You might remember him as the betrayer Lakha in Lagaan or the menacing Sunder Yadav in Gangaajal, but in real life, Yashpal Sharma is a man who would never compromise with corruption. Sharma, a theatre and Bollywood actor, who is gearing up for the release of his next film, Das Capital: Gulamon Ki Rajdhani, opens up about his cinematic journey, why he let go of lucrative projects, and how he is adapting to the OTT culture. Excerpts:
Tell us about your journey in Bollywood from theatre.
As a teenager, I used to perform in the local Ramleela in my home town, Hisar. It was after a chance encounter with Rajiv Manchanda, a NSD, that I got inspired and decided to join the National School of Drama. I tried for three years, but didn’t get through. I then pursued MA in drama at Indian Theatre in Chandigarh. As luck would have it, one year into the course, I got a call from NSD. I worked hard for the next few years at NSD and completed the training and subsequently joined the repertoire.
While I loved performing on stage, I wanted to give screen a shot. I came to Mumbai and worked really hard. I somehow felt I wouldn’t fit in the world of daily soaps. Though I had a tough time sustaining, I decided not to do a daily TV show. However, I did a few episodes of Bestsellers, Aahat, CID, etc. After almost four years I got my first break. I was cast in a brief part for Govind Nihalani’s Hazar Chaurasi Ki Maa. Then I got to work with Shyam Benegal on his award-winning, but yet unreleased, film Samar. Post that, I got to work with some wonderful filmmakers on movies such as Shool, Arjun Pandit, Hazaron Khwahishein Aisi. But, Lagaan was a huge breakthrough.
Now, I have forayed into filmmaking as well by directing and co-producing a Haryanvi film, which is a biopic of a noted folk artiste, Pandit Lakhmichand, who is referred to as Shakespeare of Haryana.
In real life have you ever faced red tapism like you have in the film, Das Capital?
Who hasn’t? We breed corruption in the smallest of daily affairs... right from trying to bribe the traffic constable to be willing to pay money to break a queue. In fact, the beauty of Das Capital is that it talks about the misappropriation of public money at the grassroot level. I used to work as a typist in the Canal Department in Hisar. My wages were a meagre Rs 18 per day. One day, a contractor handed me Rs 300. I was stunned because it was a huge amount back then. Though I refused to accept it, he insisted I keep the money. When I narrated this to my elder brother and my father they started laughing. They told me he must have got a huge contract. I realised, everyone had a share in such transactions and a huge part of the money commissioned for a particular work goes into bribing the officers. The way public money is misappropriated in this country is staggering. Scams worth hundreds and thousands of crores become the talk of the town, but at the grassroots, too, we breed corruption with smaller amounts. I haven’t ever bribed traffic constables. I try to be as sensitive as I can. Recently, for my directorial, I was offered a huge funding on the condition of a kickback. I couldn’t have started a dream project that way. I had to let go of that opportunity.
How are you adapting to the new culture of films being released on OTT platforms instead of theatres?
OTTs have come as a breath of fresh air for a lot of films, which probably wouldn’t have made it to theatres. The current pandemic situation has escalated the acceptance of OTTs. It is much easier to access films now. Though the thrill of watching the films on big screen can’t be denied, and I hope people do go back to theatres. But when it comes to smaller (in terms of budget) films the economics of a theatrical release is back-breaking. One may have to spend hundred times more money in releasing the film than what they would have spent in making it. OTT also has a wider reach and hence a bigger size of audience. Most content can be accessed from anywhere in the world. I am loving the OTT culture.
What is your take on propaganda films?
Films should not be made to please people. At the outset itself, art is like a mirror which reflects the society. As an artiste one ought to be honest. The moment there is any manipulation in order to please a particular person or to paint a certain image of a particular person, it’s an instant turn off for me.