I wanted to be an actor, says Mukesh's grandson

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By Subhash K. Jha

Mumbai, Sep 25 (IANS) He is proud of his melodious lineage. But Neil Mukesh, grandson of legendary singer Mukesh, opted for acting instead because he feels he is not disciplined enough to be a good singer. His debut film, Sriram Raghavan's crime thriller "Johnny Gaddar", releases this week.

"I do sing and I play the piano. But I don't have the discipline to be half as good as my grandfather. My grandfather was an actor in the early part of his career. And I've watched his films. Once I made up my mind to be an actor my father made sure that I watched and studied the old Hindi classics," Neil told IANS.

While he is fond of his grandfather's songs, Neil prefers singing Kishore Kumar numbers.

"Actually, I like Kishore Kumar's songs. They're more lively, more 'me'. Of course my grandfather didn't sing just serious songs. But even his light songs are very difficult for me to hum. Kishore songs are my style."

Asked why he chose an unconventional debut vehicle, Neil said: "For my debut I wasn't interested in showcasing my muscles and face. I wanted to be recognised as an actor straightaway in my first film."

Excerpts from the interview:

Q: Why have you retained your grandfather's name instead of the family title Mathur?

A: Actually, my father, who's also a singer, called himself Nitin Mukesh. I saw no harm in continuing with the tradition. In fact, it's a name I'm proud of and don't mind flaunting it at all.

It's sad that my grandfather died eight years before I was born in 1982. But I grew up hearing stories about him. I spend a lot of time with my grandmother who stays in the same building as we do. While we occupy the first floor, my grandmother stays on the seventh floor. She would tell us so many stories about my grandfather, his friendship with Raj uncle (Raj Kapoor). I'd stare at the pictures of my grandfather and Raj uncle and at the Filmfare trophies lined up on her shelf, hoping that one day I'd get one too.

Q: Didn't you want to be a singer like your grandfather?

A: The call was mine. I do sing and I play the piano. But I don't have the discipline to be half as good as my grandfather. My grandfather was an actor in the early part of his career. And I've watched his films. Once I made up my mind to be an actor my father made sure that I watched and studied the old Hindi classics.

I also assisted Kunal Kohli at Yash Raj Films to learn about filmmaking. Yash uncle (Chopra) and Aditya Chopra were like guardians. It's not true that today's generation doesn't know much about old films. My friends like Hrithik (Roshan) and Uday Chopra are very clued into cinema.

Q: Your debut film is called "Johnny Gaddar" and your next project is called "Tera Kya Hoga Johnny"? What's this Johnny fixation?

A: I may end up doing a remake of "Johnny Mera Naam" (laughs). You won't believe this but Johnny has been a childhood doppelganger. And when I signed my first film it was called "Johnny Gaddar". Sadly, I don't play the title role in either of my two films.

Q: Why weren't you launched by Yash Raj Films?

A: I wanted to get my debut legitimately, prove myself worthy of working with them and then wait for them to sign me. Yash uncle mentioned "Johnny Gaddar" to me the other day. For him to see my debut film would be a dream come true.

Q: "Johnny Gaddar" isn't a conventional launch?

A: No. I always wanted to start with a character that would prove my worth as an actor. Everyone expected me to follow my grandfather and father's vocation. If I was going into acting I better be damn good at it. For my debut I wasn't interested in showcasing my muscles and face. I wanted to be recognised as an actor straightaway in my first film.

Q: How was it working with Dharmendra in your first film?

A: The minute he heard Mukesh's grandson had been signed in a film with him, Dharam uncle invited me home to put me at ease. My grandfather sang some of his best songs like "Guzra zamana bachpan ka" and "Baharon ne mera chaman loot kar". The minute I walked in to his house he hugged me and held my hand. I suddenly felt I had met my grandfather through Dharam uncle.

Throughout the shooting of "Johnny Gaddar" he supported and encouraged me. Sometimes he'd turn to ask me if he had done a shot right, just to make me less nervous. On the first day of shooting he just put his hand out for me during the shot. We'd chat for hours about my grandfather, and how he gave playback for Dharam-ji's first film.

Q: How was it working with an unconventional director like Sriram Raghavan in your first film?

A: When I heard the script, I instantly fell in love with my character. People don't want conventional films any more. I'm a trained dancer and have performed on stage with my father. But I'd rather save my conventional abilities for later.

Q: Do you sing your grandfather's or father's songs?

A: Actually, I like Kishore Kumar's songs. They're more lively, more 'me'. Of course my grandfather didn't sing just serious songs. But even his light songs are very difficult for me to hum. Kishore songs are my style.