From Film Desk:
A Man For All Seasons
Piyush Mishra has this reputation of being arrogant and brash, which only goaded me all the more to pin the man down. To my absolute surprise, he turned out to be a delight to interview; very co-operative, approachable and pulling no punches when it came to the answers. So is this undeserved reputation an air he cultivates as a defense mechanism against hurt?
“Main bahut bhayankar arrogant tha! When I was a chronic alcoholic yeh meri khaas baat thi,” he says unabashedly. “Ussi ki reputation chali aa rahi hai. Those days main sirf arrogant nahin – main badtameez tha. Misbehaviour for the sake of misbehaviour. Lekin bahut sudhar gaya hoon. Ab agar kisiko lagta hai toh then I think being truthful and direct is seen as being arrogant. Stay humble – I have learnt the lesson of humility. My experiences have taught me this. People who think too much of themselves don’t go too far. Look at Raju Hirani – how much success he has achieved, but what a humble person he is,” he says matter-of-factly.
Mishra wears many hats - actor, writer, lyricist, music director, poet. Which comes closest to the real Piyush Mishra? “Acting,” he says at once. “It all stems from here. I visualise everything by acting. But I enact everything internally; I don’t have to stand up and actually do something. I was trying so many things…mere se bahut saari cheezein aasani se ho gayi, but mujhe chain nahin pada. Phir 1979 mein acting ki and that became my passion.”
People constantly say that the mithaas, the dard, the sheer poetry in the compositions that we had in the time of Majrooh Sultanpuri, Anand Bakshi, Hasrat Jaipuri and their ilk, is missing now. As a lyricist himself what are his views on this? “Oh yes,” he says readily. “That tradition of Urdu poetry has gone, bahut nuksaan hua. It is not that nobody wants to listen to it, it is rather ki likhne waalon ki kami hai, everybody is using synthetic words nowadays. Likhne ke kaaran nahin hain; apart from making money, koi wajah bhi toh hone chahiye likhne ke liye.”
People love his poetry for its simplicity, yet its hard-hitting emotions… wouldn’t he define himself best as a poet? “I am not good in English, Hindi or Urdu; I am good at colloquial, I mix all three languages. And that’s what I use in my poetry – a language in which I can communicate to people; mohalle-galli mein samjhi jaati hai. This is the way I talk to my younger sister or my child. Agar khallis English or Urdu mein baat karta mera range bahut kam ho jaata,” he says frankly.
As a writer himself, how hard is it to just play an actor and mouth someone else’s lines? Do he have to curb the temptation to re-write? “Aisa karna paap hoga,” he says quite decidedly. “This is why people like me and repeat me in their movies. Once I make up my mind, even a bacha can direct me. I am a hassle-free actor. I have to adapt, I don’t want to pretend - I believe, I have to actually believe, in what I’m doing. If I’m playing a homosexual character, I can’t say ki main real life mein toh aisa nahin hoon.”
He managed to hold his own quite effortlessly in ‘Pink’ in spite of being pitted against THE Bachchan. Was he at all intimidated by the stature of his co-actor? “Nahin, not intimidated, ‘Jhoom Barabar Jhoom’ mein bhi unke saath kaam kiya hai, but this was the first time I was doing such major work against him. Intimidated toh nahin keh sakte,” he muses. “I was more curious. I saw his discipline. I am very disciplined myself, but now I learnt from him and pushed myself harder; I made it a point to be there before him on the sets. My theatre training came into play here, in terms of speaking long dialogues – play toh teen-teen ghante ka hota hai. Pehle din nervous toh nahin tha,” he says reflectively, “but thoda ghabraya tha – legend toh hain woh. But I knew that he won’t cut my scenes or dominate me in the scenes, even though he has such a strong personality. It depends on whether you choose to get intimidated by him or take his support.”
This National School of Drama (NSD) graduate had an unbridled enthusiasm for theatre, so much so that he apparently rejected ‘Maine Pyaar Kiya’? “Yaar, this is an old story and the media has also made it into too big a story,” he says somewhat sheepishly. “It has become larger than life. Aisa bhi kuch nahin tha; I would not like to speak on this now, bahut purani baat hai.”
Mishra holds very strong views on most subjects - method acting, to name one – which sometimes alienates people. This question is like showing a red rag to a bull, for he is off and running almost before the question is out of my mouth: “Method acting itna vahiyaad term lagta hai! Nobody can read a book and become an actor. I also don’t believe in taking my acting, my work, to my house - sab bakwas hai! There is no such character that one gets so engrossed in!” he scoffs. “People have just gone crazy and keep taking Konstantin Stanislavski’s name – has anybody bothered reading ‘Natya Shastra’ written by Bharata Muni about 2,000 years ago??” he asks heatedly. “‘Natya Shastra’ says that an actor is like a ‘patr’ (vessel) an empty thing that should take on the character; in fact, even the social behavior of an actor is listed in there. Mere hisaab se, sirf do actors aise hain – Om Puri and Ranbir Kapoor. Om Puri ko dekhiye – kya woh method acting ke bare mein baat karega? Uss se zyaada natural actor hai hi nahin. Actors can only be natural – sab bakwas hai. Another actor I must talk about is Manoj Bajpayee; I learn something from every performance of his,” he says quite honestly.
