Kamaal Dhamaal Malamaal, to push their film back by a week. What is the point of both the films eating into each other’s business? But they didn’t agree. It’s tough to choose between the two films but I will have to go with Oh My God because it’s my first production and the subject is very close to my heart.

You have done over 600 shows of the Gujarati play Kanji Viruddh Kanji and its Hindi adaptation Kishan vs Kanhaiya. Why did you decide to make it into a movie?

It’s such a beautiful story and I think making a film on it was a natural progression. I knew that if I ever produced a film, it would have to be meaningful, thought-provoking and yet entertaining, and OMG ticks all the boxes. You know how directors and actors say, ‘This is a comedy film. Leave your brains at home’. I could say take your brains with you because I want the audience to think about what the film is saying.

How much did you have to adapt the script to make it a film?

Theatre is more about dialogues but is restricted in terms of space, while film is a visual medium. A lot of things have been changed from the play to the film, keeping the different medium in mind. Of course, the basic storyline remains the same but people who have seen the play will find the film different in terms of new characters and situations. I think the adaptation has given us an opportunity to reinterpret the play.

Did Akshay Kumar come on board as Krishna first or as the co-producer?

(Laughs) It was simultaneous. He has seen the Hindi version of the play. When I mentioned to him that I was thinking of making it into a film, he offered to produce it. Even if he wasn’t the producer, I would have wanted him as Krishna.

Are you religious?

I believe in god but not in how religion is practised today. It’s become a big business. There are so many channels where Babas are giving sermons and making money. I am completely against that.

Religion is a touchy subject. Were you concerned about how the film will be received?

Why should I be concerned? The play has successfully been running for years. It’s a very cleverly written script. Many religious heads from various institutions have seen the play and loved it. It just questions whether what we do in the name of god or religion is right or wrong? I think the subject is very topical. Om Puri wants to adapt this into a Punjabi play and someone else wants to make it in English.

Were you happy with the decision of adding Sonakshi Sinha and Prabhudheva’s item song to the film?

No. Personally, I don’t like songs in films. I don’t think they serve any purpose. I would invest the time wasted in the five songs to tell the story. In my career, I must have been a part of five or six songs but I didn’t enjoy any of them. Even in this film, I just followed other people’s judgement.

This is your first film production...

It’s been a very nice experience. Both Akshay and I are transparent people who believe in honest, clear dealings with people. We didn’t really have the time to look into the day-to-day affairs of production but there was a high level of mutual trust and understanding. I was fortunate to have my business partner of many years Hemal Thakkar, who helped a great deal in production under our banner Playtime Creation.

This is the age of aggressive promotions and you don’t even like doing interviews...

It’s not like I don’t like doing interviews. I don’t like talking to the press for the sake of talking. I am not one of those actors who get loose motions if they don’t see themselves in the papers every day. I think actors lose their credibility if they become publicity hounds. Having said that, I believe that films should be promoted only via the media. There is no need for an actor to stand in the middle of a mall or theatre and wave to the crowds that turn up or do the rounds of reality shows. Everyone knows that the actor is doing that only because he wants to promote his/ her film. They have no interest in the mall that they are in or the contestants of the reality show. The public has become smart and actors who do this are ridiculed.

But for Oh My God, you did go from malls and theatres and waved at the crowds.

Yes, I did (laughs). But only because this is my first film production and I had to listen to people around me who have more experience in these matters. If I make more films, I will not do this again.

You continue to be very actively involved in theatre. What attracts you to the stage?

Theatre is my lifeline. The day I stop doing theatre, something in me will die. Theatre is an actor’s medium. It gives me the opportunity to experiment with a variety of roles. There is a trend of actors, specially TV actors, of doing plays these days. I welcome it because while they are encashing their stardom, theatre benefits because the actor manages to pull more crowds. Imagine if Akshay does a play!

Talking about your other release Kamaal Dhamaal Malamaal...

Priyan (Priyadarshan) and I have done 17 films together. I did this one only because it meant that I worked with him again. But as far as my role is concerned, I am not very excited about it. There should be something in the role which challenges me. Doing characters that are easy doesn’t excite me anymore.