DR SHREERAM LAGOO -The Doc With a Difference
By Jyothi Venkatesh
He has the kind of face that will make you sit up and arrest your attention. No wonder Dr Shreeram Lagoo often ends up as a bespectacled cynosure of all eyes at every filmland function that he chooses to attend these days. When Raj Sippy, the youngest son of producer N.C. Sippy introduced the doc turned actor to me at the get-together he had arranged at his residence at Juhu to introduce the unit of his film Inkar to the press, I realized instantantly that Dr Lagoo is one of those few actors in the industry who wouldn’t mince words and parade around posing as an intellectual all the time talking through the hat.
Believe it or not, Dr Lagoo was inducted into filmdom in 1969 at a time when he had a flourishing practice as a doctor in Pune where he had his own dispensary. When producer-director V. Shantaram offered him the leading role in his Pinjra(Marathi), Dr Lagoo toyed with the idea for taking up a career in films after twenty years of service as a doctor. His passion for acting forced him to quit the medical profession. The loss of the medical world became the gain of the film world, where even today there is a dearth of genuine talent.
“Even when I was a doctor, I used to participate in several Marathi plays regularly in Pune and Bombay. I used to direct the plays too, but never thought of taking a career in films seriously. It was only when Shantaram coaxed me to accept the role that I really became enamored of acting in films. Through film, I can reach a wider section of audience, whereas the percentage of people who flock to see my plays is very infinitesimal.”
Contrary to the popular notion, both the Marathi and Hindi versions of Pinjra were not at all shot simultaneously. In fact, Shantaram had absolutely no idea of making Pinjra in Hindi. It was conceived and shot in Marathi and it was only after the Marathi version started raking in good money at the box office counters that Shantaram really thought of making the Hindi version.”
I asked him whether he liked his performance better in the Hindi version. He sipped his beer and said, “To tell you the truth, I liked the Hindi version for the simple reason that the Marathi version was my debut making vehicle and hence I was very nervous at the prospect of having to face the camera. You see prior to that I had the experience of only acting on the stage. Till the entire Marathi version was complete, Shantaram did not even show me the rushes or the trials of the film because he felt it would make me further nervous”.
“While making the Hindi version, I was more comfortable and at ease since by then I had almost learnt all the ropes of filmmaking and knew what is what in filmland. But since Shantaram intended to make the Hindi version a frame to frame carbon copy of the Marathi version, there was no challenge for the artiste in me when I faced the camera for the Hindi version. Even when Shantaram was not keeping good health one day and his assistant Ravindra was asked to direct the film, he used to rush every hour to the theatre and refer to the Marathi version to observe whether I was asked to enter the frame from the left or the right hand side.”
Dr Lagoo admits to doling out his piece of advice to the directors under whom he is working but assures me that on no account does he insist on the director following his instruction implicitly. “My duty ends the moment I tell the director if I agree or not with the instructions given by him. It is up to him to accept my suggestion or reject. After all, the director is the captain of the ship and his should be the last word.”
He is full of praises for Raj Sippy, who is making his bow as a director with Inkar starring Vinod Khanna, Vidya Sinha, Amjad Khan and Dr Lagu in key roles. “Very few of roles are challenging ones inspiring me to bring out the actor in me to the fore. Inkar is one film which I feel has exploited my talent well. My only worry is that the audience which is used to seeing me as an old man should accept me as a young man making love to his sweetheart on the beach, as in the flashbacks, Raj is presenting me as a young chap. I did feel uncomfortable but managed to merge myself with the character.”
The doctor has his own prescription for maintaining good health. He does not work in more than one shift every day. He continues to dabble with his plays by adjusting his days in such a way that neither of his two pursuits suffers because of the other. Though he enjoys his work on the stage as an artiste , he feels that the money part isn’t attractive. “That’s the reason I have learnt not to say no to any producer when he comes to me with an offer, however insipid the role may be. I believe that even if a role is insipid, it is up to the artiste to invest it with a certain depth to make it seem to be a challenging one.”
And that explains why Dr Lagoo today has as many as 35 assignments on the floors. He defends his taking up so many assignments, because among them only 50% manage to see the light of the day. For a character artiste, to keep going in the industry, continuous exposure on the screen is very vital, he feels. He has no regrets having switched over from the medical to the acting profession, “because today I have managed to secure for myself kaam, naam as well as daam.”
Dr Lagoo’s only grouse is that stars should take their work seriously instead of throwing discipline to the winds. Quite often he finds himself waiting with the grease paint on for the arrival of the leading lady or the hero on the sets, cooling his heels for nothing. He relates an amusing incident which happened on the sets of Imaan Dharam. “After waiting for more than half a day for the arrival of Rekha, Shashi Kapoor got fed up and walked out of the sets. It is wrong to say that you are made to wait for the arrival of another star only because you are a character artiste”
Dr Shriram Lagoo is itching at the moment to wield the megaphone. “I am almost obsessed with the idea of taking up direction. I prefer to direct a Marathi film as my maiden directorial vehicle as I’d feel free at home directing a film in my mother tongue. I owe it to my Marathi stage audience who keep on showering kudos on me for my direction on the Marathi stage.” Who knows, maybe Dr Lagoo’s discoverer V. Shantaram himself may launch his career as a director too? You never know!