Dr. Anil Rastogi: Balancing Science and Acting at 81

Birthday Special on Dr. Anil Rastogi's 81st birthday (April 4, 2024): “I did not let science and acting come in the way of each other.” -Dr. Anil Rastogi

By Bollyy
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Dr. Anil Rastogi Balancing Science and Acting at 81
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Famous scientist, theatre, film, and TV artist Dr. Anil Rastogi, who has been associated with theater for 62 years, is active even after the age of 81. In the film “Bengal 1947”, released on March 29, he made his presence felt in the role of the king of the princely state of Bengal before independence. Earlier, he was seen in the role of Ravi Kishan's father in Akshay Kumar's film 'Mission Raniganj'.

In an acting career of 62 years, apart from thousands of shows of 96 plays, 15 TV serials including 'Udaan' and 'Na Bole Tum Na Maine Kuch Kaha' and 'Mukti Bhavan', 'Main Meri Patni Aur Wah', 'Ishaqzaade', 'Z Plus' Dr. Anali Rastogi has a distinct identity for himself by acting in sixty films including 'Raid', 'Mulk', 'Nakkash'. Dr. Anil Rastogi has done so much work in the acting world while living in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. Dr. Anil Rastogi, who has been associated with acting for 62 years, has been awarded many awards including the 'Yash Bharti', 'Uttar Pradesh Sangeet Natak Academy', 'Kalidas Award', 'Awadh Samman' and National Sangeet Natak Academy Award. He turned 81 on April 4, 2024. We had a long conversation with him at his home in Lucknow...

You are a scientist. Then where did your career in theater and acting in films start?

-Look, it's like this, I started doing theater at the age of eighteen. I used to do theatre. Used to watch movies also. But I never thought that I would ever go on the radio or act in television and films. Acting in films was a distant dream for me. I had never even thought in this direction. I did not even know how artists reach Mumbai and how artists are selected for films. Coincidentally, in 1984, Sudhir Mishra's father Professor DN Mishra taught me French. When I did my PhD, we needed to take a language course, so I studied French. Professor D N Mishra was my teacher at that time. Someone told me that Sudhir Mishra, son of Professor DN Mishra, makes good films. One day, one of my theater friends, Alopi Verma, came to me with an offer to act in Sudhir Mishra's film but told me that Sudhir Mishra would not pay remuneration for it. In those days, acting in a film was a big deal for me, so I agreed. I acted in the film. Manohar Singh and Habib Tanveer Saheb were also there in it. Raj Zutshi played the childhood character of Manohar Singh and I played the character of his father. This was my first film, which was shot at Kajal Hotel in Lucknow. I didn't get the money, but it felt good to see myself on the cinema screen. Then Jain Saheb, a builder from Lucknow, produced the film ‘Khoon Baha Ganga Mein’. In this, I played the character of Thakur. I am a theater artist. But during the film ‘Khoon Baha Ganga Mein’ the director explained to me that there is a difference between theater and film acting. So I have been slowly learning new techniques. RD Singh was a producer on Lucknow Doordarshan, he is also a good actor. R.D. Singh's friend from Kanpur was making a film 'Marichika', so R.D. Singh allowed me to play the role of the hero's father in this film. Raghuveer Yadav ji was also there in this. In this way, the process of acting in films started. Then in 1989, Kavita Chaudhary called me and allowed me to act in her serial “Udaan”. I got national recognition as an actor by playing the character of SSP Bashir Ahmed in the serial 'Udaan'. Before that, he was doing small roles in films, with which it was not possible to get recognized. Due to the recognition I got from 'Udaan', I got a lot of film offers.

Where were you educated and how did you get involved in theater at the age of eighteen?

