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Monday, November 19, 2001

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Roshan Seth waits for right role

Where has he been? That's the first thought that comes to mind. He is remembered for his role as Jawaharlal Nehru in the legendary film ``Gandhi'' and host of the much-acclaimed ``Bharat Ek Khoj''. Then there are the inroads he made into the foreign vistas with ``Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom'' and ``Stalin''.

But it has been a while since he was spotted on the big screen or for that matter the small screen. Ask him the reason for his absence and after a moment's hesitation he replies: ``I think people consider me a snob, an `angrez'.'' This, he quips, is strange considering the way some of these stars behave. On a more serious note he adds that he is waiting for work but hasn't come across a single screenplay that interests him.

Outspoken and forthright, he has none of the airs you would associate with an actor who has reached the heights most Bollywood stars only dream about. Quite the opposite, Roshan Seth has his feet firmly planted on the ground. And he certainly isn't trying to sell himself or any of his films to you.

Why, he even trashes his own films. Speaking about the English film ``The Journey'', one of his more recent ventures, Seth declares candidly it to be ``half-baked'', openly admitting: ``I did not enjoy working in it. It is a story told a thousand times, just packed differently.''

Centered around cultural and generational gaps, ``The Journey'' is the story of Kishan Singh (Roshan Seth), a retired school headmaster, who travels to the US, to live with his son settled there with a native wife. To be screened for the first time in Delhi as part of the IIT Kharagpur Golden Jubilee celebrations, the script focuses on the clash of cultures, with both angst and humour wound into it.

But far from being satisfied, Seth is openly critical. The film, he says, suffers from the typical `Anari Indian' syndrome. Or as he puts it ``the pyaara hai lekin ullo ka pattha hai approach''. ``Wouldn't a person who knows about Milton and Keats know what a tea bag is? Central to Indians is their cunningness. This is what the director, Harish Saluja, gets all wrong''. He acknowledges that he ``fought like hell'' over the script though finally conceding to the director's wishes. In comparison, he appears more satisfied with his ``one-second'' appearance in Mira Nair's ``Monsoon Wedding'' which he defines as a ``must see''.

Sporting a pair of jeans and T-shirt, with a sprinkling of white hair, you wouldn't believe the actor is touching 60. And watching him in action, you would know why he has been offered the Nehru role several times over. But ask him if he wants to do another Nehru and pat comes the reply,``I am fed up with that particular role!''.

Admittedly long, his association with the film industry has left him decidedly cynical. ``I am amazed at the films that get made these days. Even something like `Lagaan', I don't understand the message behind the last scene where everyone is begging outside the temple for God to help them win the match.'' He adds passionately: ``Acting is a performance of an action. It is a wish to act, to communicate or say something. Today there doesn't appear to be much satisfaction involved in acting out a role''.

``Till date, I have read only one good screenplay and that was `Gandhi'. After doing `Gandhi' I thought I would get roles like that, but now I realise that you do a`Gandhi' only once in a lifetime.'' Certainly nostalgic, but brutally true.

By Anjali Malhotra

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