Nothing succeeds like failure. When I look back at my own life, it screams and tells me repeatedly that it is your failures that shape you and make you a complete human being. In the Bhagvad Gita, Lord Krishna tells Arjun, “Bring me your failures”. “Like a forest fire brings out the perfume from a sandalwood tree and fills the environment with its fragrance, it is failure that ignites in man the perfume of compassion and love for his fellow human beings.”
Little did I know that these words which I was enacting as an actor for my protege Imraan Zaahid’s debut film Mark Sheet, would shadow me the next day when I paid a visit to the Tihar Jail in Delhi to visit Rajpal Yadav, the very talented comic actor who is currently an inmate there. The Rajpal Yadav in my memory was a meek, shy, boy who after being literally kicked on his butt by the giant of Hindi theatre Satyadev Dubey first, gave his audition to me. The one I was going to meet now, had earned the reputation of a fraudulent actor/producer who had cheated people to carve out a grand dream of his in Bollywood.
Way back in time, I remember telling him, “You have a talent to be a great comedian, Rajpal. Don’t run after many roles, that will land you nowhere. Just position yourself as a comedian and you will make a tremendous impact.” A wise man from Missouri once told me, “Run after one rabbit only. And if you can’t catch it, change your tactics, but don’t change your rabbit.” But Rajpal Yadav ran after too many rabbits. Having made a mark as a comedian and having enthralled the audiences with his desi brand of comedy, he made the fatal mistake of wanting to produce a film in which he had cast himself as a hero.
“Success had gone to his head Sir, stories of him recklessly spending money on films in which he was playing the pivotal role used to stagger us. There used to be 17 vanity vans parked during the course of his shoot. Every actor including a bit-role player was given a vanity van for himself. Even banners like Dharma do not indulge in this kind of extravagance. It is this that landed him into serious trouble,” said Kamal Chandra. Kamal is the director of Mark Sheet, which is a low-budget, dramatic love tale, set against the landscape of education fraud.
As I waited for Rajpal to be brought from his barracks, I couldn’t help reflecting on Bollywood and its innumerable stories of rags-to-riches and riches-to-rags. Mithun Chakraborty came from a very humble background, slept on the streets of Mumbai, became a super-star, and later diverted his energies (having consolidated his position as a lead actor for years) into the business of hospitality. When his stardom began to fade, unlike his predecessors like Rajesh Khanna who spiralled from being a super-star to a tragic caricature of himself, Mithun retained his dignity by gracefully giving his hours of the day to expanding his hotel business. The wise say, ‘When it’s over, leave. Don’t continue watering dead flowers’. But alas, Bollywood is full of stories of people who continued to water dead flowers and lost what little they had to live a life of dignity. How can I forget M Sadiq, the director of Guru Dutt’s Chaudvin Ka Chaand silently weeping in his bungalow in Pali Hill, Bandra (the Beverly Hills of India), when his bungalow was being auctioned for running into huge debts, after the debacle of one of his ambitious films!
“Arre Sir, aap?”, said a frail looking Rajpal when he came face-to-face with me. When I embraced him, I told him to cut off the comic act he was trying to put up, to downplay his feeling of wretchedness which had invaded his body on seeing me there. “Use these three months to make amends for the wrongs you have done, and you will have a rebirth. Look at Sanjay Dutt, he tried to run away from his criminal deeds for more than 20 years. But only after serving two years in prison and having finally accepted that he himself was the architect of his doom, he has made a new beginning. The darkness through which he lived has brought out the inner gold from Sanjay Dutt. The same can happen to you.” I said, like a concerned elder would.
When I left him and walked out of the gates of Tihar, I couldn’t help thinking that one man’s tragedy is another man’s entertainment. The fall of celebrities becomes a source of perverse delight for the world at large. But then everything has a price tag. One can’t really complain. The higher we climb, the harder we fall. It takes courage to be an actor. No wonder the world is full of spectators and very few performers. Rajpal, like Humpty Dumpty, has fallen off the wall. Nobody but he himself will put himself together again. I know he will. Picture abhi baaqi hai!
– Mahesh Bhatt