-I was born in Lucknow in 1943 and I used to live in Raja Bazaar in Lucknow itself. My maternal uncle was Ramkishore's alias, Tony Babu. There used to be an old theater here. My maternal uncle and Madan Mohan used to rehearse the play ‘Bagh Mecca’ in Kesar Bagh. I have seen this drama many times. In this drama, men also played the roles of women. The artists of this play received huge applause. When Rastogi College was built in Aish Bagh, Lucknow in 1961, it also had a big auditorium. In those days there was no Rabindralay etc. in Lucknow. One day it was decided that a play should be performed in the auditorium of Rastogi College. Meanwhile, after watching the play, it came to my mind that I too can do drama. One day I told my uncle Tony Babu that I wanted to play a small role in a play. In those days, a play named “Noorjahan” written by D.N. Roy was performed. Dr., Professor of Political Science near my house. Ghanshyam Das used to live. He was a very good artist. He played the role of Jahangir in this play and allowed me to play the role of a minister named Vijay Singh.

I was a science student and a science exhibition was organized here. After this, there was prize distribution. A cultural program was also to be held at the time of award distribution. So I suggested that instead of music and dance, a drama should be performed. At that time there used to be a journalist Suresh Singh ji, who is now in Delhi. He wrote the play “Vanaspati Shayar”. So the famous radio artist Sangram Shukla ji directed this play and he allowed me to play the role of hero in this play. By acting in this play, I became very popular in my locality and the whole of Lucknow. People said that I should act in films. So in this way, the theater continued to flourish. We formed an organization ‘Fred Circle’ to do theatre. Then I met Rajeshwar Bachchan who lives in Chak. He allowed me to play the role of hero in the play ‘Mati Pukar’ which was performed in Rabindralay. After the show was over, some viewers told me that I looked down while speaking the dialogue, it was wrong. I should speak the dialogue while looking in front of me. Not only this, the famous theater director of that time, Jayant Chopra, while praising my acting, objected to me speaking the dialogues while looking down. In this way, I kept learning from my mistakes. Later, we got him to direct a play named 'Chandamama' for the 'Friend Circle' group. Its show took place in Rabindralay.

Then in 1967, KB Chandra was associated with the government theater system. He used to have many social plays. KB Chandra asked me to play the role of Balamdhari of Ghajini. Raza Saheb was playing the character of Ghajini. Due to some reasons, he separated from this play, then I got the opportunity to play the character of Ghajini. Rehearsals of this play used to take place in the room next to the music college. Made a play with the same name on K Munshi's very popular novel 'Jai Somnath'. It was directed by K B Chandra and Vishwanath Mishra, famous for 'Bibi Naati Wale', was adapting it. In this, I got the opportunity to play the role of villain Shivrashi. Mishra Ji expanded my character a bit. After seeing my work, KB Chandra said about me, 'This boy will eat everyone. 'With this character, I started being talked about as an artist in Lucknow. The biggest advantage of this was that the ‘Darpan Theater Group’ included me with them. In 1971, two famous plays ‘Steel Frame’ and ‘Khamosh Adalat Jari Hai’ were produced. BB Karanth came from Delhi to direct these plays. B. B Karanth ji had heard about me. Therefore, at his request, Sudesh Bandhu ji, the founder of 'Darpan Theatre', came to me with an offer to be associated with these plays. There were two heroes in the play, Karanth ji made me one of them. What could be a bigger thing than this for me? Shobhana Jagdish played the role of Padmini in this play. After joining 'Darpan', I started doing plays regularly. Then in 1973, I went to Germany for one and a half years on behalf of my institute ‘Central Research Institute’. I missed mirrors in Germany. When I came back to Lucknow at the end of 1974, I was made the treasurer of 'Darpan'.

At that time this organization did not have a single penny. But today it is a very well-established institution. Under 'Darpan' I did 'Andha Yug' with Ravi Vaswani. Did 'From the last ray of the sun to the first ray' with Thapliyal. Did ‘Pankshi Jaa Pankshi Aa’ with Dinanath. In 1978, I was made the secretary of 'Darpan'. Till 2016, I was the secretary of the ‘Darpan Theatre' group. Meanwhile, I invited many directors and got plays directed for 'Darpan'.

