I like Nana Patekar's take on whether Pakistani actors should be banned from working in Bollywood after the Uri terror attack. The film industry is divided over this, just as the country is politically split over whether India made a surgical strike on Pakistan-occupied Kashmir in counterattack or not. The quick-witted and volatile actor, who's been experimenting with soul-searching Marathi cinema lately after doing some uninspiring Hindi films, gave reporters who stirred the patriot in him paisa vasool copy.
I was in the army, I spent two-and-half years there, so I know who our biggest heroes are. Nana Patekar
"Pakistani actors don't come first," Nana said furiously, "my country comes first. An artiste is a like a bed bug, very small in front of the country." He didn't mean Fawad Khan or Mahira Khan, both of whom are the flavour of the season in Bollywood, but, unfortunately, Pakistani imports. Nana meant Bollywood stars. He further told reporters, "Actors are fake people, don't give importance to what we say, the real heroes are our soldiers fighting at the border." To emphasize his opinion, Nana added, "I was in the army, I spent two-and-half years there, so I know who our biggest heroes are."
I'm not among his fans, but I admire Nana. Of all Bollywood's actors I think he walks the talk. Earlier this year, he slammed the Maharashtra government for using Aamir Khan and his TV show Satyamev Jayate to promote its drought relief scheme 'Jalyukta Sivar Abhiyan'. The ambitious 1,000 crore project promises to make the state drought-free by 2019. Nana wasn't against Aamir who had just been removed from the 'Incredible India' campaign by the central government reportedly for his views on religious intolerance in the country. His quarrel was with the Maharashtra government.
He had been quietly meeting and financially helping the families of farmers who committed suicide in the drought affected areas. If the government had money and a plan to contain drought that included deepening and broadening the state's rivers, desilting its lakes, ponds and canals, building dams, and planting trees, why did it need an actor to endorse its effort? Aamir couldn't guarantee the project's success. Just as Satyamev Jayate didn't put an end to honour killings, rape, female feticide, children's sexual abuse, domestic violence, untouchability, alcoholism, and criminalisation of politics. So why make him the brand ambassador for 'Jalyukta Sivar Abhiyan'? "I don't understand this term," Nana said. "It's a fad and nothing else. The government should focus on solving the problems of the farmers rather than appointing someone as the face of a campaign. I didn't need an appointment letter to do the job."
Any damn role is fine as long as the script's justified and written properly. But the soldier's role is more disciplined than the cop's. [C]ops have changed. They are now on the payrolls of gangsters! Nana Patekar
It is this same courage of conviction and fierce loyalty to the country that stops Nana from working in Bollywood with Sanjay Dutt who served a prison sentence in the 1993 serial blasts case for illegal possession of arms. He told me about it over coffee one day: "I have not worked with Dutt in my entire career. I will not work with him in future too. I felt bad about what happened in 1993. I lost my brother in the Worli BEST bus blast that day. My wife also missed getting killed. She took the earlier bus. I'm not saying Dutt is responsible... but even if he is responsible in a small way, I don't want to work with him. This isn't personal, I'm not saying this because my brother was a victim. It's also got nothing to do with Hindu and Muslim—in fact I have more Muslim fans and they love me. I'm doing it for everybody who got killed that day."
As for Nana's claim of having been in the army and spending time on the border, he's not just shooting the breeze. I asked him about it last year when he was returning to Bollywood as the Mumbai Police encounter specialist in Ab Tak Chhappan 2. Nana is a dead ringer for the Mumbai cop. He has that rough and dangerous look, cynical and humorous eyes, and at 65 he possesses the taut and coiled body of a man ready for action. He remarked deprecatingly that his unconventional looks made it difficult for him to get hero roles. "You think I look like a cop?" he asked me. "But I can also do romantic roles. People with unconventional looks have hearts and minds like everybody else. Haven't you seen the ugly Humphrey Bogart romance the beautiful Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca?"
It's war whether you are in the police or army. Actually, it's quieter on the border. On the street, the war is on all the time but few people know!Nana Patekar
I let it pass. But I knew Nana enjoyed playing the Indian Army officer on screen more than the cop. He is what Hollywood loftily describes as a method actor. For his role as Major Pratap Chavan in the hit 1991 film Prahaar, he underwent gruelling commando training at the Indian Army's 2 Maratha Light Infantry Battalion in Belgaum. "As an actor, any damn role is fine as long as the script's justified and written properly," Nana said. "But the soldier's role is more disciplined than the cop's. Now crime has changed, gangs have changed, and cops have also changed. They are now on the payrolls of gangsters!"
Nana is an honorary Captain in the Territorial Army (a voluntary part-time force which serves as a reserve and gives civilians the opportunity to receive military training) and will be conferred the rank of Lieutenant Colonel next. He's familiar and handy with guns. He's an expert shot with the rifle, he participates in the National Open Shooting Championship as a wild card entry, and he owns a Swiss Grunig & Elmiger target rifle and a .32 Smith & Wesson handgun. The Indian Army welcomed him in Kupwara which shares a border with Pakistan-occupied Kashmir when the Kargil war was on.
I asked him if he had shot anybody on the border. Nana dodged the question. I came back with it differently. "Would you have the nerve to kill in cold blood as you do on screen as the encounter cop?" I asked. He replied without hesitation, "If I was a cop, I think I would have. It's like a soldier's job. He's also killing on the border. I believe once you have accepted the job, and you know what you're doing isn't a crime, that it's for the betterment of society, then you just go ahead and do it. It's war whether you are in the police or army. Actually, it's quieter on the border. When a war is declared the whole nation knows about it. On the street, the war is on all the time but few people know!"