Seasoned actor Dalip Tahil recently celebrated his birthday and on this joyous occasion, he spoke exclusively to PosterGuy about his beginnings in the film industry. The actor, who has aged like a fine wine, went down memory lane and opened up about several not-so-known incidents of his life.
I watched one of your interviews where you mentioned that when you secured admission to Sherwood College, Nainital, your father informed the teacher about your interest in singing and this is how you became a part of the choir. In the later years, did you ever pursue singing?
Most of the plays I did in Bombay were musical plays. Then I was the only Indian actor to sing live on the English stage with the great Andrew Lloyd Webber and A R Rahman in Bombay Dreams. Everybody had to sing live in this musical. People came from all over the world to audition but I bagged the coveted part. Hence, it was a breakthrough achievement. I did nearly 400 shows live. And yes, my training at the choir in Sherwood helped me bag this part. Coming from India and singing in English, I got this role because that is what the Sherwood choir did for me. It gave me the foundation to sing on the London stage with such legendary musicians. This was in the year 2002.
It’s common knowledge that you debuted with Ankur (1974) and later you were seen in Shaan (1980). What were you doing in the period between these two films? Your IMDb profile states that you worked in Salaam Memsaab (1979) and Ganga Aur Geeta (1979), just a year before Shaan…
No, I didn’t do any movie between Ankur and Shaan. During this period, I was doing plays with Alyque and Pearl Padamsee. I used to work in an advertising company called Lintas where I was a film executive. I was writing ad film scripts and I was producing them for the company. Also, to add to my pocket money, I used to do voiceovers and jingles for ads with Vanraj Bhatia. The intention behind earning pocket money was to take my girlfriend to the movies at the Metro cinema and buy her a samosa!
You did your initial plays with Alyque Padamsee and both of you had a close bond. He was also involved in Gandhi (1982). Did he help you bag a part in this acclaimed Hollywood production?
Not at all. The whole process of the casting of Gandhi was done in a very professional manner. It was Dolly Thakore who cast me. She and Rani Dubey were doing the auditions. It was Dolly who called me and that’s how I got Gandhi. Alyque was not involved in the casting.
How different was the experience of working on Gandhi?
By the time I did Gandhi, I was also doing Hindi feature films. We had our unique style of making films. We still have. As for Gandhi, it had a well-oiled production. My shooting took place at Rajkamal Studios. It was half a day’s work. I had a wonderful scene with Roshan Seth, who played Nehru. I was told that the car would come and pick me up at 6:00 am from Bandra where I lived. The car was there at 6 o’clock sharp. At 7:15 am sharp, I was told to go for ‘chota hazari’, that is, biscuits and tea. At 7:45 am sharp, I did my make-up. By 8:15 am, I was ready. At 9:00 am sharp, the cameras rolled, as planned. I was a young actor at that time, and I had never worked in an international production before.
It was a huge eye-opener for me that this is how super-efficiently these big productions are made. I wasn’t involved in those scenes, but I heard that one lakh extras were used in certain sequences. They all were given orange squash and water and were well looked after. There was no CGI. In those days, if you wanted to show a lakh people, you had to actually get 1 lakh of them.
We in our industry had this kind of impression that for creativity, we have to be disorganized. People often say that we don’t follow timings and schedules as we are creative. Let me tell you that it is just escapism. They use it to cover up their inefficiency.
How much were you paid for these initial projects?
For my first jingle, Vanraj Bhatia paid me Rs. 250. This was in the year 1976 or 77. I used to get Rs. 350 for speaking and Rs. 250 for singing! I always argued with Vanraj Bhatia as to why I was paid less for singing. I argued that singing is a higher skill, for which I should be paid more.
And how much were you paid for Ankur?
I can’t remember clearly though I think I was paid Rs. 700. It was a lot for a low-budget production, funded by NFDC. Shyam Benegal looked after me very well. I used to get an envelope for allowance every 3-4 days which used to take care of my food and other expenses. Basically, I was very comfortable during the shoot.
When did you realize that your role has been drastically cut in Ankur? And did you speak to Shyam Benegal about it?
I learnt about it at the premiere. I took a female companion of mine who was from New Zealand. Kiki Watsa, the mother of a very dear friend of mine, Hemant Watsa, dressed her up in a saree. I had a little bit of money. So I took a taxi from Cuffe Parade, where Kiki used to live, and we went for the premiere at Regal cinema. On the way, I was bragging that I have done a great job in the film. I was trying to impress her. We went inside, and the movie started. In the first reel, there was a shot of mine. After that, there was no scene of mine in the first half. I was wondering why the hell are my scenes missing! The film was shot for 35 days, out of which I had shot for 7 days. That’s a lot of shooting.
During the interval, I realized things are not going according to my plan (laughs). I went to the F&B area where I found Shyam Benegal saab. I asked him why I was not there in the film’s first half. He took me aside and told me, ‘I am really sorry but your whole track was distracting from the main story. So, we had to edit it out’! I asked if I was there in the second half. He replied, ‘Whatever you have seen of yourself is what’s there in the film. There are no other scenes of yours’!
I went back inside the theatre. I lied to my friend, ‘The director told me that my role in the second half is so strong that the media is going to go crazy about me. The press is going to jump at me. My clothes might get torn as I’ll be mobbed. If you enjoy such an experience, we can stay’. She immediately made it clear that she won’t be comfortable. Anyway, she didn’t understand the film as it was in Hindi. She asked, ‘Can we leave?’. I said, ‘Sure’. I waited till the lights switched off. And then we ran away from the theatre (laughs)! I look back at it and I realize that I was a little bothered that I am not in the movie. My concern was what would she think of me and that she would wonder ‘What a stupid guy. He bragged so much but he’s not even there in the movie’!