Meanwhile, in 1962, I got a job at 'Central Research Institute' i.e. CDRI. The secretary there, after seeing my play, asked me to perform in the cultural program of this institute. Overall, I did a lot of work at my level for the development of theater and plays. I got the support of artists, directors, and CDRI, due to which it became possible for me to remain associated with theatre. On the one hand, I kept doing science research in 'CDRI' and on the other hand, I kept acting in plays. I never allowed any shortcomings from my side in the work of science. I was dedicated to science, many times it happened that I went to do science experiments even at 2 o'clock in the night and after working the whole night, came home at 5 in the morning. Reached the office again at ten o'clock. I have a passion for acting in drama along with science. But I did not let both of them come in the way of each other. I got discipline from science, which I used in theatre. I got the ‘Power of Expression’ from theatre, which I used in science. From 1971 I started doing plays on radio. From 1975 I started doing dramas on TV. When I first met Jaidev Sharma Kamal, producer of Akashvani, I felt as if I had seen God.

The job of a science researcher is a full-time job and acting in drama is also a full-time job. Not only this, people also call scientists crazy/obsessive and actors are also considered the same. In such a situation, how were you balancing these two?

-Seriousness towards work is in my blood. My father and brothers all had seriousness and passion for work. I was serious and dedicated as a science researcher. But the truth is also that I was not a very 'bright scientist'. There was no madness in me. While working as a scientist, I had this thought in my mind that I had to go to the rehearsal of the play. Even in Germany, I used to keep doing science research all night long. While I had an addiction to acting in drama, I also had an addiction to doing science research.


When you were interested in theatre, then why was there a need to work as a science researcher?

-My elder brother was a great social worker. He built ‘Hari Om Seva Kendra’. This organization has been providing great service to the medical world for the last 25 years. At present, I am the president of this institute. He wanted me to study and become a doctor. But could not get admission to medicine. Then I obtained a higher education in science. I was the first student of Biochemistry at Lucknow University. And took a job as a scientist. Nowadays I am also associated with the association there. Well, I joined CDRI and was also doing drama. One day my boss told me that the director of the institute was saying that if Rastogi left drama and concentrated all his attention on CDRI, he could do better work. I said that I was not neglecting science from my side, but I would keep doing drama too. Then the director promised to give me full support. He used to come to watch my play and felt proud. After watching the serial 'Udaan', my university teachers used to proudly tell people that this was my student. See, unless you get people's support, unless people do your best, you are not able to progress.

How many plays have you done till now and how many shows have happened?

-I have done 96 plays so far with 25 directors of different writers. Whose more than a hundred deaths have occurred? I have done most of the plays under the direction of Urmil Kumar Thapliyal. Did some plays with Rajeshwar Bachchan. Did two plays with Raj Bisaria. Did four plays with Dinanath. The play 'Pankshi Jaa Pankshi Aa', which was based on the film 'Boing Boeing', had the highest number of shows. This drama was shown for twenty years from 1976 to 1996. Apart from Lucknow, drama festivals were held in almost every city of the country including Delhi, Mumbai, Calcutta, Kanpur, and Bhopal. One of my plays ‘Jewish Ki Ladki’ is a very popular play. First Anupam Kher Saheb was playing the character of a Jew. Coincidentally he had to go to Mumbai and I got this role. And even today I consider it the biggest character of my life.

People must have liked 'Jewish Girl'.

