You started your Bollywood career at 44. What made you take so long to take the decision?
I don’t know. I always loved acting and used to take part in school and college plays. Before joining films I was into theatres also. But don’t know why I worked at wafer (Uncle Chips) shop in Dadar (Mumbai) till the age of 32. Then at a really terrible holiday in Ooty I decided I had to do something with my life. The something turned out to be photography and then I met choreographer Shiamak Davar, theatre actor Alyque Padamsee, who took me to the stage. And then, one day filmmaker Vinod Chopra called me and said ‘Will you work in my film?’ I said: ‘Which film?’ He said: ‘The one that will start next December’.
And that was MUNNABHAI MBBS?
Yes. And I couldn’t relate to my role in the film…a dean of a reputed hospital who will laugh after every dialogue…I found it strange. But Vinod asked me to keep faith and somehow it clicked.
Surely you didn’t expect yourself to become an overnight success…
I knew and know that I am here only for one thing-to entertain people. We know we have to make decent cinema and if the audiences love it, they will carry it home. Neither Raju (Hirani) or me, or any of us, expected that jaadu ki jhappi and laughter therapy (from MUNNABHAI MBBS) will become so popular.
You have done quite a number of serious films. But why do you think you are more popular with your comedy flicks?
“Shah Rukh Khan is one of the finest people to work with.”
But what do you like doing most-comedy or serious roles?
I find there’s no greater pleasure than making people laugh. I love what I do…I love to make people laugh. The reaction, the applause… they are all very uplifting.
Once you said, your Hindi was not so good when you joined Bollywood. What did you do to improve your lingo?
I just worked in more and more Hindi films (laughs).
Yes…until one day I was offered to play Gandhi in a play by Feroz Abbas Khan. Initially I thought he was joking. But he was serious! I had to cut down 22 kilos in two-and-a-half months…and I fell so sick that I had to be hospitalized.
But then you regained weight again…
Ya…that toh I had to do; else nobody would have recognized me; not even myself! Teddy bear look suits me better. I eat, drink and live a bindaas life.
You have worked with almost all top stars of Bollywood. Who do you like the most?
Shah Rukh (Khan) is one of the finest people to work with. He makes sure that all of us are comfortable; even if he is not the producer of the film.
We heard you are really passionate about cars. What car you are driving at the moment?
I drive a Mercedes E280. By the way, my first car was a Maruti 800. But I love photographing motorcycles. I started my career as a photographer clicking motorcycle races and rallies.
That’s a statement…
My heart was set on Mercedes. Yes. I feel good when I am driving a good car…there is a sense of pride. The world sees you differently when you drive a good car.
Do you prefer driving your car yourself or you have a driver?
We have a driver. But I prefer driving myself. As it is, I am my wife’s permanent driver.