Jameel Khan
A born thespian, Jameel Khan’s name immediately arouses associations with Naseeruddin Shah’s well-known theatre group, Motley. Jameel Khan himself is so proud to be associated with Motley that his genuine adoration for “Naseer bhai” and “Ratna bhabhi” as he addresses the couple, is palpable and guileless. He makes it a point to stress that although he hardly maintains a regular contact with Naseeruddin Shah apart from rehearsals and shows, he knows that the relationship the two share is special. A thorough believer of the ways of destiny, Jameel Khan arrived in Bombay after completing his B.A. Honors in History from Aligarh University to pursue acting as a career. Shah’s JULIUS CAESAR gave him his first break although by no means was Khan new to the stage. He had acted in many school and college productions. He had also won trophies for his acting abilities such as the Geoffrey Kendall trophy while at Sherwood boarding school. Besides being a part of a theatre group called Sabrang in Aligarh, he has also been one of the founding members of the IPTA branch in Aligarh. None of these things seemed to impress Shah though who cast him as one of the crowd in JULIUS CAESAR. And of course, the rest reads like an account of the rags to riches story, in this sense, obviously the “riches” not translating into crisp bills! The following conversation takes an insider look at what makes this young but highly talented actor tick. It traces Khan’s personal history till date and makes room for acknowledging the other directors he has worked with besides the inimitable Shah.


How did you decide to become an actor?
I had always been acting since my Sherwood days and I used to immensely enjoy doing so. I started off wanting to pursue Engineering but did not get the desired marks. However my family was very supportive about it and finally on my father’s and brother’s behest, I decided to do my B.A. in History from Aligarh University. I just thought it was going to be a cakewalk after my stint with Science for two years. Little did I know that my dad was keen to have me write the Civil Services exam to which I of course refused. Anyway, the Aligarh experience helped me brush my Urdu. I joined a theatre group called Sabrang, did work with the IPTA branch of Aligarh and by the end of my graduation, I had made up my mind to come to Bombay to pursue acting.

Jameel KhanWas your family supportive of the decision?
Oh yes! My father, especially. My mother was initially wary but she came around. I decided to come to Bombay because of the Bollywood association too and while popular films were not my consideration, parallel cinema was.

How did you manage to find your way in Bombay?
It was very tough in the beginning. To secure accommodation, I signed up for the M.A. program in English Literature at Mumbai University. English was one of my ancillary subjects at Aligarh and I had done very well. So the people at the University believed that I was keen to do my M.A. I also gave them some crap about Bombay being the best place for me to get coaching for the Civil Services exam! Anyway, I managed to gain hostel accommodation. The M.A. experience was really helpful. I got exposed to a lot of literature and that was good.

Can you elaborate on your relationship with Motley?
I started off with Julius Caesar and was cast as one of the crowd. Later during one of the readings of CAINE MUTINY COURT MARTIAL, Naseer bhai tossed the script of the play and asked me to read out the part of the junior officer. I was stunned that amongst the forty odd actors who had come for the reading, he asked me to read the part. So I went on to do the revived version of this play. My greatest break with Motley however came with ISMAT MANTO HAZZIR HO. I have a lot of respect for Naseer bhai and have reached a comfort zone with him. None of us have talked about it but I know the feeling.

Let me play the devil’s advocate by asking you…
I know what you want to ask me. That whether I emulate Naseeruddin Shah…

No, I didn’t mean that but on similar lines, has your awe of the man affected your craft as an actor?
Of course, I have learnt a lot from him as an actor. At the same time, I am Jameel Khan and not Naseeruddin Shah. We share a symbiotic relationship as actors; we take and give from each other on stage but at no time has my craft been restricted because of his direction or because he has been my fellow actor. In fact, Naseer bhai himself hates restricting his actors. We get a lot of leeway to do what we may think is right. At the same time, we are conscious of not overdoing anything because for Naseer bhai, every movement or display of emotion on stage has a purpose. The minimalist, the better.

So which other directors have you worked with besides Shah?
I have worked with a German director by the name of Fritz Benewitz. We did FAUST for N.C.P.A. because Vijaya Mehta who was then director of N.C.P.A. wished to do the play. I played three small characters in that play. I have also done ONCE ON A FRIDAY, an adaptation of MAN FRIDAY with Karl Mendes. I did a few plays by Moliere with both Atul Kumar and a French director called Jean Jacques Bellone and even did ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDERSTERN ARE DEAD with Atul. Then there was this play with Raghuvir Yadav called BHAGDAD KA GULAM, again an adaptation but we just had one show of the play.

Talking of KATHA COLLAGE, you current play with Motley, I am curious to know as to how did you prepare for the story, BADEBHAI SAHAB. What also struck me is that the characters of the two brothers are not restrained to the specificities in terms of the acting technique as far as age representations go. Can you explain whether that was deliberate or otherwise?
Jameel KhanSee for myself, I had divided my character as older brother in three stages-childhood, youth and adulthood. That the impression of any particular age does not come through because it is a story that moves through the various phases of the life of the two characters. I can’t say whether that was deliberate or not though but Imaauddin as younger brother is still raw although he is a good actor.

Motley’s trend off late has been of presenting literary stories…
Yes, that is true. There is a treasurehouse of Hindustani/Urdu literature just waiting to be discovered. Besides you may have seen that our selected stories have universal appeal. They are not dated.

Which is the best production you have seen so far and why?
Can’t recall any one best production but I really enjoyed DEAR LIAR by Motley. The play was a complete theatrical experience. Laced with Shavian humour, good language and great performances. It was the first major play that I saw and it left an indelible mark on me. I guess I remember it so vividly because till then I hadn’t been exposed to professional theatre. Moreover, I appreciated the quality of restraint in that production.

What according to you are the qualities that an actor must possess?
Well, he must be a good human being…

Surprisingly, most of the actors say that.
Well, it’s true then. Besides he should not harbour any negativity. His vibes with his co-actors must be positive. He should be a keen observer and practice his speech. What really puts me off at times are performances in which the actors have had a lazy attitude as far as speech is concerned. An actor cannot afford to be careless as far as pronunciation and enunciation in any language go.

Have you grown as an actor since when you started?
Yes for sure. I have evolved my actor’s craft. Looking back, I can see the journey I have made. Earlier, I used to be bothered about what people used to say but now neither positive nor negative remarks disarm me. I am not over confident but feel confident enough in my choice of vocation now.

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