In the Bollywood world of fake glitter and gloss that he now inhabits, Mishra comes across as unusually – even, brutally – honest. He is forthright about this: “Aisa hi hona chahiye aur aas-paas ke bandhe accept it in time. Akele toh padh jaate hain, lekin solitude is the best thing. If you have your solitude, you won’t crave others’ company. Books are the best friends,” he avers. “Mere friends bahut kam bante hain. But students like and admire me; I keep going to colleges (and giving talks.) I don’t go to parties kyon ke adchan hoti hai ki kya bolun. Aage waala bhi sochta hai ki iss se kya bolun!” he says self-deprecatingly.
Mishra shares a love-hate relationship with Anurag Kashyap, something he is quite unequivocal about. Would he say that the similarity of drive between him and Kashyap pushes him to the edge, so much so that he delivers some of his best work for Kashyap’s projects? He debates for a nano-second on how to answer this, before barrelling ahead with trademark Mishra directness: “Asli baat hai ki differences bhi hain, which have kept our friendship alive. Usske thoughts on sex, violence… maara-maari ko lekar uska jo dark cinema hai, I don’t agree with it at all,” he says emphatically. “Yeh mujh mein hai hi nahin. I criticize him publicly too. I speak to him the least too; we cannot speak for more than ten minutes, we have a cigarette or a cup of tea, but nothing else. But when we work, nobody can bring out what is in me better than him; he brings out the best in me, whether it is in writing or music. For that I am indebted to him. This is the first time I am speaking on this and admitting to you – it is his greatness that he listens, hazam karta hai even if I speak publicly, but he never says anything about me or to me even. Do please print this – uss ne na bola na kabhi burra maana. He is like a younger brother – chotta bhai jo bigad chukaa hai!” he says, tongue-in-cheek.
He has been a playwright and he has been a screenplay writer too. Which persona does Mishra find more challenging? “Play writing is more challenging, definitely, because there are no visuals. Writing in films is held together by the visuals. Theatre mein woh nahin hai, you have to visualise while writing. Words are important - it’s all about the power of words. The story of course is important in both but here (films) the words are translated into visuals, like – if there is a war, in films you can show it but in plays, you would have to explain every little bit. It becomes easier in cinema.”
What story does he want to tell, what is a script that he is looking forward to writing? “On alcoholism. Raju Hirani type,” he says immediately. “Like the way he does – he starts with making people laugh or cry, gets their attention and then he gives the message. I want to write a story with a deep message but in a humorous way. I have started…thodi bahut likhi. Main bahut lazy hoon. I will direct it myself; khud hi karoonga jab itni himmat aa jaayegi.”
Mishra has never shied away from admitting that he had a disturbed, childhood. Do those memories fuel the anger and pain within him, which is then channeled into his writing? “Dheeme dheeme, technically, it has become healed. Someone told me if you write, it will heal. Aaj ki meri poetry mein uss type ka dard nahin hoga, there will be less anguish. Jab heal nahin hua tha tab likhna aasaan tha. Aaj kal likhna mushkil ho raha hai…reasons gayab ho rahe hain…” he trails off.
Does that mean he deliberately kept these emotions, these passions, burning, lest he lose the fire in his writing? “Aaj kal fire toh nahin…lagta hai bhalli baaton ke baare mein likhna chahiye. Kaafi hadd tak sudhar gaye hain - takleef khatam bhi toh hoti hai. Yehi toh zindagi hai,” he says philosophically. “There are so many other burning issues in society, so what if it is not my personal anguish. You forget your own pain when you think of others, the Uri attack, gang rapes, so on.”
Where does he draw his inspiration from – reality, or dreams? “We always chase dreams of one kind or another – who wants to live in the real world?! We always have some fantasy in mind. To think of Amitabh Bachchan, Shashi Kapoor…it was like a dream for me, who thought I could actually touch them. Today, it is real. But it is a dream for a beginner. For me, 30-35 years ago it was a dream to work with Amitabh Bachchan. Bas, life goes on like this, zindagi aapko bahut saari nayee cheezein deti hai,” he says wisely. “Nature keeps putting targets in front of you and sends you struggles too. If you don’t struggle, your failure will be big too. Abhi, I am thinking ki what next…”