Of late we don’t see much of Paresh Rawal. This is a pity, really. He is such a fine actor driven by an instinctive empathy with middleclass values, Rawal manages to make every character even in the silliest of films—and it can’t get any sillier than Coolie No 1—seem vibrant. In an interview to me in 2007 Paresh had said, “I’m not insecure about money. I’m insecure about good actors. After I watch Naseer or Om perform I stay awake the whole night. My values are middleclass. I don’t want to be rich. I want to be successful.”
Here are the films that found Paresh Rawail(PR) at his best.
1. Dacait(1987).Playing corrupt cop Vindhu Pandey, this is where PR was noticed first. He brought to the sodden seedy law enforcer’s role a kind vile inequity that we seldom see in villainous roles. It was director Rahul Rawail who gave PR his first break. In an interview in 2007 PR had said to me, “It’s very strange, but at the beginning of my career I struggled to get into art films…I didn’t get any roles in films by Govind Nihalani, Shyam Benegal and Kumar Shahane. Then I went into commercial cinema and became successful when in 1984 Karim Morani saw a play and recommended me to Rahul Rawail.That’s how I got Arjun and then Dacait.”
2. Sardar(1993): Ketan Mehta who specializes in political bio-pics considers PR’s portrayal of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel to be the most authentic portrayal of an Indian politician in an Indian film.Paresh is rightly proud of what he has achieved in this film. “When I was doing villains’ roles Ketan Mehta came along and offered me Sardar Patel. People thought he was crazy but Ketan was convinced. Then Mahesh Bhatt came into my life to give me Sir, Tamanna and Kubzaa. I’m waiting for another Ketan Mehta and Mahesh Bhatt to come into my life.”
3. Oh My God(2013): PR’s performance as the atheist Kanji Lalji Mehta who ridicules religious rituals until he meets Lord Krishna(Akshay Kumar, playing the flute) is so steep in a wicked humour I wonder if Paresh would agree to play the disbeliever now if given the opportunity. The film was seen as an attack on Hinduism, Paresh had defended the film in an interview to me. “ If Oh My God was really an attack on Hinduism it wouldn’t have been so wholeheartedly embraced by the entire nation. I’ve performed the stage version of the story all over the world. No one has raised any objections when in fact the play is spicier. Let me tell you, at the industrialist B.K Modi’s 60th birthday we staged the play at the ISKCON temple in Mumbai on the recommendation of his son who wanted his father to celebrate his 60th birthday by watching this play. Present at this special staging of our play was the who’s who of every religion, be it Hinduism, Jainism or Islam. Jo banaa rahe wohbhi Hindu jo dekh rahan hain wohbhi qafi hadd tak Hindu. I knew it would get controversial. But I want to say only one thing to the opponents of the film: only the guilty need to be anxious. And I not doing anything wrong. So why should I be afraid of fingers pointing at me?”
4. Sir(1993): There was a time when Mahesh Bhatt actually made worthwhile films. This one, though not in league with Bhatt’s Arth or Saaransh was nonetheless a premium product . Paresh played Velji a gangster whose daughter’s speech problem is sorted by her teacher Naseeruddin Shah. Rawal and Shah’s confrontations were highlights, and Rawal more than stood his ground. After Sir he told me he was done with comedy. “I’d like to work with filmmakers with convictions like Sudhir Mishra, Prakash Jha, Raj Santoshi….. Why aren’t these people coming to me? I’ve no ego problems in calling up a director ten times a day.But at the end of the day I should have a role to show for it. I don’t have a secretary. I handle my own career. I don’t want to fire my gun from another person’s shoulder. I take my own decisions and live by them. I need challenges as an actor. I feel the comic period in my career has harmed the actor in me. I don’t know what to do….Give me just two solid scenes. But give me something to do. Kuch meaningful ho.”
5. Tamanna(1997): The great Nadira played mother to a transgender played by Paresh who struggled with his dual persona long before non-binary Eliot Page found her identity. It was a pathbreaking role and Paresh sank into the character without reservations. He was happy that filmmakers like Mahesh Bhatt were allowing him to shoulder films. “I’ve worked so hard to arrive at this juncture in my career where I can shoulder whole films. But it depends on what you’re shouldering. Sometimes it’s Shravan’s old and blind parents, sometimes it’s the mischievous Bikram-Vetal duo.Sometimes it can’t be helped. I’ve been in the industry for so long. Films sometimes don’t work even when I’m convinced of the storyline. At times I do films because of the set-up or to be part of a good film.But yes, I’m completely bored with comedy. I want filmmakers to know that I’m open to doing serious non-comic roles. My doors are wide open for them.