Be it dancing his heart out as a fisherman in the song, ‘Galyan Sakhli Sonyachi’ with Pooja Bhatt in ‘Dil Hai Ke Manta Nahi’ or portraying a suave sports champion in ‘Joh Jeeta Wohi Sikander’, Deepak Tijori has charmed the audiences with versatile roles that he played in his career spanning over a decade. Being an outsider, without a film background, entering Bollywood was never a cakewalk for the actor. ETimes got in touch with him to know more about his film journey, his views on nepotism, and more. Excerpts:
Where have you been? What is keeping you busy these days?
(Laughs) That’s a good question. I have been around. I changed tracks when I felt that I wanted to do something different so I moved into that direction. Currently, I am directing my seventh film so far and also working on some assignments as an actor. Covid-induced lockdown was one of the reasons that made me think about acting again. So, I have decided that in 2021, I am going to do some work as an actor too. I have done my first commercial as an actor after a long time and have been getting some interesting calls appreciating my new look. This is something I never was before and I am happy with the change. I am looking towards working as an actor again.
How did you enter B-town?
My Bollywood journey started back in the ’80s; I was an outsider and didn’t know how things work. I was in college, where I met people who belonged to Bollywood. So, suddenly, I got into this shocking system of Bollywood with celebrities around me and it was like a kick. But otherwise, my mother, who was a dancer and a radio artiste, was my inspiration. She always wanted at least one of her sons to get into acting and carry forward her legacy and I think I landed up doing that. In college, Paresh Rawal, Feroz Khan were my seniors, Aamir Khan was my junior, Ashutosh Gowarikar was my ex-colleague. Even the vicinity the college was in was full of cultural activity. So, after folk dancing, I got picked up into dramatics, and then the things elevated and I got awarded as the best artiste of the year and that probably motivated me to get into films. Since I did not come from a very affluent family and also my father wasn’t sitting on gold mines, I had to do a lot of work. I was also pursuing my studies at the same time because I wasn’t aware of what I was going to do in the future or if the industry would accept me, so I had to have a back-up. I did my Masters in commerce and finance; I also got a degree in law. It was a long procedure and I did a lot of odd jobs, working at different places to gain experience and learn about life while making a living.
So when did you finally sign your first film?
I didn’t have blinders on my eyes and wasn’t sure that this was what I wanted to do in life till the time I saw the glee in my mother’s eye when I got my first modelling assignment for a Parle product. I had worked with many supermodels for the ad campaign and one of my posters with Rhea Pillai got me noticed. So, I decided to make a career in films and started my rounds of the producers’ offices with my portfolio. It was a crazy place back then with limited producers and limited production houses. Nobody knew me, I had no godfather, uncles or aunties in the film industry. And that is when my journey began. The first three years were really very depressing and made me feel that this was not what I wanted to do, but I wasn’t giving up and just then I got a call for ‘Ashiqui’. But before that, I definitely had a hard time going through the painless torture of being a nobody. After ‘Ashiqui’, things changed. It was a very pleasant journey after that for a decade.
There are reports that Akshay Kumar and Milind Soman had auditioned for Shekhar Malhotra’s role in ‘Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander’. How did you land the role?
No, this is only half the truth. Akshay Kumar and I went for the same audition and we were both rejected. So, I was not to be a part of ‘Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander’. 75% of the film was already complete when I joined them; Milind Soman had shot for the film, not me. Apparently, the first actor to get replaced in the film was Girija Shettar (famous South actress), who was initially supposed to play the lead instead of Ayesha Jhulka, Pooja Bedi replaced a model named Karishma, and the third was Milind Soman who was replaced by me when the film was 75 per cent done. So, this film was really like a journey for the director and the producers. Initially, when I got rejected, I felt very bad as I really wanted to be part of the film. But suddenly things changed when I met Bhatt saab (Mahesh Bhatt) during ‘Dil Hai Ke Manta Nahi’. He invited me to his house, and, for us, his home was like a temple. He asked me to meet Mansoor again and that’s when things shaped up and I was signed for the role. So, with all the changes and troubles, the film was finally completed, and today it is known as one of the cult films of Bollywood and I am very happy to be associated with it.
Memories from the film…
The biggest memory from the film is the cycle race and the most comical part was when I put on the bicycle during the race shoot. We all were on the ground and there were professional cyclists around me. Since I was not a rider, I was just told that I need to just keep cycling in the gym and everything will be in place. But when everyone saw me for the first time on the cycle during the shoot, no one was convinced that I would be able to shoot for the race. So, I got trained as a cyclist by some Parsi boys who helped me handle a cycle like a champion. Though it was strange, it was an experience of a lifetime. Of course, the acting part came in bits but the hard work paid off at the end. We all had a gala time!
