If Om Prakash was the grandfather, Nirupa Roy was the mother and Iftikhar was the police commissioner of the B-town then Alok Nath, the genial, smiling and astonishingly soft persona Rajashri Productions created, is surely the dad of the Bollywood. Or, to give him a title more suitable to his Sanskari persona, he is the babuji/pitaji/baoji of Bollywood's 21st century.
Shilpi Madan met "The Father" around the Father's Day, a few days shy of his 60th birthday - 10th July - and opened the other side of Alok Nath up for our readers.
He has walked thousands of steps on the stage, on the sets, on locations, in studios... to essay his dialogues with signature panache. He is the quintessential, genial, warm, uncle-like figure on screen we have loved since the days of the epic telly serial, Buniyaad, where he played Haveli Ram. We've hung on his pearls of sweet wisdom in countless films by Rajshri Productions (Hum Aapke Hai Kaun, Vivah, Hum Saath Saath Hain ...) But there is clearly more to actor Alok Nath than the all encompassing sanskari babuji visage. Alok Nath is an evergreen metaphor for exemplary acting, and possesses the rare attribute of being able to laugh at his own self (both on and off social media). At present he is featuring in the soap Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai, is readying for the release of his next film Sargoshiyan...and now as a natural progression of his prowess as an artiste, Nath is fleshing out his comic bone through popular comedy shows on television, making a marked departure from his iconic babuji mould in a meaty Sinskari show (where he touches upon a range of adult subjects) on the web.
Why the sudden reinvention of your image?
In India, as a successful actor, you are expected to be worried about your fan base: you do not want to alienate them through your sudden choice of different roles. The people who love your performances on screen tend to edify you, hero worship you, create a halo and place you on a high pedestal. As long as you keep on doing the same things on screen, everything is fine. The moment you deviate from the tried and trusted formula, there is a chance that your fans might not like it, and even perhaps abandon you. I was bored playing out virtually the same character over the years. It was like playing the bus conductor, efficient at his job, but not indulging in anything creative and different. I wanted to play grey shades, do something radically different.
Be honest. Do you feel decimated by the 'Sanskari Babuji' tag?
Not at all. I am what I am today because of this. People have accepted me in this mould, showered me with love, respect and appreciation. I treasure the adoration.
But surely you didn't arrive from Delhi to Mumbai to slip into the 'Babuji' mould?
Of course I didn't! I had come to Mumbai with dreams of being a Rajesh Khanna, or a Chintoo Kapoor. I had even starred as the lead in a movie (Kamagni, opposite Tina Munim). It did nothing for my career. Then television serials happened and I slowly became the genial “sanskari babuji” whom everyone listened to and loved. I went along with what was happening for me. That is life.
For a non-controversial artist, you have a remarkable following on social media. You have memes, jokes floating around online on Alok Nath, and were even trending on Twitter at one point...
In the 40 years that I have been acting, there has never been a dot of negativity in my career. Suddenly, overnight, I turned into fodder for jokes. The wife was disturbed, the family was upset. It was crazy, I was trending on Twitter, and I never did anything to trigger it!
Well, my children did their own little web research and it came out that the evening before, another beautiful, pious Rajshri film was being aired on the telly. Some gentleman, probably frustrated with his diabetes, couldn't handle the oversweetness of my saccharine dialogues. He made a comment, that triggered a viral response. People began taking my phirki. It was a case of wanting to bell the cat, someone did it, and then there was an avalanches of jokes and memes about me. I enjoyed the jokes too.
How tech savvy are you?
I learn. My children teach me. My co -actors (most of them are younger than me) help me out when I am stuck at some point with apps. I know enough to get by, to suit my purpose, online.
Just a month back we celebrated the Father’s day. How do you feel at this point, as a dad, being in a slightly relaxed space?
I feel elated. My daughter is 28, my son is 24. During their growing years I was supremely busy with shoot schedules. I had a family to support. I come of an average middle class family, we were not affluent, but my parents gave me the best education possible. So I have followed the same path with my children: the money for education is always there for my children till the time they decide they do not want to study any more. I feel lucky (looking at the present day scenario of youngsters) that without me being around that much during their early years, and not being involved sizeably in their daily upbringing or studies, they have not deviated from their path. My kids are doing brilliantly on their own. It fills me with great pride. Believe me, there is nothing like seeing yourself in your kids. It gives me a high.
Seeing yourself in your kids...?
Let me explain, my father was a doctor, and so was my grandfather. I was expected to take the legacy forward and had to take up science when it came to choosing subjects. That was the most miserable time of my life. I eventually switched to commerce. I never forced my son to become an actor. It has been a natural progression of interest for him. He has discovered himself through a series of theater workshops (that he voluntarily signed up for) and has realised that his heart lies in acting. But the fact that he has opted to pursue acting, yes, it makes me feel very happy. My daughter is busy handling the ropes of film making, she is shooting for Bang Bang2 in Miami.
So you haven't really played an interfering Babuji to your kids?
