Everyone I know cries watching Sanjay Suri play Nikhil in the new film MY BROTHER… NIKHIL. I cried, not just for Nikhil’s death but also for the birth of the actor named Sanjay Suri.
What a relief and joy it is to see this monstrously neglected actor who also happens to be a wonderful human being, get his due. I remember the day Sanjay called to tell me about Nikhil. Understandably he was a trifle hesitant about revealing the details. Let’s not forget, our film industry still has some hard and fast rules of heroism. Playing a gay character, and that too an HIV positive was positively suicidal.
Suri took the plunge. He had to. There was no choice. For an actor from outside the film industry, no matter how gifted, the choices are severely limited. The grand roles go to the “insiders”. The outsiders get the crumbs. Hence Sanjay’s crummy career dotted with supporting parts in female-centric films, like Kalpana Lajmi’s DAMAN, Meghna Gulzar’s FILHAAL and Chandraprakash Diwedi’s PINJAR. To each, Sanjay Suri brought a quiet conviction and dignity. And just when I thought he was too straitlaced to be naughty on screen, he surprised me with a roguish role and a prankish performance in Raj Kaushal’s SHAADI KA LADDOO. The role and performance were siimilar to Saif Ali Khan’s HUM TUM, though a lot more accomplished.
But how does one explain this to a blind and unheedful industry which prefers a Saif to Sanjay and more recently, a Riteish Deshmukh to a Sammir Dattani just because one is better ‘connected’ than the other?
Sanjay knows how I feel about the way the industry has treated him. “Thanks. You’ve always been very supportive.” He says as encomiums for Nikhil pour in from all quarters, including hardened critics who care a damn about nurturing talent as long as they get their two funny-lines and three quips in every review. Yes, I support Suri. Because I support genuine talent. When my friend Deepa Mehta was re-casting for her controversial WATER, I immediately saw Sanjay Suri in the role of the protagonist. Clad in a dhoti, wearing studious spectacles and spewing Gandhisms. Yup, the role seemed earmarked for Sanjay, far more than the original choice Akshay Kumar and later Rahul Khanna.
I arranged a meeting for Sanjay with Deepa. She liked him immensely. I thought this would be the turning point of his career. But Deepa changed her mind. She preferred John Abraham. I think she wanted more sex appeal in WATER. Sanjay isn’t a “sexy” actor-not in the bare-chested, ladies’ man way. His appeal is far more understated. He can never do anything unbecoming on screen. He makes an impact not by screaming but through his silences.
In a world suffused in shrill self-promotion how does the uncomplaining taciturn outsider make his presence felt? The answer came last year, when Sanjay Suri took the plunge and decided to make MY BROTHER… NIKHIL. It was a wise and timely decision. “God knows what plans they had for me otherwise,” he grins. I know what he means. Nikhil comes as a rude awakening for the film industry. It shows us how far a hungry actor stretches himself to get noticed. Luckily Sanjay is hungry, not angry. There’s no bitterness about being neglected. No blaming the industry or talking about the ‘compromises’ he was asked to make. A positive person is what he is. And I discovered that on the first occasion when I met him.
It was Raveena Tandon’s parent’s silver-jubilee marriage anniversary. And we were all sitting on the rooftop of her high-rise building. Sanjay was recently married. He was going around receiving congratulations. Then when our hostess introduced us, he spent the rest of the evening with me. We immediately hit off. That neither of us drink, helped. Drinks were on the flow, and I was getting uncomfortable. A sozzled dress designer insisted on addressing me as ‘Sanjay’. The real Sanjay sensed my discomfort and whispered, “Maybe she thinks she’s talking to me?” “How do I get out of here?” I asked Sanjay. “Very simple,” he smiled, and he gently escorted me to the elevator and said bye.
Today when I see the smile on Nikhil’s face I understand why Sanjay Suri never became bitter. He will always find an escape route. He has.