Rajeev Khandelwal: Amitabh Bachchan is the greatest mainstream hero
The actor and the team of Pranaam talk about the film and the golden years of mainstream Hindi cinema
Posters of the upcoming film Pranaam bear the words: “A tribute to the classic era of Hindi cinema.” The action-packed trailer matches up. A callback to the underdog melodramas of the 70s and 80s, Pranam looks appropriately over-the-top. The film is set in Lucknow, and follows an IAS officer’s downward spiral into ruthless gangster-dom. The action feels suitably overblown, served with dollops of family drama.
Rajeev Khandelwal, known mostly for his off-centre appearances in Aamir, Shaitan and Table No. 21, speaks enthusiastically about his new ‘angry young man’ avatar. “I’ve grown up watching films like Agneepath, Ghayal, Ram Lakhan, Tezaab. By the time I arrived in Bollywood, cinema had changed. The films I’ve done so far had complex, complicated scripts. So when Pranaam came along, I thought it would be a nice experiment to not experiment,” he says.
Without a batting an eyelid, Rajeev singles out Amitabh Bachchan as the greatest mainstream performer. “He is one actor who can pull off a range of emotions. This trait is best illustrated by his double-roles. He could convince you as a criminal and a simpleton (in Chandra Barot’s Don). Or as a father and a son (in Adalat, Aakhree Raasta and others). He did each role with conviction. It never looked forced.”
Rajeev reveals his character in Pranaam is drawn from real-life. “I was told about a guy who was the topper and president of his university. He became a don and was put behind bars. He came back and contested elections,” says Rajeev, adding, “We have also addressed the paper-leaking scam in civil service exams. It happens every year. So despite the filmy treatment, ours is a relevant movie.”
Director Sanjiv Jaiswal envisioned Pranaam as a return to basics. The filmmaker laments the phasing out of masala potboilers from Hindi cinema. “It started in 2005, when corporate greed set in. Films became a product. Audiences were segregated into mass centres and multiplex crowds. A wave of experimental cinema broke out. Commercial cinema, too, became boring and formulaic. They lacked the honesty and simplicity of films made by Manoj Kumar and Subhas Ghai,” he says.
Sanjiv insists Indian audiences are still appreciative of old school narratives. “Themes of family, heroism, social strife… they are fundamental to Indian culture. The highest-rated films on television are still dubbed films from the South. That’s because South cinema is still tied to the mass grammar.”
Pranaam stars Sameksha Singh as the female lead. The actor made her debut in Puri Jagannadh’s Telugu film 143 (2004). Over the years, she’s appeared in Tamil, Kannada and Punjabi films, and done the Hindi television shows Porus and P.O.W. - Bandi Yuddh Ke. In Pranaam, Sameksha portrays a District Magistrate cracking down on local criminals. “There’s a romantic angle between me and Rajeev,” Sameksha shares. “Our characters start off as lovers in college. They plan to live together after becoming IAS officers. But an incident happens and their lives take opposite turns.”
Writer-lyricist Manoj Muntashir has penned the songs for Pranaam. After Kabir Singh, Manoj is happy to have worked on another original album. “I’ve been writing romantic songs for a long time. Pranaam’s soundtrack covers a collage of emotions: philosophy of life, sufi, devotional. I and Vishal (Mishra, composer) were determined to make a fresh album with no remixes,” says Manoj, who has penned the Hindi dialogues of the Baahubali films, Black Panther, and the upcoming Vikram Vedha remake.
“The Hindi version of Vikram Vedha won’t be as wordy. We have taken a suggestive approach. It’s not verbose but will retain the intensity of the original. The story has been adapted and it’s not a direct copy,” he says. The Vikam Vedha remake features Aamir Khan and Saif Ali Khan in the lead roles.
Pranaam is scheduled for release on Friday.