INDIA: Versatile Bollywood actor and fitness enthusiast Sharat Saxena opened up on how finding a good role is difficult for the senior actors and called Bollywood a “young actors industry”. In his 40 years career, Saxena has predominantly worked in Bollywood, Telugu, Tamil, and Malayalam films. He starred in many hit films like Kaala Patthar, Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Agneepath, etc.
In a recent interview with Transcontinental Times, Saxena talked about the scarcity of good roles for senior actors, the never-ending debate of nepotism in Bollywood, and many more things.
Born in Madhya Pradesh, Saxena completed his schooling at St. Joseph Convent School and Christchurch Boys’ Senior Secondary School. Later, he completed his engineering degree in Electronics & Telecommunication from Jabalpur Engineering College.
Talking about his transition from engineering to acting he said, “Engineers make mistakes too. (laughs) That’s what happened to me. I thought that I should give acting a try. I felt like the industry needed someone like me. However, when I reached Mumbai, the situation was quite the opposite. I got a reality check and was demoralized many times. But, fortunately, I stayed strong.”
40 years in Bollywood
Saxena started his Bollywood career in the early 1970s. The going was tough because of his build, but eventually, he got the role of a fighter. “To become a hero in our film industry, one needs to be good-looking. I had the physique of a fighter and thus I got roles that were fit for action films. I was getting the role of a henchman in almost every movie.”
Saxena went on to talk about the struggles he faced while establishing himself in Bollywood. He added that the situation in the 70s was easier than today’s situation.
“The good thing about the 70s was that an aspiring actor could directly approach a director and a producer for roles. We could just leave our portfolios over there and meet the director once in a while. A director once called me for a one-day shoot and I was quite excited. Do you know what was the best part? I got to interact with many people from the industry.”
Initially, it was difficult for Saxena to establish himself in a new city. It took him around 5-6 years to establish himself in the industry. “It took me 5-6 years to become established to make enough money in a month.”
Saxena made his Bollywood debut with Megastar Amitabh Bachchan starrer movie, ‘Benaam’. After meeting Indian screenwriting duo Salim-Javed constantly for a week, Saxena got a role in the 1979 Indian Hindi-language action drama film Kaala Patthar. “ I used to go to Salim-Javed’s office every week.
One day Salim Sir asked me, “What did I do? Why was I visiting them regularly? Then I told them that I’m trying to work in Bollywood. They looked at me and said that we can cast him as ‘Dhanna’ in Kaala Patthar. They gave me the address of Yash Chopra Ji’s office. I was delighted by this opportunity. Yash Ji was very sweet, he explained the role, and the next day I was shooting with them.”
After that Salim-Javed helped Saxena to work on five more films. “I used to get small roles but all of them held significant importance. I would say that they are responsible for kick-starting my Bollywood career.”
Professional relation With Amitabh Bachchan
Saxena has worked with Bachchan in movies like Baghban, Baabul, Pukaar, Kaala Patthar, Agneepath, Shenshaah, Shakti, etc. Talking about his experience of working with the megastar, he said, “Bachchan Saab (Sir) is a superstar. The producers like to work with people who are respectable and friendly to him. I acted with him in many films and got along with him pretty well, thus I got opportunities to portray different roles in his films.”
“I had a long-term relationship working with Mr.Bachchan and it has been an absolute pleasure working with him. We have done many action sequences together,” Saxena added.
In an interview, Saxena said that all the good ‘old people’ roles are offered to Amitabh Bachchan. Due to this, people like him don’t get good roles.
“The film industry is a “young people’s industry”. All the actors of my generation are now retired and their children are now working here. In most Bollywood films, the protagonist is always young. We don’t see many movies where a lead actor is an old man or woman. When it comes to making a movie like this, big stars like Mr. Bachchan are usually approached.”
“I’m not a star. When you are selling a movie, you need a star in the film. Also, if the producer has the budget of casting a big star then why would they cast someone else?”
Saxena considers late-actor and superstar Vinod Khanna as his best friend. He said that the star never had ego in him. Khanna would treat everyone equally. “I have worked with him in many movies. He talked with everyone in a pleasant manner and treated everyone equally. This quality of his impressed me a lot. He never had that “ego problem in him. He used to treat me like a friend. He used to wait for my pack-up.”
Transition to comedy films
Saxena’s transition to comedy happened in a completely unexpected manner. It wasn’t pre-planned and that made things even more special.
“I have worked with Abbas-Mustan in many movies. One day, they told me that Sharat Bhai, if you are a good actor you will become a star, but if you want to be a superstar, you need to act in comedy films. This thing got etched in my heart. That’s why whenever I get a major role in a movie, I make sure to add a comic element to it.”
Saxena has worked in several comedy films like De Dana Dan, Phir Hera Pheri, Ready, etc.
Saxena believes that it is easier to make a place in children’s hearts through comedy. “Comedy allows you to be acceptable to the family audience and that’s exactly what an actor needs. My fundamental concept as an actor is that I don’t act to satisfy my ego. My main aim is to entertain the actors who are going to watch my movies.”
The never-ending debate of nepotism
Nepotism or favoritism is the lowest and least imaginative form of corruption that is quite prominent in Bollywood. When asked about nepotism in the industry, Saxena said, “When a businessman gets old, he gives the reign of his business in the hands of his future generation..right? The same thing happens in the film industry as well. When a producer gets old, he gives his production house to his future generation. See, the thing is, nobody wants to take a risk.”
“We have two options: A producer can bring a talented boy from another city, give him a place to live, and cast him in a film making sure that he doesn’t leave anything midway. Or he can cast someone from the industry who is equally talented and can dedicate his time and efforts to the role.
“Bollywood still appreciates true talent. Many actors coming from a film background couldn’t do well in the industry. So, Nepotism is there but it doesn’t mean that it is bad. Nepotism is everywhere and isn’t restricted to the film industry.”