Actors are often well-versed and guarded with their words before the release of a film. But actor Jackie Shroff is no ordinary celebrity. With him, the interview is bound to be a freewheeling ride, filled with analogies that hit you long after you’re done chatting. He will suddenly break into a Bollywood dialogue or confide in you with a childhood memory. When I meet the 61-year-old actor at a bar in Bandra, I am greeted with an enthusiastic fist bump and, “Kya botla hain, bhidu?” (which in Mumbai slang loosely translates to, “What’s up, friend?”).
Shroff is dressed aptly for a sweltering summer afternoon in a white shirt and Vera Wang sunglasses. Over a cup of black tea, I ask him about his role in his upcoming film, Phamous. The trailer describes him as “a man in search of justice”, I inform him. He points to the poster of the film across the room, and says, “We are all looking for justice, aren’t we?” Silence proceeds his words as he takes a long sip from his cup, leaving you with time to process his answer. He then slips the film’s concept note towards me and candidly confesses that his role is a cameo. “[In the film] I am looking for someone who has destroyed my life, and I am looking for justice,” he explains.
The actor turns my attention to the poster once again and gives debut filmmaker Karan Butani credit for giving him a “totally different look”. Shroff is in a worn-out kurta holding a rifle. “I never liked guns,” confesses the actor. “I never liked loud noises or crackers, so during Diwali mom used to beat up anyone who used to burst them saying, ‘why are you scaring my child?’,” he recalls. But being macho was a prerequisite for Bollywood heroes in the ’80s, so Shroff took up a gun but along with a flute. “I became a musical action hero,” he declares.
In his 35-year-long career as an actor, Shroff has gone beyond Bollywood and appeared in 11 language film. He describes himself as a free-flowing actor, who wants to be recognised in every state of India. “So if I go Goa, they should say, ‘We saw him in Soul Curry (2017)’, Aaranya Kaandam (2011) if I go to Tamil Nadu, or Antarmahal (2005) in Bengal,” he says. The actor wants to strike 25 languages off his bucket list and then bow out. In the meanwhile, he is also experimenting with short films which allows him to work with young filmmakers. He was pleasantly surprised to win the Best Actor award at Filmfare for his role in Sonam Nair’s Khujli this year.
A lot has changed in Bollywood since Shroff tasted box-office success with Hero in 1983, but is there anything that has stood the test of time? “Emotions!” he exclaims. “An actor’s smile doesn’t change. First it was Mona Lisa whose smile was famous and then it was Madhuri-ji (Dixit).” The actor finds it pertinent for veteran actors to hold on to their trademark and style. “What I realised is, you can’t change as an actor, except for Aamir Khan saab, he could do Dangal (2016) and look like Robert De Niro and then pull down again. But look at Dev (Anand) saab or Kakaji (Rajesh Khanna), their style became their art,” he observes.
As we wrap up our conversation, I ask the veteran actor his primary criterion while accepting a role. He taps the leg of the bar stool he is sitting on. Silence ensues. “I should be able to hold the chair,” he says. “Main nikal gaya, toh chair gir jana chahiye (if I leave, the chair should fall),” he adds, creating a perfect mic drop moment.