Shekhar Suman revisits Utsav, says ‘my first shot was a lovemaking scene with Rekha and I was ready to die’: First of Many

Actor Shekhar Suman is a man of many talents. He has also been a successful host and filmmaker. In a career spanning over 25 years, Suman has performed in films and television alike, giving us some memorable roles in Chor Machaye Shor, Anubhav and others.

His Sameer Dewan in the cult sitcom Dekh Bhai Dekh is still one of the audience’s favorites. While his movers n shakers gave us India’s first late-night talk show in the late 1990s, his turn as a judge of The Great Indian Laughter Challenge in the early 2000s gave audiences a stand-up comedian Helped locate the fantastic line-up.

But how did it all start for Shekhar Suman? Here’s what the artist shared:

1. What was your first acting project? How did the project come to you?

My first film was Utsav (1984), which was produced by Shashi Kapoor. There was speculation that many actors were dying for that role. I did my screen-test, but I was not told that I had got the role. I still remember one day, I was peeping inside the Prithvi theater, giving my audition for the festival. Shashi Kapoor was watering his plants. He looked at me and asked me to come inside. Like a small child, I went there. He said, ‘Don’t you want a role?’ I said definitely He said, ‘Go get it, before someone catches it. You have been chosen to play the role of a hero. ‘Can you imagine, I completed the distance from Prithvi Theater, Juhu to Andheri, non-stop even for an auto. I wanted to break the news to my elder sister, with whom I was living at the time. He asked me if I’m sure I got the role. It was unimaginable. I had just come to Bombay and within three weeks, I had done a film with Rekha with someone else. That was an unprecedented break. I grew up watching Rekha. Therefore, I could never even dream that I could be cast opposite him. Before I could say Jack Robinson, I was there in front of the line.

2. What do you remember from your first day on set?

The first shot I remember was a lovemaking scene along the line. I thought I might die. Girish Karnad came to me and said, ‘This is a very big day and your first shot is going to be with Rekha. You are a young actor and I can imagine you have apprehensions and reservations. She is a very professional actress and is only doing her role. So don’t hesitate to give your best, even if you have to put your hand around it or be close to it. It is just a role you are playing. ‘My heart was really pumping, but it gave me a lot of confidence.

My first take was in a 400 year old house in Kundapur near Mangalore. I remember clearly, I dressed as the character Charudatta. I came and lay next to Rekha. And, before she could say a line, I just put my hand around it and said my lines. She suddenly stopped and looked at Girish and said, ‘Oh my God, isn’t he nervous? Look at her confidence. ‘Girish said,’ He’s been practicing a lot all day with a pillow. ‘ We all burst into laughter and this eased the situation. After that, I never looked back, because you had to break that barricade. After that I was just a character and she was very supportive and professional. I am grateful to have him as a lead part for a new comeder like me. I am indebted to him, Girish Karnad and Shashi Kapoor.

3. Were you nervous? How many retakes did you take?

I was going 20 on 21 and opposite a huge star. Luckily, I had a theater background. I came from Delhi and was quite ready. Things always get better for you. Along with nervousness, there was heavy excitement. And you had to balance emotions at that moment.

utsav film shekhar suman Shekhar Suman Starrer Utsav (1984) was directed by Girish Karnad.

4. How was the rapport with your co-stars and team when you met them later to meet or work together again?

No matter how close you get during shooting, unfortunately, the pace of life in Bombay and the industry is such that you just go your own way. I kept in touch with Shashi ji but unfortunately, after some time he fell ill, he lost his wife, I lost my son, there was a lot of uproar in our lives. He was the best gentleman I had known. I don’t know how he was an actor. The actors have a lot of air and reservations, but their office at Prithvi Theater will be open to all. Someone could have lunch, sit there, he would talk to everyone. There were no restrictions.

I was already married at 21, and my first son was born a year later. I remember that I took my son to the set of Film City where the climax was being shot. Shashi ji looked at me and said “Who is this?” I said, “My child.” They said, “Are you kidding me?” He stopped the shooting, called everyone, and said, “Just see, this child has produced a baby!” Everybody used to take Ayush (son) to the set. My wife Alka would often go to the set and we had a great time. While we were shooting, every evening Shashi ji would come with a bottle and ask what I would drink, eat. He was very much in love.

Girish settled in Bangalore. Bandh and I will meet Rekha at parties and exchange happiness. I always kept these people in my mind because I owe my life and my career.

5. If you were given a chance to return to your first role, what would you like to change or improve?

I will eat beef. I was very thin and very young so I would like to have some abs. I would like to shave. I was very happy with what I did as an actor. Perhaps the way I looked at the festival, there is nothing. My lean physique was the reason I was chosen. If I had muscles, I probably would have been rejected. It was the role of a poor Brahmin. But on a lighter note, I would like him to look like the boy of today.

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6. A film or role that inspired you to become an actor?

Loads of movies. I was born with the desire to become an actor. I think I started watching movies from the age of 6-7. By the time I was 12–13 years old, I had started watching all the old releases. I worked with Motilal, Balraj Sahni, Dev Anand, Raj Kapoor, Rajesh Khanna, Manoj Kumar, Dharmendra, Rajendra Kumar, Shashi Kapoor, Shammi Kapoor, K Asif, Bimal Roy, Mehboob Khan, Gurudutt and that’s what I wanted. Ho. I became a big fan of Dilip Kumar. That made me understand the importance of stagnation. When I was growing up in Patna, after 6–8 months of release in Delhi or Bombay, films used to come very late. So in that interim period they used to release old films, which were 10-15 years old. When I caught up with old classics like Madhumati, Devdas, Mother India, Do Bhagega Zameen, and these were like institutes for me. Mughal-e-Azam and Ganga Jamuna were two films that impressed me. In later years, I was impressed by the way Amitabh Bachchan gave acting in films like Abhimaan, Miley, Anand, Namak Haram, Zanjeer, Dewar. His acting style was completely different. It influenced me as an actor. I realized that I had to become a more natural actor. I was also influenced by Govind Nihalani, Shyam Benegal and Gulzar.

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