-You can't imagine how much people liked this drama and my character. In 1982, I did four houseful shows of this play at Rabindralay, Lucknow. In those days, the ticket rates for two shows of this play were kept at Rs 3, Rs 5, and Rs 10. This play was promoted using a rickshaw using a mike. Posters were made for this. Posters of the play 'Jewish Girl' were put up all over Lucknow city. This was a very powerful play. During the play, whenever I used to say a couplet, people used to repeat it from the audience gallery. For example - 'Your blood is blood, my blood is water...' I used to speak three lines and the audience used to speak the fourth line. I played more positive characters in theatre. I realized that the audience hates you in negative roles. When I played a negative character in the film 'Ishaqzaade', when I used to go to Mumbai for shooting, every day two-three boys used to stare at me from where I used to catch a rickshaw. After five to six days, one of the boys came to me and asked for permission to talk to me and get a photo taken with me. She said, 'Sir, I have seen the film Ishaqzaade. I felt very scared seeing you in it.' While my character in 'Udaan' was positive, the SSP who came later was negative. Well, I had gone astray. We come back to the drama. I played the character of Casanova in the play ‘Pankshi Jaa Pankshi Aa’. A man who flirts with three girls at once. I did the same in the play ‘Darling Darling’. In this, my wife pretends to be blind and spies on me. Also did ‘Sakharam Binder’. I did a romantic scene in ‘Surya Ki Last Kiran Se Surya Surya Pehli Kiran Tak’. There is also a bed scene in it. I gave life to the bed scene through my voice. I played protagonists and positive characters in most of the plays. The audience sympathizes with me in the play 'Jewish Ki Ladki'. When Prince leaves my daughter saying, 'I can give my life, I cannot give my faith...' then I say to him - 'Go, but keep listening to this...' Saying this I start crying. When I hug my daughter and cry, the audience also starts crying. Then at that time, Ashok Goswami ji used to play violin. Now when I do the play 'Aakhri Vasant', I naturally cry that my son is outside, away from me. I don't need glycerine to cry. Because I am an emotional person myself. When I perform the play 'Kanyadan'. In this drama, my daughter marries a Shudra. Shudra, to take revenge from the upper society, marries my daughter for love. I was very progressive. But when the daughter gets tortured, she feels guilty. And he tells his daughter to leave everything and come away. The daughter says no father…she hums Naresh’s poem – ‘pul paar karane se nadee paar nahee hotee, nadee paar hotee hai,nadee mein dhans kar...’’

In which play did you have to work the most?

-The most hard work had to be done in four plays. The first was – “Sakharam Binder”. This is a very bold play. It also contains abusive language. There is also some element of sex. Hero is very attracted to girls. Earlier I had refused to do it calling it bold. But when Rajeshwar Bachchan's order came, I could not avoid it and I did this play. But after a few days of rehearsal, the director was satisfied that I would be able to do it. However, I had cut out some of the abuses.

Similarly, in 'Jewish Ki Ladki', Anupam Kher Saheb played the role of a Jew and I played the second character. Anupam Kheyar is a traffic artist. We had worked together on the radio before. But when Anupam ji left it, the director asked me to play the character of a Jew. This was the biggest challenge for me. But I worked hard. People appreciated my work tremendously.

Similarly, I did a two-character play 'Vibhas' under the direction of Raj Bisaria. I and Shobhana Jagadish. I did the play 'Aye Watan' with Shobhana Jagadish in 1972. After 47 years, in 2019 she again became my heroine in 'Vibhas'. She is an amazing actress. When your co-star is amazing, you have to work hard to match them. She was famous. So this was also a challenge for me.

I played diverse characters. I also played historical characters. I played the character of Aurangzeb in Shahjahan. Played the role of Arjun in the mythological drama 'Veer Abhimanyu'. I played Casanova, the king, the romantic, the father, and the villain. I did not bind myself to any image. The directors I worked with believed in me. I consider myself a director's artiste.

I played the character of dementia in the short film “Aathvan” with Renuka Shahane. There is no dialogue in this, only expressions.

You were busy with dramas while working. This was the time when the theatre's thinking was that cinema should not be done. In such a situation, how did you get involved in TV and films?

-Every person has the greed to have his voice heard on the radio. People see and hear him on TV. People saw him on the big screen of the cinema. This is why I wanted to work on TV. When my serial “Udaan” aired, the whole country saw me. People were eager to know me. The DM here reached me with the help of a journalist friend. That DM sahib used to call me Captain Sahib.

How did you get the opportunity to do a film with Sudhir Mishra in 1984?

-Look, I had no acquaintance with Sudhir Mishra. Sudhir Mishra's father taught me French. But Alopi Verma, the younger brother of my theater friend, had contact with Sudhir Mishra. I also did a serial with Alopi. And it was through Alopi Verma that I got the offer to do Sudhir Mishra's film 'Yeh Wah Manzil To Nahi'. Its shooting was done in Lucknow only. Later this film also received the National Award.

Which films did you do after Sudhir Mishra's film 'Yeh Wah Manzil To Nahin' and the serial 'Udaan'?

