Silver-haired septuagenarian scientist’s silver screen stint

At 70, when most people kick up their heels, veteran actor Dr Anil Rastogi headed to Mumbai to pursue his hobby, now his profession: acting. Riding the crest of success of ‘Ishaqzaade’, he lived there for four years and did multiple films, TV serials and ad films.

The scientist did his first play at the age of 20, first film and TV serial at 44 and became a household name at 69. Interestingly, the same year he celebrated the golden jubilee of his marriage.

Running 76, he has 32 films, 92 plays with nearly 1,000 stage shows, multiple TV serials, advertisements and short films to his credit. “I never planned to become an actor. Becoming a scientist and researching was my aim, which I did during my service period. Acting happened, which gave me fame at the national and international level. Now, I am enjoying it and am in the best phase of my acting career,” he said.

MAKING OF AN ACTOR

He started working as a scientist in 1963. “Before that I had never acted. In 1964, there was an exhibition which I was coordinating. For the first time, I did a play ‘Banaspati Shayar’ (fake poet) which got lot of appreciation, which inspired me. The same director started promoting me. KV Chandra was a big director then and in his play ‘Jai Somnath’, I got the role of chowkidar, where I had to just stand on the gate but as fate would have it, I graduated to becoming the main villain. It was in this play that I got noticed for the first time. My theatre guru was Lt Rajeshwar Bachchan,” he tells.

After inception of Darpan theatre group in 1971, he did his first play as lead BV Karanth’s ‘Haya Vadan’ (1972) with Vijay Vastav and Shobhna Jagdish. “I started doing plays with the group and was made its treasurer. I became Darpan’s secretary in 1978, which I continued to be till 2017. I worked a lot in it and took Darpan across the country. All top directors have done plays for us.”

He has done over 400 shows of the play ‘Panchi Jaa Panchi Aa’ directed by comedy king Dina Nath, an adaption of film ‘Boeing Boeing’. “Later, film ‘Garam Masala’ starring Akshaya Kumar and John Abraham was made on it. I played a Casanova in it who was flirting with three air hostess,” he said with a smile.

Rastogi takes inspiration from theatre veteran Raj Bisaria (83) and Marathi actor Vidyadhar Karmakar (93), who is still acting and going strong.

For Lucknow Doordarshan, he did plays ‘Dani Moor Dhwaj’ (playing Arjun), ‘Jahan Chah Wahan Raah’, ‘Biwi Natiyonwali’ and ‘Mukhra Kya Dekhe Darpan Main’.

ACTING JOURNEY

His big screen journey started with Sudhir Mishra’s directorial debut ‘Yeh Woh Manzil To Nahi’ in 1986. “I played a pro-British officer in the film in which Manohar Singh played my son. Then I did a play ‘Marichika’, ‘Khoon Baha Ganga Main’, ‘Chintoo Ji’, ‘Main, Meri Patni Aur Woh’, ‘Monika’ and few more films. But the major break came with ‘Ishaqzaade’.”

He considers four works as game changers. “’Ishaqzaade’ is right on the top. That I realised when I shifted to Mumbai in 2013! Every production house was aware of my work and praised it. Before that Kavita Chaudhury’s serial ‘Udaan’ also gave me national recognition. I played Senior Superintendent of Police Bashir Ahmed who was the boss of the protagonist (IPS) and her mentor. It was based on Kavita Chaudhury’s elder sister, Kanchan Chaudhury, who retired as the first woman DGP of Uttaranchal.”

The next is a 10-minute Marathi film ‘Aathvan’ (memory) directed by Renuka Sahane. “I played a dementia patient and it won the Best Film award at the Nasik Film Festival. Finally, ‘Mukti Bhawan’ gave me international recognition and has won 132 international awards.”

In Mumbai, “Casting director Reema Gupta approached me for a daily soap ‘Na Bole Tum Na Maine Kuch Kaha’. I was already 70 years and was not keen but the family supported me and we bought a flat too. ‘Dareeba Dairies’, ‘Kalash’, ‘Samvidhan’, ‘Hum Hain Na’ and ‘Beta Bhagya Se Beti Saubhagya Se’. Then I stopped daily soaps and started doing episodes of ‘CID’, ‘Crime Patrol’ and ‘Savdhaan India’.”

GOING STRONG!

Last year, he had multiple releases ‘Mulk’, ‘Parmaanu’, ‘Raid’, ‘Babumoshai Bandoorkbaaz’, ‘Baraat Company’, ‘Raag Desh’ (Kailash Kath Katju), ‘Hotel Milan’ (on anti-Romeo squad) and ‘Accidental Prime Minister’ (Shiv Raj Patil).

He has many films coming up. “I have one, but a very powerful scene ‘Naqqaash’ and is going to festivals. Then, I have done a film ‘Gaalib’ which is based on Afzal Guru’s son of the same name. His grandfather (played by Rastogi) and mother (Deepika Chikhalia), somehow keep him away from terrorism and he makes a good career. I have also done another film ‘Yugpurush Deendayal Upadhyay’, where I play his uncle. ‘Batla House’ will release on August 15 in which I have good scenes where again I play Shivraj Patil,” he said.

Now, he is going slow. “There is very good money in daily soaps but now, I am taking it easy with episodes and films. I don’t do films for money. For me, the role has to be good and remuneration has to be respectable,” he says.

His last play was Raj Bisaria’s ‘Barefoot in Athens’.

THE SCIENTIST

He did M Sc in Biochemistry. “I went for a civic reception thrown for cosmonaut Uri Gagarin at CDRI in 1962. I made up my mind to be here (in the institute) and by God’s grace, I got a fellowship and then I went on to work for 41 years in the same place. I retired as the head of biochemistry and Scientist G (director’s grade) I retired in 2003. I went abroad several times — Germany, Denmark and other places. I have published 100 research papers and my PhD students are doing well at big institutes,” he said.

His wife, Sudha Rastogi, was a teacher at Nari Shiksha Niketan and his son, Anurag, runs an IT company in Lucknow. “Besides his family members, he feels his institute also supported him in following his hobby of acting, which today, has become my profession,” he said.

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