By Murtaza Ali Khan
Govind Namdev, an alumnus of the National School of Drama (NSD), is probably best known for playing Thakur Shri Ram – the fiendish antagonist in Shekhar Kapur’s Bandit Queen (1994). Following a decade-long stint at the NSD, the thespian made his film debut with David Dhawan’s Shola Aur Shabnam (1992). Govind Namdev has essayed several unforgettable characters in a film career spanning about three decades. Some of his best works include films like Satya (1998), Kachche Dhaage (1999), Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani (2000), Sarkar Raj (2008), and Singham Returns (2014).
Apart from his work in theatre and films, he is also noted for his work in television. Some of his best works came in serials like Aashirwad, Mahayagya, and Abhimaan, among others.
In this interview, Govind Namdev discusses his long journey as a platform-agnostic actor with Murtaza Ali Khan. Excerpts:
Murtaza Ali Khan: You have been associated with theatre, television as well as cinema. How do you see the three mediums? Which is your favorite?
Govind Namdev: The three mediums have their own challenges. The theatre doesn’t have provision for retakes. Suppose if you are playing a major part in a two and a half hour play then you have to be on your toes for the entire duration. It requires a certain level of perfection right from the word go as there is no room for error.
In my opinion, the biggest challenge of acting in a film is the close up. While shooting a close up you only perform for the camera as usually you don’t have any character in front of you. There is only the camera and the cameraperson. So, the actor is expected to get into the skin of the character, perfecting the emotions to a tee. Even the minutest of the details are noticed, for even the slightest of the eye movement can convey a distinct meaning. This is a great challenge even for the best of the actors.
In television, we often are required to shoot long sequences and you are required to carry the sequence in its entirety. Today every house has a television and so you cannot afford to be one-dimensional and as an actor you have to bring in something new, whether it’s though voice or characterization or emotions, in order to create an impact on the viewers. Each day is like an acid test.
MAK: You are an alumnus of the NSD. When did you decide that you want to be an actor? Tell us about your journey on your way to becoming one.
GN: I hail from Sagar, Madhya Pradesh. Until Class VIII, I was in my hometown but afterwards I came to Delhi where I completed my graduation. While studying in Delhi, I got deeply involved in various cultural activities. National School of Drama was in the proximity of my school and in the free time I often visited NSD. Thanks to my active involvement in cultural activities I got selected for NSD in the very first go. The likes of Anupam Kher, Satish Kaushik, and Karan Razdan were my batchmates. On the completion of the three-year course in 1978, unlike many of my batchmates, I was a bit unsure of making a foray into the professional arena right away; therefore, instead of leaving for Mumbai, I decided to join NSD’s prestigious Repertory Company with which I remained associated as a regular artist for a little more than a decade. I finally came to Mumbai in 1990 after I was fully convinced that I was fully prepared to face the world.
MAK: You acted in serials like Aashirwad that was a leading programme for Zee TV at the time. It was the time when satellite television had only started to pick up. How do you think the television industry has changed since then?
GN: Just like the early days of cinema, the early days of television were more about content driven by passion and not by commercial interests. The subjects were chosen in such a manner that there used to be lessons for the society at large. The television serials back then tried to tackle real-life problems. Today, television is all about creating sensational content. Yes, in terms of technology, we have made great progress but the quality has certainly deteriorated. The characters in today’s television serials are glamorized to an extent that they lack conviction. The out and out villainous portrayal of female characters in serials is also quite disconcerting. It’s in absolute contrast to what our cultural values stand for. The race for TRPs is what determines everything in today’s times.
MAK: Tell us about your influences/role models while growing up. Tell us a little about your acting method and the kind of preparation that you usually do for your roles?
GN: The one actor I admire most is Dilip Kumar. He is like a guru and a role model. I don’t think any other actor has ever succeeded in matching his genius. As a performer he is unparalleled: be it his dialogue delivery, thought process, or emotional range.
The very first narration is when you get to understand the basic information about the character. Once the project is given the green signal I start with my own research. It is always my intention to try and find similarities to someone real I have encountered in life. This allows me to come up with a basic sketch and I take it from there. But that’s not the case always. For example, the antagonistic character that I played in Bandit Queen was a rare challenge for me as it was impossible to find a character like that in real life and so I relied a lot on the research done by the team as well as the accounts given by the people.
MAK: Character actors are important part of films but when it comes to pay it is usually the stars who take home the lion’s share. What are your thoughts on this?
GN: Well, the industry is certainly governed by the star system. Ultimately the audiences are driven to the theaters by the stars. But if an actor’s work gets appreciated, then the producers are certainly willing to pay handsomely. Nawazuddin Siddiqui is a good example. The more appreciation that an actor receives the higher is the market price. Therefore, an actor who works with the star in the same capacity in turn becomes a star. The likes of Amrish Puri, Nana Patekar, Paresh Rawal, and Anupam Kher are great examples.
MAK: Which is the favorite character that you have played in your career and why? Tell us about your upcoming projects.
GN: Well, I can think for a few characters which are close to my heart such as the parts that I essayed in Virasat, Prem Granth, Sarfarosh, and OMG – Oh My God! All these characters, although quite different from one another, demanded a lot out of me as a performer.
MAK: What advice would you like to give to young and upcoming actors trying to establish themselves as professions in the field? Also tell us about your upcoming projects.
GN: Self-evaluation is very important if you want to make a living as an actor. You must be fully aware of your capabilities. If you feel that you have it in you then certainly give it your best shot. You need to constantly work towards refining your skills. But if you think that you lack the basic skills then you are better off in staying away from the field of acting.
Two projects are coming out in January. There is a international project tilted, Solar Eclipse: Depth of Darkness wherein I play the character of Morarji Desai. And then there is a project tiled, Coming Back, Darling, which is a murder mystery that’s entirely shot in Switzerland. I play an investigative officer in the film. There are two other projects in the pipeline viz. Jhalki and Dusshera. While the former is based on the issue of child labor, the latter deals with the menace of corruption.
Murtaza Ali Khan is an independent film critic based out of Delhi, India. He is the editor-in-chief of A Potpourri of Vestiges and is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post. He has also contributed to The Hindu, The Quint, Wittyfeed, etc. He is on the guest panel for live discussions on the television channel News X.
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