-I got good fame from the serials 'Jahan Chah Wahan Raah' and 'Jaani Murkh Punch' on Lucknow Doordarshan. Some of my plays were telecast on Lucknow Doordarshan, which was highly appreciated. But the biggest recognition came from the serial 'Udaan'. I did Raj Pal Yadav's film 'Pati Patpi Aur Wah', in which I played the role of Rajpal Yadav's father-in-law. Rajpal Yadav has been a student of 'Bhartendra Natya Academy', Lucknow. But I got real recognition in films from the film “Ishaqzaade”. This was a very important and long role. After this film, I was called to Mumbai. When I went to Mumbai, the way the filmmakers there welcomed me. He praised my acting, which made me wonder if I had acted that great. I have acted in two films under the direction of Avadhesh Mishra. Similarly, I did 'Bengal 1947' with Akashaditya Lama, which was released on 29th March. In this, there is the character of a king of a princely state of Bengal before independence. Before this, I had also done 'Toba Tera Jalwa' with him. I have done many films after 'Ishaqzaade'. For example, he played the role of Chief Minister in 'Z Plus' with Dr. Chandraprakash Dwivedi. I also got big recognition from the film ‘Mukti Bhawan’. In this, he played the role of a manager in 'Mukti Bhawan'. I also got a lot of recognition from the web series ‘Ashram’. I enjoyed working in 'Ashram' a lot. I had done a film called Naresh Saxena's 'Sambandh'. In this, I played the role of a forest contractor. It received the National Award. Similarly, till now I have acted in sixty films including 'Mulk', 'Raid', 'Accidental Prime Minister', and 'Thappad'.

What is the reason why some people have considered theater as a stepping stone to get work in TV and films?

-You said it right. This is what is happening at present. But when I started theatre, theater artists like Bansi Kaul were against going to the cinema. But I have not been against theater people joining the cinema. I have been associated with theater for the last 62 years. The theater did not give me the recognition that just one serial 'Udaan' gave me. The recognition that the film 'Ishaqzaade' gave me overnight. Every person wants his work to be appreciated. Swatanth does not want to do any work for Sukhay. Whatever you do in theatre, TV, or film, you will get self-satisfaction, but every artist is hungry for the exposure that comes from doing TV or film. Now, as I received the ‘Sangeet Natak Academy’ award just a few days ago, my responsibility has increased. Apart from this, there is no money in theatre, whereas good money is available in TV and films. I was doing theater while doing a government job. I still get a government pension. But the children of the new generation also need money to live. But if you are not a mature artist, then you will get the true learning of acting only from theatre. For that, we will have to do theater seriously.

Artists coming out of NSD complain that NSD has taught them method acting, due to which they could not achieve expected success in cinema. Your opinion on this?

-I don't believe so. Manoj Bajpayee, Naseeruddin Shah, BM Shah, Surekha Sikri, Manohar Singh, Uttara Baokar, and Rajendra Gupta, all of them are from the theatre. But, indeed, there is some difference between the technology of theater and cinema.

Don't you think that even actors who are busy with films should take time out every two years to do a play?

-Many filmmakers do theatre. Nowadays Rajendra Gupta and Himani Shivpuri are doing the play 'Vibhas'. Now Amitabh Bachchan had never done theatre. I stayed in Mumbai for five years and kept doing only TV films, I did not do even a single drama. When one is getting work in films, why would anyone leave films and do theatre? Naseer Bhai still does it. Pankaj Kapoor also does theatre. Because they have time. He is not very busy like other film actors. The satisfaction that one gets from theatre, cannot be got from acting in TV or films.

As an actor, to what extent do you use life experience and imagination while playing any character?

-Both are needed. But how much to use depends on the character.

What are your future plans?

-At present, I have two plays going on. The name of one is Swaha and Aakhri Basant. I play the role of Major General in Swaha. I play the role of a father in 'Aakhri Basant'. The third play that I am going to do is about a scientist who has the habit of being an amnesiac but does not seem to be suffering from this disease. This is a psychological drama.

Why is Hindi theater in poor condition in comparison to Gujarati and Marathi theatre?

-Gujarati and Marathi Theater has been commercial since the beginning. The reason for the plight of Hindi theater is that neither plays were written nor performed commercially. There is a commercial theater in the Bengali language also.

-Shantiswarup Tripathi

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