Veteran actor Govind Namdev is known for his memorable roles in films like Bandit Queen, Virasat, and Oh My God! among others. The 67-year-old actor, who is preparing for his next project, Kaashi in Search of Ganga, speaks to Guardian 20 about his Bollywood career, his long-time association with theatre, and his appearances in Marathi cinema.
Q. What exactly is the plot of your next film Kaashi in Search of Ganga, and what can the audience expect from it?
A. The movie is about two siblings, Kaashi [played by Sharman Joshi] and his sister Ganga [Priyanka Singh]. The film is set in Benaras, which is also known as Kaashi. Kaashi is a man who belongs to a community that performs cremation rituals. The film is a suspense drama, and I am playing a negative role. The audience will surely enjoy the beauty of Benaras depicted here.
Q. You’ve worked in theatre, television and films. How do you view the three mediums, and which one is your favourite?
A. Theatre and films attract me a lot. However, both have different challenges to deal with. When it comes to theatre, it doesn’t have any retakes. In theatre, you will have to be on stage till the end with the utmost sincerity, and with the required body posture. In films, there are a lot of close-ups, where we have to balance our facial expressions and that requires a lot of concentration.
Q. You are also an alumnus of the National School of Drama (NSD). When did you decide that you wanted to become an actor?
A. Becoming an actor was never a plan. But my school was very near to the NSD and it always made me feel very joyous whenever I saw actors on the NSD premises. I have always taken part in cultural activities in my school. I used to write poems, dramas and stories to enact as per my intellect and my friends always asked me to join NSD. One fine day, the Sahitya Kala Akademi announced two scholarships, and I gave an interview and got selected. After the experience at the Akademi, I was sure that I wanted to become an actor.
Q. You made your acting debut with Shola Aur Shabnam (1992) more than 25 years ago. Tell us about your Bollywood journey since then.
A. I played a policeman in that movie and it was a blockbuster hit. While shooting Shola Aur Shabnam, one of my co-actors shared that it was his 25th film as a policeman and he is not getting any other roles. After hearing this, I became very upset and decided not to pick up any such roles. Basically, I wanted to explore my talent as an actor through different characters. After that, I was offered multiple films but all were for police characters. I said no to all. In fact, people had started to assume that I am an arrogant person. As a result of my decision, I had nothing in my hand till two years. One day I got a very strong character for a serial named Parivartan . After a long discussion with my wife I decided to sign this serial to showcase my versatility. A month later, it got hugely popular, and I got Bandit Queen, Prem Granth, Virasat, Godmother, Lawaris, Kacche Dhaage and few good serials.
Q. Do you think Bollywood actors approach negative roles differently today, as compared to when you started out?
A. Nowadays, heroes are doing negative roles. Earlier, people used to get scared of villains and sometimes films would begin by focusing on the shoes, the walk and the dialogues of the villains. But now such roles have become more realistic in form.
Q. You have acted in highly popular TV serials, like Aashirwad, a show from 1998. That was the time when satellite television had only started to pick up. How do you think the television industry has changed over time?
A. Initially, TV serials had good realistic content to show, which we could relate to in our daily lives. We would always sit together to watch those. At that time, writers used to write from the heart, and most programmes were broadcast weekly. But daily soaps in our time are actually projecting a negative image of women in society. They are actually spoiling the concept of family.
Q. Tell us about your early influences and role models.
A. My role model is Dilip [Kumar] Sahab, and he is my teacher. I have learned a lot from him. His work in Mughal-e-Azam actually touched me a lot. No one can match his expression of voice, which comes from thoughtfulness.
Q. Can you elaborate on your acting method and the kind of preparation that you usually do for your roles?
A. I start getting into the character the moment I get narration from the director and immediately I search for a reference character from my life to fit into. I did very thorough preparation for Bandit queen, Virsat, Sarfarosh and Prem Granth.
Q. Every actor plays an important part in a film but when it comes to the pay, the stars happen take the most of it. What are your thoughts on this?
A. It’s true that films run on star power. And yes when villains get popularity then they get paid accordingly—for example, Pran Sahab and Amrish Puri Ji. Sometimes it also depends upon your demand in the market.
Q. Among the characters you have played in your career, do you have any favourites?
A. Thakur from Virasat, Roop Sahai from Prem Granth, Veeran from Sarfarosh, and Bhau from Satya. These are my favourites because a lot of hard work was put in while preparing for these, and the best part is that the audience liked them too.
Q. What advice would you like to give to budding actors who are trying to establish themselves as professionals in this field?
A. I would say that please train yourself as much as you can. Please read a lot of good books.
Q. You recently played the role of Morarji Desai in the film, Solar Eclipse: Depth of Darkness. Did you face any challenges playing a historical character?
A. It was very challenging. I had to do a lot of research about him. I tried to decode him at three levels. Firstly, as the Home Minister of Maharashtra and his responsibility to save Gandhi Ji from the conspiracy of assassination. Secondly, as an affectionate person, who loved and admired Gandhi Ji and treated him as a father. And third, he was equally worried about Hindu-Muslim riots, which were happening in the country.
Q. You also work in Marathi cinema. Is working in regional films different from working in Bollywood?
A. Regional cinema is limited to a region only and there is a budget issue as well. But needless to say, Marathi industry has gained grounds by coming up with interesting subjects. And Bollywood films have their own space on a pan-India level.
Q. Tell us about your upcoming projects.
A. Gandhi: The Conspiracy, Varanasi Junction, Kashi to Kashmir, Raja Rangeela, Santap and Time Nahi Hai are the films you will soon see me starring in.