What’s your take on remakes?
I just can’t stand for them; people are just remaking and rehashing things. Songs from the ’90s are being remade now. In ‘Tipsy’ I have recorded five songs, but not a single song is a remake. The makers of ‘Do Lafzon Ki Kahani’ also pushed me to add one remade song but I refrained from doing so. By remaking songs and films, one is ruining the original content. How can someone make a ‘Zanjeer’, ‘Sholay’, ‘Deewar’, ‘Trishul’? Look at this ‘Coolie No.1’ remake. Chi Chi (Govinda) is God in the original film. It is so difficult, actually, it’s not possible, to recreate the same magic. But now everyone is into making money and that is the sad part of cinema. The remake songs come one month before the film release and vanish two weeks after that. No one even remembers them. People are still humming ’60s and ’90s songs. I just can’t understand ‘Garmi…’ and ‘Kamaal Hai..’ but again that’s business.
What about remakes of ‘Jo Jeeta…’ and ‘Khiladi’, whom would you cast?
I heard so many ‘Jo Jeeta…’ were made in so many different languages but I don’t think it is a good idea to make a remake of ‘Khiladi’ or ‘Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander’. Talking about casting, when I don’t stand for remakes, I will not get into that space.
Do you think your song ‘Galyan Sakhli Sonyachi’ should be remade?
It was fun shooting for the song under the merciless sun. Pooja and I were thick friends back then; even now, I love her as I loved her then. So it is such a beautiful relationship and friendship that we have. Though I don’t see anybody remaking ‘Galyan Sakhli’ now. But I am sure someone will do it someday because it was one of the hit commercial songs. Shooting for the song was a crazy ride. We were shooting at a fishermen’s village near the beach under the sun and my feet were burning due to the heat. I remember Pooja was wearing a kashta (a nine-yard saree) and cribbing throughout the song, saying, ‘What are they making me do’, ‘Why are you dancing like this?’ (laughs). But it was fun as it was all about dance and ‘masti’.
What kind of roles are you looking for now?
I am a huge fan of Sanjeev Kumar and I always wanted to do the kind of roles which he had in his career. His characters in RK Gupta’s ‘Trishul’, ‘Sholay’, ‘Khilona’ are my faves. After my newly-released ad, I am getting a lot of positive feedback from people and am looking forward to doing some good roles and not just running around trees. I hope that really happens as industry people are also looking at me in a different way than someone who I was earlier.
What’s your take on nepotism?
Nepotism is overrated. This is a part of every business. Unfortunately, nepotism is less in Bollywood as compared to others because here you cannot achieve the same success as a nepo child. Here in Bollywood, actors give an opportunity to the public to either accept or reject our children. But in other areas it is not the case; once a boss, always a boss, and employees have to accept them. There are so many star kids in our industry who are still struggling to get name and fame. Competition exists in every industry. The world is going fast and we have to get along with it. Sometimes I fear for my daughter as even she will make her debut in Bollywood soon. I keep on telling her to be aware of all these things. Star kids get a launch but again they have to prove themselves as an actor. Even to my daughter, I have told that eventually she has to prove herself with her talent, which is the only thing that is going to help her survive in the film industry. So she has to have that.
A piece of advice for those who want to make a career in Bollywood?
There is a place for everybody in this industry. All that matters is what you want. So don’t get stuck if something doesn’t happen. ‘Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander’ was the biggest lesson for me. I gave an audition for the film, got rejected, but after a year or so, the role eventually came to me. So, that was destined. Instead of being depressed on not getting something, make yourself worth it. Don’t be upset. Crores of people come here, give auditions, get rejected, and go back home with disappointment. I will tell them not to be upset; if not lead, try for the second lead, if not second lead, try for a supporting role. There are so many things to do. The time when only the hero got all the attention has passed. Today even a small character is talked about, sometimes even more than a lead. Everyone gets their due. This place has a lot of disheartening experiences but that should make one stronger rather than weaker.
This interview wouldn’t be complete if we don’t ask you about your family. Reports were rife that your marriage is on the rocks…
I would not like to talk about family as I have never spoke about it earlier too. I totally stay away from this topic as I love my family and I am in a space where I feel that my life is my life and I have to live my life. I love my child and my child loves me as much as I love her and I am looking forward to her career. She is absolutely my life. I am very content in the space that I am and feel blessed with whatever I have achieved so far but I feel there is much more to come ‘picture abhi baaki hai mere dost’ (the story is far from over) (laughs).
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