No! (Laughs) In fact I have just acted in a video in the picturization of a beautiful poem titled Babuji, by writer Ravi Yadav. It dwells on filial bonds, and released on Father's Day.
Which has been your favorite Babuji role?
I have loved playing each one. Though honestly, the Rajshri films have made sanskari babuji iconic.
What message would you give to dads... esp as we just celebrated Father's Day?
Stand behind your children, and be with them, on whatever they decide. That's all. Never force your own ambitions on your kids.
You are probably the only living actor who has worked on myriad formats: from Doordarshan's Buniyaad to telly soaps to ad films, movies, the internet... How has the work scenario in the industry changed down the years?
It has changed dramatically. Film budgets are crazily big now. We have the best hands from all across the world working on graphics, stunts, costumes, camera angles...Our productions are technologically superior. Thank God we jumped out of the song and dance routine! The scripts are slick, specific; the genres aplenty and women are emerging as heroes. It is a fantastic time for Indian cinema. I thank my stars for being a part of it even now. There are so many youngsters in the fray now, bringing in their fresh ideas and appeal. It is an evolving landscape.
What is your secret wish?
(Smiles) I wish the three of us: my son, daughter and I, could work on a film project some time in the future
Now that they are grown up and sorted, you can relax...
Kids are never grown up. They just become independent. Yes, I am in a more relaxed space now. I can say no to an assignment without worrying about my bank balance.
What about investments for your silver years?
God has been tremendously kind to me. I have been lucky to be able to convert my hobby into my profession. I have got recognition aplenty, earned ten folds the money, than I would have as a doctor. I am a man with an artistic bent of mind but I believe in a strategic management of funds. I did dabble in shares and equities a few years ago and burned my fingers severely. You know, sometimes a flush of easy money makes you decadent.
Who played the voice of caution at this point?
My wife. Something within me snapped and I ended the chapter with shares. Now let's just say that I have saved enough for a season of rains.
You're turning 60. What is important to you at this point?
Spending time with my wife. That is very important! She curates home decor artefacts and visits exhibitions constantly. We drive off to Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Pune, Bangalore...so I make a mini vacation out of these getaways, far from the din of shoot schedules.
Make a confession.
I am used to success. But I have the heart to digest failure. Of course a slight depression sets in when a project doesn't exactly meet with an ovation, but I bounce back to come up again.
What are your hobbies?
I like playing with my dogs, walk them. I have a fetish for cars and shoes. Being in showbiz, you need to be well turned out all the time. Though by choice I would simply like to lounge around in my jeans and shirt.
Share with us something that very few people know, about you.
I am a great cook, so much so that I indulge in overeating when I cook. That is why I have stopped cooking!
A latent fear?
That I will have to give up acting some day when memory fails and I cannot remember dialogues, or my hands begin to shake... essentially if I am physically incapacitated, I will be forced to stop acting.
What about your fitness schedule?
I belong to the old generation. I value nature. Going for a walk, swimming in the river, climbing trees, doing kushti, sleeping on a chatai on the floor, walking to work...I have done it all. I played a lot of cricket, and did gymnastics, horse riding in school. I used to walk 3 km to my college. That held me in good stead till about 10 years ago
Well, unfortunately, I turned into a smoker early on, during my theater days. Bad habits take a toll on the body . Now living in Mumbai, I have to take to urban calorie burn. I visit the gymnasium everyday. I am quite embarrassed to get into swimming trunks right now! I feel it is imperative to bring physical exercise and a proper diet into your lifestyle. I also meditate for sharpening my brain power. Everything needs to work in tandem. So you need to practice yoga as well for inner healing. Didn't Rekha ji come out with a DVD on different yogic postures for wellness?
You have a fine sense of humour laced with a hint of sarcasm.
Some more coffee for you? (laughs)
Can you share your biggest learning with our readers?
I have learnt that the value system that your family instills in you, the belief and faith they place in you takes you a long way in life. Consequently value my family, I place a premium of caring for elders, being professional and honest in my work. If you have this kavach (armor) in place, trivial aspects in life will not be able to affect you. Also, you keep learning in life till the time you die.
According to you, what is an absolute must?
Learn to be naked to yourself. Expose your soul to yourself for some time everyday. Do not let ego or id to take over. Listen to your voice, it teaches you well. Learn to look deep within, times have changed too fast, and the pace of life is crazy. Do not lose yourself in the struggle to keep up with others. Also, enjoy your work. I love the claps, the thapkis, the adulation...I enjoy acting thoroughly. I feel if you do not enjoy your work, it is an exercise in futility
And last word, what's the best part about being Alok Nath, especially as you turn 60?
That I am comfortable in my skin. I am not a size 34 trying to fit into a size 32, as I see most of the people around me doing all the time.
SeniorWorld team sincerely thanks Alok Nath for sharing his time with us, as he turns 60, and wishes him many more outstanding successes in his new endeavors!
Image Credits for Featured Image - ebertfest.com (Top left), beauty-around.com (bottom-left), dainikbhaskar.com (Right)