Chit Chat

My father saved me from becoming a male prostitute: Ravi Kishan

Ravi Kishan Shukla, 43, may have taken up Bhojpuri films as he had no work in Bollywood, but Bhojpuri films got him the superstar status, along with the respect and the money. He has high self-respect and is deeply emotional. He feels that if you give him love, he will become your servant. If you give him respect, he will return more than what he gets. He believes he is like a typical crab, which, when hurt, gets into its shell that may not be good for the world he belongs to. He would rather sit and pray for work as against sucking up for it. Despite having done over 200 films, he is simple at heart. His wife Preeti, who he met in Class XI, has remained his partner in struggle. Ahead of his upcoming film Bullett Raja, he talks about his maverick side, the political Bihari and why he would like to be a woman in his next life. Excerpts:

How did you get into films?
I was born and brought up in a 10×12 sq ft chawl in Santacruz. We are five siblings and I was the youngest of them. My father was a priest and had a small dairy business. When I was 10, due to a dispute between my father and his brother, the dairy had to be shut down, as a result of which we moved back to his hometown, Jaunpur in UP. I stayed in Jaunpur for seven years and was simply not interested in studying. We just had some land on which we would do farming and were very poor. We lived in a mud house and could not even afford a sari for my mother on Diwali. I hated the thought of not being in Mumbai and felt I would either die or turn mad or become a goonda. But I watched a lot of Amitabh Bachchan movies and that encouraged and influenced me a lot. Hearing him say, ‘Main pheke hue paise nahi leta’ gave me a lot of power. And I realised how for guys like me, who had no backing, no education, no teacher in life, cinema became my teacher. I was also a part of Ramleela, where I played the role of Sita. I believe that God plans your life. My father wanted me to do milk business and used to bash me up badly with a belt saying, ‘Yeh tum nachaniya kya ban rahe ho?’ But when I was 17, my mom gave me 500 and I ran away from home to come to Mumbai. I then stayed in our old 10×12 sq ft place and met an old friend Hriday Shetty, who introduced me to a filmmaker. I got my first B-grade film Pitambar and made my first 5000. I bought a bike and started struggling. I was recognised after Tere Naam, where I coincidentally played the role of a priest. I copied and used my papa’s clothes to bring in authenticity.

You are from UP. How did you get into Bhojpuri cinema?
There was a time when I was not making money in Bollywood and I was then offered a Bhojpuri film. I called my mom. We speak Awadhi at home that is close to Bhojpuri. She said, ‘Do it for your village people.’ I did it and became a Bhojpuri superstar and that changed my life. I had no house till then and no money. But Bhojpuri cinema gave me the respect, recognition and money. I bought back my 10×12 sq ft place that was earlier on the pagdi system, made it into a much bigger place and gifted it to my sister. My parents now live in a bungalow like a raja and rani and entire Jaunpur comes and clicks pictures with them. People have now started naming their kids Ravi Kishen. Being a big star of Bhojpuri cinema got me Bigg Boss that made me famous. When I came out, I did films with Shyam Benegal and Mani Ratnam.

What are Biharis like?
They are aggressive, happy and political. Even the rickshawallah in Bihar knows the prime minister’s wife’s name. Bolte hain ki UP aur Bihar mein maa ke pet me hi politics samajh jate hain. From morning to evening, they love reading newspapers. They want to earn only enough to manage their food and are not over ambitious. They love me screaming ‘Har Har Mahadev’ and like my simplicity and the fact that I have not forgotten the language and that I did not let success go to my head. I recently went to a mall in Patna, where this fan wanted to jump from above to just touch me. Fans will come to you and say, ‘Bhaiya, I want to cut my finger to lagao teeka.’ I once slapped a boy in front of his mother for doing that. For them, I am everything and they know everything about me. I dance and cry with them on Chhath puja.

Your father never supported you at one time. What does he feel today?
He feels I am God born in the house. I never felt angry towards him. He used to hit me and I used to love it. Had he not hit me, I could have turned to drugs, or made bad friends or become a womaniser and would have certainly gone wayward in life. He also taught me the habit of getting up early in the morning.

Has his being a priest impacted your spirituality?
Yes and none of my other siblings are as spiritual as I am. He taught me everything about life, woman, maya, attachment, detachment and sex in a polished indirect manner. He used to tell me save your mind and your body. Don’t waste your energy. Don’t become a male prostitute. Don’t give a false commitment. He was very strict about being a one- woman man. I am a full Shiva bhakt.

Talk about your connection with dance?
When I was eight, I would go crazy dancing in marriages. During Ganpati, I would dance on the street all night. I loved music and would be mad about dancing. Ganesh Acharya and I used to dance together in a cottage in Santacruz railway colony when we were young and I would borrow a few steps from him.

Talk about your Shiva connection?
I am a Shiva devotee and am crazy. There are a few people I like to meet, but I get powerful when I am alone. I connect with people, but after sometime I need to be on my own. I sometimes stay alone, away from the crew in a secluded hotel and feel happy. I am my own company and connect with God up there. I can connect with my body and nature. I go crazy. I will run in a jungle, will put on music and dance and sit alone and cry for long. I can’t cry in front of my people and control it as I don’t want them to feel that I am weak. I know that the world is all maya and will go away. I also know that I don’t have a godfather and am an ordinary-looking guy, so there has to be a supreme power above that made me. I am most attached only to the black camera and that is what gives me shanti. Eleven years back, there was a period of four months when I had no work. I would keep smelling my makeup box and cry just thinking about the time it would be applied on my face again. If I had an option to choose between a lot of money and acting, I would choose acting, as I feel without it, I would die. Cinema means life to me. I feel scared of putting on weight or having a double chin as that might stop getting me work.

Do you have friends in the industry?
Saif has been a friend for 16 years. He is superb. He is crazy and mad and understands me. He makes me laugh. Even though we are from different worlds, he too loves my craziness and likes me as an actor and finds me honest. He is a nawab and may be he can see that I can never ask for work from anyone and will not pile onto you. I like his wacky sense of humour and he loves mine and we are comfortable with each other.

Is there somewhere a woman in you?
Yes. There is a strong woman in me. I can relate with a woman’s pain, their moods, their love, their passion. Maybe the percentage of woman in me is more. Maybe, being a Shiva devotee helps me. And that is why I can take so many avatars in front of the camera. Once I performed Hothon Pe Aisi Baat on Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa where Madhuri Dixit was a judge. She was shocked and told me how I looked so beautiful performing like a woman. I would always get close to women, be it my mother, my wife, my daughters or my co-actors. I know what they are going through and can empathise with them. I worship my daughters and touch their feet. I also touch my wife’s feet. Of course, I do that when they are sleeping as they don’t allow it. I am a crazy man and can do many things many times. Recently on Karva Chauth, I touched my wife’s feet. Maybe in my next life, I would like to be born a woman.

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