The name plate outside Atul Agnihotri's flat in Pali Hill, Bandra reads Atul, Alvira (his wife) Alizeb (his three year old daughter), Ayaan (his one year old son). The moment you enter his house you see Ayaan is in quite a foul mood, weeping and is being pampered by Alvira while Alizeb is engrossed by a cartoon film. ``We'll have to manage,'' says Atul looking at the chaos.
And manage we do. The actor who stars in Zee's Mrityudand is quite reserved but intense: he speaks only when required and that too very much to the point. If you see his career graph it's been a bit of this and a bit of that. Inspite of a debut in Sir with Naseeruddin Shah and Pooja Bhatt, and despite being launched by none other than Mahesh Bhatt, his fortunes have not been on an incline.
When he was launched by Bhatt, he was `neighbour's envy, owner's pride' (as the Onida TV ad put it), though it didn't really help him because the film was not centred around him. ``It was not an ideal launch pad. None of my films were designed for me. But I've survived on my own,'' says Agnihotri.
His lack of success in films is not the reason for his stepping over to television. It so happened that he had gone to see a film at Sterling Theatre; there he bumped into Navid Antulay who was was producing Kohra on Star Plus then. And Navid and Atul happen to be from the same college -- Sydneham. They got talking and the former offered him the role of Arif in Tanha.
``For me the most important thing is to keep working. I don't have preconceived notions of anything. I didn't do television when I started because then it was not happening. Now it is and I only see it growing. I'm enjoying it thoroughly and I'm very serious about my work.'' Today when he looks back, Agnihotri feels he's not had such a bad time. ``From where I began and where I'm today, I've been lucky,'' he explains. Agnihotri was quite successful as the intense and self-righteous Arif who falls in love with his boss's daughter in Tanha and it was a great experience, reveals Atul as he had to speak a lot of Urdu and he got to work with a lot of Pakistani actors. His current role in Mrityudand which premiered a few months ago on Zee is also getting rave reviews. He plays the character of Om, a rebel with a secret cause.
You may not have noticed, but all his television work has been directed by Siddharth Sen Gupta, fondly known a Goldie which he writes off as a coincidence though he is very comfortable working with him ``I work with like-minded people and we're all ambitious and hard-working. I'm not accepting other offers because I can expand in television whenever I want to. Ideally, I'd like to do only one or two serials at a time.'' Agnihotri says he can't do three shifts a day, ``maybe I'm spoilt a bit.''
Television is much more demanding and exhausting than films, he says, explaining the basic difference between the two mediums: ``Television is verbose while film is more about visual treatment. The scale, the format, the business, everything is different. And as an actor I feel what I do in four days for a film is done in just one day for a serial.''
According to Agnihotri what matters here is success and if you are not successful then you're considered a bad actor. What works here, how you become a success is still a mystery to him. ``If your time is good, wherever you put the bat, the ball comes and hits it. I mean, everything you do is right, if your time is good. Success is not important for me to be happy,'' he states.
That he has devoted himself to a full-fledged television career, doesn't mean Agnihotri has said goodbye to Bollywood. He looks forward to K. C. Bokadia's Shah Rukh-Salman-Madhuri starrer, Hum Aapke Hain Sanam in which he plays Madhuri's brother. Then there is Pio Gayo Pardes, a bilingual (Gujarati and English) film shot in New York, apart from a couple of other releases. And he also has plans to direct a feature film in the near future. ``It would definitely be a love story,'' he promises. Like other actors and actresses, he doesn't read or watch television in his spare time. But he is into agriculture. He has some land at Panvel on the Mumbai-Pune highway where he is doing cashew plantation on a large scale with the help of drip irrigation, an Israeli system that makes the whole thing labour free with underground piping. ``I'm doing it seriously and hope to expand it. Then there are shows happening abroad which keeps me busy. I'm also raising my two kids,'' he smiles. Meaning he has no time tosimply chase fame-shame.
Copyright © 1999 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.