Govind Namdeo, through his brilliant voice and perfect on-screen portrayals of negative characters has managed to create a niche for himself in Indian cinema. As his recent films like Chapekar Brothers, Solar Eclipse and Marathvada show, Namdeo has preferred to lend his name to concept-driven cinema for the most part in his career.
He speaks to Guardian 20 about his journey in Bollywood, his theatre days and his views about the changing dynamics of Indian theatre among other things.
Q. You have played many negative roles in Bollywood. In fact, you debuted as a villian. What intrigues you about negative characters?
A. When I was shifting from Delhi to Bombay, I had decided that I will do negative characters. Reason being that in Hindi films, there are only three main characters, namely hero, heroine and villain. And in Delhi, I had done some good work in theatre. I was a very big name in theatre back then. So, I was adamant on not doing such work which could degrade my name. I could not become a hero as I had crossed that age bar where you can act as a hero in the film industry. So back then, the only option I had was to do negative roles. So, it was my choice to do negative characters. But now, I am doing both positive and negative roles.
Q. Now that you have seen both sides of the coin, what attracts you more — negative roles or everday ones?
A. I like doing negative roles more because a villain happens to be one of the main characters in a film. There are not many positive characters written in Hindi films which are equal to the hero’s or villain’s level. They are like subordinate characters in the film even if their characters are written well. But meaty characters like the one I did in a film called Kachche Dhaage was a more impactful role than that of a villain and it was one of the main characters in the movie. The role had enough scope for me as an actor to add different shades of colour to the character. But such roles are rarely written now. That is why I like to play a villain. While, there are characters which are well written like the role of the hero’s father or heroine’s father, who is against everything. These characters too provide scope for an actor to play the character very well. So, I don’t prefer doing the role of a father who is only there to bless his children.
Q. You are an alumnus of the National School of Drama. Did your NSD education, and then the work you did in theatre later on, help you in Bollywood?
A. First of all, theatre teaches you to be confident. And without confidence, you cannot act before a camera or even on stage, in front of an audience. When you learn to perform on stage, that confidence helps you perform in front of the camera too. Theatre helps you in better dialogue delivery as you revise your dialogues over and over again. This revision makes you so perfect that emotions come naturally to you along with the dialogues by the time you perform it live. Ye mana gaya hai ki vishwa ka sabse bada guru theatre hai. [It is said that theatre is considered the greatest teacher in the world.] Theatre helps one in every sphere of life, in a way.
Q. What are your views on contemporary Indian theatre?
A. Theatre is doing really well, if one compares it to the way it was in the past. People are more interested in theatre now. The only difference is that back in the pre-television days, people used to do theatre with full commitment. When I used to do theatre, I knew very well that I can make my name through this platform alone. I had to enrich myself by doing theatre and I knew theatre was the only platform that could give me respect which I wanted to earn. So, I devoted myself to it wholesomely; it was more of a kind of worship for me. Nowadays, things are a bit different as theatre is considered to be a mere ladder to earn a place in Bollywood or television. The youth these days, focuses more on the opportunities that theatre can create for them elsewhere, rather than on the learning that comes with it.
Q. You are playing the character of Bal Gangadhar Tilak in your upcoming film Chapekar Brothers and Morarji Desai in Solar Eclipse. How different is it to play a historical character from a regular character?
A. It’s not very simple to play a character about whom everyone is aware of. Every Indian knows about these characters. You can’t have many improvisations from your side as an actor when narrating these roles. One can do voice modulation and follow each minute characteristics of the historical character. All this should come from conviction and should be evident to the audiences. Then only one can justify the role. You need to be extra careful when you play such roles as you have to have a definite look, behaviour and fixed expressions in order to portray the character in all exactness. I like doing roles where I have to work hard.
“Nowadays, theatre is considered to be a mere ladder to earn a place in Bollywood or television. The youth these days focuses more on the opportunities that theatre can create for them elsewhere.”
Q. Another film of yours Marathvada deals with a farmer’s suicide case. You are playing an antagonist in the film. How do you relate to the problems that the farmers of our country are facing and can cinema in any way help in creating awareness about their miserable condition?
A. Cinema can definitely do its bit. There’s very little awareness about the condition of the farmers in the country. It’s a pitiful situation really. People see films these days for entertainment alone. Today’s generation hardly knows anything about farming. And the situation is such that the farmers who feed the entire nation have nothing to eat themselves. They are under so much pressure and they do not have enough money to meet their day-to-day needs. They are under immense pressure to repay their loans and sometimes they even have to sell their cattle. Then, they plough their land themselves. They are under a very difficult and critical situation. Ironically, our youth, politicians and government are unaware of all this. So, cinema is a very strong medium, which can make people understand what is happening around them. Earlier, only one or two farmers used to commit suicide due to various reasons but in recent years, it is a common thing for farmers to commit suicide and nobody cares. It’s an alarming situation. The government has to pay heed to their grievances. This film was made keeping all this in mind.
Q.You have done more than 100 films in Bollywood. Have you witnessed much change in Indian cinema over the years?
A. There has been a drastic change. 15 years ago, we had formula based films being made in Bollywood. There are no definite formula-based movies now. The emphasis is more on new concept-driven films with the emergence of new directors. The new generation of filmmakers is trying to portray the common man’s life in their films. Many biopics have been made like Mary Kom. I really liked Bajirao Mastani. Such films were not made 15 years ago. We now have low-budget movies, regional movies and star-studded ones and everyone is doing well these days.
Q. What’s your take on regional cinema in the country?
A. I have done only one Marathi film. Regional cinema is doing really well. There has been a major change in Marathi films, from what we used to see 10 years back. Now, importance is given to filmmaking, subject and performance in the film. And they are released at a bigger level. Maharashtra is so rich in literature and culture, which is now evident in these films too. Similarly, Bengali and Oriya films are doing much better as small budget films are entertained now. Earlier, films like Marathvada never used to get producers and couldn’t be released. One could see some of these films at film festivals but now the scenario has changed completely. And with the coming of multiplexes, a lot of low-budget films are being made now. People like watching subject based cinema now.
Q. Who is your favourite villain in Indian cinema?
A. I can’t say about villains but Dilip sahab is like my mentor. I have learnt so many things from him. There is no point making a comparison between negative and positive roles but rather it’s all about how one can keep on coming up with great performances. I learnt it from Dilip Kumar. And then, theatre has helped me a lot. But, when it comes to pouring out your emotions impactfully, be it as a negative or a positive character, I learnt it from Dilip sahab.