Such a long journey

Struggle & stardom, luck & laurels, ups and down - actor-director Rakesh Pandey has experienced it all. A look at 45 years of an actor's take

Luck is a tricky, mischievous little lady who plays around in mysterious ways. Had she dropped by when Rakesh Pandey expected her to, life would've been a different playground altogether. "But I never regret it. I agree one cannot ever be satisfied with things, but after 45 years of work and recognition, I would say I am content," says the actor, superstar of Bhojpuri cinema and a well known face of the Hindi cinema. In town for a quick visit, we get chatting with this Dada Saheb Phalke Award winner who was honoured with the prestigious award in recognition of his contribution to Indian cinema, especially Bhojpuri this year. "Very few are aware of the fact that the genesis of Bhojpuri cinema goes back to the year 1962. The then actor Nazir Hussain…we used to call him aansooyon ka kanastar as he had the talent of crying at the drop of a hat…told me that he had a word with late Dr Rajendra Prasad, president of India. Dr Prasad, I was told, was very interested in having Bhojpuri cinema. Unfortunately, he died before he could see its success," it was Nazir who convinced Pandey, a pretty famous name by then in Bollywood, to attempt one Bhojpuri film. He did, and it came out in 1979, and "it was a super duper hit. It ran for 52 weeks!" Mumbai still had to give Pandey the status and fame he deserved. "So, I moved to Bhojpuri, and earlier, if you'd started doing one thing, you would stick to it," 35 years, and about 60-70 hits later, this superstar of regional cinema laughs at the irony of life. "I was a boy of 18 when I came to Mumbai," narrates the FTII pass-out. With dreams in his eyes, Rakesh started with IPTA, and bagged the role of Shaheed Bhagat Singh in late Balraj Sahni's play. "He was preparing the stage to launch Parikshit Sahni, his son. But Parikshit couldn't make it in time and my name was suggested by Kaifi Azmi as I was already rehearsing the part," the play was a hit, and it opened doors to cinema. Soon, Basu Chatterjee signed him for the super hit 'Saara Aakash', Shakti Samant gave him a part in 'Amar Prem', he played a negative character in Ashok Kumar's 'Aansoo Ban Gaye Phool', then came 'Rakhwala', 'Mera Rakshak', 'Kashish', 'Manzil' with Amitabh Bachchan, 'Shatranj ke Mohre', 'Ek Gaon Ki Kahani' et al. "Talking about luck, had couple of my films released at the right time or been made, I would've got the commercial success I aimed for. Neetu Singh first film was with me, 'Andolan'. It was about this angry young man, a socialist character…unfortunately, the government in power censored couple of scenes, and film was released a year later during Janta Dal's regime in the '70s. By that time it had lost its charm. Similarly, Sunil Dutt signed me for his film, but that got shelved after 'Reshma Aur Shera' flopped! Dilip Kumar too signed me for his film…but the director, V Krishnamurthy passed away….such is fate," he smiles, adding how Amitabh Bachchan was fortunate to get producers who could pull strings and render the film a hit. "Marketing always works," he says. While the Hindi cinema gave him recognition, Bhojpuri gifted him with fame. A lover of languages, it wasn't difficult for Pandey to dabble in other regional films including Punjabi, Gujarati and Nepali. So much so, that he tried a hand at television too. "A superstar in Bhojpuri, character actor in Hindi and comedian on telly," he laughs.

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