Look at that familiar face and the character of Mr Wagle, that careworn representative of the middle-class, springs to mind. Actor Anjan Srivastava was in the city recently as part of the Indian People's Theatre Association (IPTA)'s presentation Shatranj ke Mohre, an adaptation of Pu La Deshpande's play, Tuzha Ahe Tuzhapashi.
Srivastava, a versatile actor, has essayed character roles in television serials like Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi, Manoranjan and more recently Alpaviraam, and films like Golmal, Kabhi Haan, Kabhi Na, Pyar To Hona Hi Tha, China Gate and Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman. However, it is as Mr Wagle of Wagle Ki Duniya that he is most remembered for. ``Wagle Ki Duniya was the product of teamwork. Director Kundan Shah was highly impressed with the manner in which cartoonist R K Laxman managed to pack in so much humour and common sense into a pocket cartoon. Laxman who conceived the idea, was present during the screentest for the character.
He was quite particular about the way in which the character was presented,'' says he. What was supposed to stop at six episodes was extended into 13 and later revived as Wagle Ki Nayi Duniya. ``By that time all Laxman would say is `Anjan is the parameter','' says the actor.
While he cannot deny that the role appealed to popular imagination, today it has become a straitjacket he's trying to break out of. Says he,``The role that made me popular is proving to be a drawback. I'm a versatile actor and yet am typecast as the good guy because of that role. Even directors like JP Dutta and Rahul Rawail would not offer me negative roles. I am capable of much more,'' says Srivastava. A claim that he has lived up to. After all, Srivastava's histrionic talent has been tempered by years of doing theatre, his avowed first love. ``Performing theatre is very important to develop discipline in an actor. It gives one exposure to live performance,'' he says. Srivastava started doing theatre in 1968 with a theatre group in Calcutta where he was then based. Although Srivastava wanted to plunge full-time into theatre early it was only his father's insistence that he complete his graduation which stopped him from doing so. ``There was some amount of opposition and perhaps because of it I was evenmore adamant about acting. Some of Wagle 's characterisation is based on him.'' In deference to his father's wishes, Srivastava also took up a job at the Bank of Allahabad, which he continued even after his acting career took off. Srivastava who was inspired by Hrishikesh Mukherjee's films landed a role in the director's film Golmal. Among some of his memorable roles, Srivastava counts that of the Maharaja of Vadodara that he played in Dr. Jabbar Patel's Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar. ``The Maharaja's family told me that I had played that role very convincingly,'' says he. Today Srivastava wants to concentrate on films. ``Character roles offer variety. I have played the villain as much as the good guy. I am awaiting the release of Sanjay Chhail's Khubsoorat and Raj Santoshi's Pukaar. Khubsoorat which stars Sanjay Dutt is a family drama and I play a khadoos dadaji. I have worked hard for Pukar a film in which I play a bureaucrat with Anil Kapoor and Madhuri Dixit,'' he says.
Srivastava is equally busy balancing his film work with his theatre commitments. In the offing is a Hindi adaptation of Akira Kurosawa's Ikeru called Ek Mamuli Aadmi. As general secretary, IPTA, Srivastava takes theatre seriously. ``I wish television and film stars would do more theatre. It would help the theatre movement considerably by drawing audiences,'' he says. There's much to look forward to, for Srivastava who admits that there's a little of Wagle in him too. In a parting confession he says, ``Like him I am simple too. But in the film line that doesn't work.''
Copyright © 1999 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.