'I want to invest in the state, but find no takers'

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By PEMA LEYDA SHANGDERPA
  • Published 10.05.03
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The journey began in 1966 when a young boy with dreams in his eyes but little else left his home in Yuksom and started out for what was then Bombay, the melting pot of all dream-chasers. Thirty-seven years later, Danny Denzongpa continues to dream but is happy that he has able to transform some into reality.

Having received the Padma Shri from President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam last month, Danny, one of Sikkim’s most famous sons, chose to spend time in solitude amid the woods at his farmhouse spread across 50 acres of greenery in Pangthang, some 12 km above Gangtok. The actor spent a few days in the Chitwan national park on an invitation from a friend from Nepal before coming to Sikkim.

In an exclusive interview to The Telegraph, the state’s only export to Bollywood said the Padma Shri bestowed on him had come as a “great honour”.

“It is a great honour. But along with the honour comes a lot of added responsibility. The award is very encouraging for the people of Sikkim and the Northeast. It will encourage the people of Sikkim to venture out and be part of the national mainstream,” the 56-year-old star said.

“Personally, it is a great achievement. It is the achievement of a man from a remote area like Yuksom (in West Sikkim) to have received one of the country’s highest distinctions. When I started my journey some three decades ago, I had only two things in mind. First, the zeal to do things and be somebody. Second, I dreamt a lot. Some portion of the dream has now become a reality.”

For Danny, the Padma Shri implies “prestige and reputation”. It also meant competition where the choice is made from “thousands”. “There are many seniors from the same field who have still not got the award. There are also very few films where I have been cast as the hero. Very few people playing negative roles have got the Padma Shri and that way I’m lucky,” he said.

Danny’s foray into films began in 1968, when he joined the Film and Television Institute of India in Pune. Every year, the institute selected 10 students and there was only one seat reserved for the Northeast and West Bengal. The competition being fierce, Danny says he was “lucky” to have been selected.

The struggle had just begun. “For three years, I slept in the parks, beaches, got chased by the police and at times, spent the night in the sitting rooms of friends,” he said, recalling his early days. “Actually my joining films can be compared to an alien visiting a different world,” Danny says of his initial struggle because of his chinky looks and the language barrier.

He taught at the institute before getting his first break with Gulzar’s Mere Apne, which was also the director’s launch vehicle. Danny also signed for B.R. Ishara’s Naye Duniya Naye Log but the film was shelved.

Talking about his first experience in front of the camera, Danny said: “I was excited working with Meena Kumari. Since she was not keeping well at that time, I realised I might never get a chance to work with her again.”

Since then, he has acted in over 150 films, including Dhund, Bulundi, Kala Sona and Kundan. He has even starred in a Hollywood film, Seven Years in Tibet. Danny even directed Phir Wohi Raat in the early eighties.

His last movie was 16 December, released over a year ago, and he has not signed any film for over six months. “Though there have been offers, I have not been getting the roles I would like to do. I like to do something different and which is worth doing, logical and sensible. I prefer doing gardening or playing golf than working in some movie which is not suitable. I have scanned some 30 scripts in the last six months and none of them is interesting. If the story was right the part was not good or vice-versa,” he said.

Danny was also offered a role in Shah Rukh Khan’s home production Main Hoon Na, which was shot extensively in Darjeeling. But he did not like his role, that of a colonel in the Indian Army, which was similar to the one he played earlier.

The actor keeps himself abreast of the happenings back home. “It is very unfortunate that there is an air of communal tension here. It is not good and, therefore, it is time for the three ethnic communities to unite and work towards achieving goals and turn Sikkim into a dream state instead of fighting. It really amazes me to see people fight because one community gets some kind of benefit. It is the attitude of the frogs in the well. A benefit for one community means similar chances for others in due course. I was the happiest person when Nepali was included in the Eighth Schedule. I had then accompanied then chief minister Nar Bahadur Bhandari to New Delhi,” he said. “As for myself, I have released albums on Nepali songs, even did a Nepali movie Mashaal for free and also made a documentary on Bhanu Bhakta,” he said.

Danny said Sikkim was only populated by five lakh people, which in other terms equalled the number of workers for some big multinational corporations. “If run well, it can be an exemplary state in the country because it is tiny and less populated,” he said.

Danny, however, ruled out any chance of joining politics, dismissing it is as not his “cup of tea”. He also called his present profession similar to politics where they were always in the public limelight.

Danny, who owns Yuksom Breweries, says he is willing to invest more in the state but the attitude of the government and the lack of infrastructure and facilities stood in the way. “I have always wanted to invest. I was interested in setting up a good international standard school so that the children of Sikkim do not have to go outside for quality education. I even asked the present chief minister to give me a piece of land to open the school. But there has been no response,” he said. “In other states, the government chases you for investments. Here, I’m telling them I’m ready to invest and there is no response,” he added.

A little known fact is that the star is also one of the highest tax payers to the state exchequer in the form of excise duties. “Why run after outsiders. Give the sops and facilities to us we will invest here,” he said.