"When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it," a famous Paulo Coelho's quote from the Alchemist holds true to actor Prem Chopra. The veteran actor's journey is relatable to every industry outsider who never knew anything other than following their passion by hook or by crook, and wouldn't have it any less.
As he turns 84 years today, the actor got into a freewheeling conversation with International Business Times, India, and put light on how his perseverance took him where he is today.
"While in Simla (Present day Shimla), I studied in BM college and started taking parts in dramatics there. Simla was famous for competitive dramatics. I had told my father, who was an IAS, that I wanted to be an actor and he was super annoyed. He told me you can't leave the house till you do the graduation, otherwise, you won't even get a peon's job. Then I came to Bombay on my own and started touring studios, which were not much of a help at that time. It was very difficult to get in the studios in the first place. To sustain myself, I got into Times of India. My job was to look after the sales of our collective newspapers and magazines, which would make me travel 20 days in a month. It was while travelling on a local train when I was spotted and offered to star in films. And the rest, as they say, is history," he recalled.
The actor made his film debut with the Punjabi movie Chaudhary Karnail Singh (1960). The movie was supposed to get over in 3 months but got two years to complete. All this while Chopra did not leave his job. But soon, he decided to make a move back to the mainstream Hindi cinema. "At those times, Punjabi pictures had a very limited budget."
Chopra is known for playing the antagonist in various blockbuster films in a career spanning 6 decades. However, it is a known secret that Chopra always wanted to be an actor. The actor says he was lucky to get movies like Mud Mud Ke Na Dekh (1960), Main Shadi Karne Chala (1962), as a leading man. But they didn't run well. Simultaneously, he got a negative role in Who Kaun Thi (1964) and there was no looking back.
"What was the point of leading as lead when the film doesn't do well commercially. Actors usually give up in such situations as they cannot adjust to character roles. Amitabh Bachchan, as an actor has developed an adjustment with character roles. Rajesh Khanna could not," he said.
"They don't give you a chance if you don't deserve it. Only the worthy ones get it. I have completed 60 years in the country. I have been very honest with my work, and God has been kind to me," he added.
Chopra believes that since the current industry trends have changed with time, there is the integration of the antagonist and the protagonist. "In those days, pictures were made with three major characters- hero, heroine and the villain.
That's who the story was weaved around. When actors were on the set, everyone knew who the hero was and who the villain would be. Now, heroes are playing villains too. Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, Aamir Khan, all of them have played such roles. It gives them an opportunity to get into the different slots for job satisfaction," Chopra said.
The actor recalls his days when the cast members became like family members and would often meet post work too. He said, "On the sets, we used to have out individual rooms too. But, we would all sit together and spend time. There was a lot of comradeship. We would have family relationships among ourselves and would do house parties. Our bond was quite strong. Now, the time has become money. Actors work and leave. You meet with them only when you are working again."
However, Chopra also feels the art of filmmaking and professionalism has improved too as he shared, "When a film went on the floors, the schedule we would have was for maximum ten-day. We would then take time to make the next schedule and thus movies often took years to complete. Now the arrangements are much better. The actors already have a bound script before they go on the set. They have locations organized. This was not the case before."
The actor will be next seen in a cameo role in Bunty Aur Babli 2, which stars Saif Ali Khan and Rani Mukherjee in the lead role. He was also seen in a cameo role in the first instalment in 2005.
Chopra believes the advent of more platforms such as the Television or the web space has caused all the rush and hustle. "There is a lot of competition today. At that time there was no TV or websites. People are more emancipated now as far as the recognition of the characters are concerned."
Talking about the Nepotism row, he says the industry only allows the survival of the fittest or shows no mercy if you are incapable. "If you were capable to deliver good you would stay otherwise you are thrown out. Now, there is a lot of employment because of TV, web shows. Provided you are passionate and involved with our work and everything was secondary. Now people are publicity crazy and work has become second," he signed off.
We wish him a very Happy Birthday!