You changed your name from Harikishan Giri Goswami to Manoj Kumar, as you were a huge fan of Dilip Kumar.
When I was a child, I watched Jugnu starring Dilip Kumar and Noorjahan. In the film, the actor dies. After a month, I watched Shaheed starring Dilip Kumar again. In this film too, the actor dies. Outside the cinema hall, I pointed to a poster and told my mother that it was ‘Suraj’ who had died in the film. She told me this was the actor Dilip Kumar. I did not understand. I went and asked my grandmother how many times does a man die. Only once, she explained. I asked her whether a man lives again, to which she replied, he must be a farishta. At that tender age, I wanted to be a farishta. After I saw Shabnam, I decided to become an actor and call myself Manoj, which was Dilip Kumar’s name in the film.
How was it directing Dilip Kumar in Kranti?
It was a dream come true. He was known to be very notorious as far as committing to a film was concerned. When I went to meet him, he had to rush, as his brother was unwell. He said that listening to the story would take three hours, but I told him that it will take only two minutes. I told him that any story that could not be told in two minutes is not a story. I did narrate the story and he was on. We discussed the money and I assured him that he could see the first trial of the film. He saw the trial after the shoot and there was no complaint. Till date, he says that Kranti marked the beginning of my second innings.
Are you still in touch with him?
Yes, I am. I call Saira (Banoo) every four days to ask about his health. We met about a year and half ago. Unfortunately, since he is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, he did not recognise me.
You had to struggle a lot and you did a film as a junior artiste as well. How was that phase?
At 19, when I first came to Bombay in 1956, I did a film called Fashion, in which I played the role of a 90-year-old beggar. After that Filmistan hired me for Rs 450 per month. I went on to do movies such as Sahara and Reshmi Roomal, after which Vijay Bhatt offered me Haryali Aur Raasta. For a two-film deal, I was paid Rs 11,000 each. In spite of being paid in lakhs, when they came to me for the second film of the deal, I told them that I would do it for the same rate of Rs 11,000, as I had committed that sum.
With Shaheed, you became a director quite early in your career.
A lot of well-wishers that time told me that I was making a mistake, as everyone cannot become Raj Kapoor. But I was determined to direct Shaheed. I had come to the industry to fulfill two wishes - to become a leading actor and earn Rs 3 lakh; a lakh each for my parents, my siblings and myself. By this time, I had earned that money. After Shaheed, I gave up wearing watches, as I told myself that there is no time limit in filmmaking.
Did Lal Bahadur Shastri inspire you to make Upkaar?
Yes. The premiere of Shaheed was held at Plaza Cinema in Delhi, and he had loved the film. He called me at 2 am to his place to have tea with him. He shared the slogan Jai Jaawan, jai Kissan and wanted me to make a film around that. By the time I got down from the train in Bombay, the film was written and ready.
You made some very good patriotic films. Why do you think such movies are not made today?
As far as today’s films are concerned, I think the soul is missing and the corporates have taken over. They are only interested in the star system.
Why did you stop making films?
My last film, Jai Hind, took six years to make. A leading lady delayed the project, and by the time the movie was ready, it was outdated. I did not make any films after that.
Will we see you make a comeback?
Very soon. I have just finished a script called Partition of India. I have been a witness of all the pain and agony during that time, as I came from Abbottabad near Peshawar and we were shifted to a refugee camp in Delhi. I am going to Pune in the first week of October to meet my doctor and once he gives me a clearance, I will start making my films. Uttam Singh has already composed the songs.
Your birth place, Abbottabad, is now on the world map due to Osama Bin Laden’s killing. Comment.
It is a surprise. Although that happened in a small suburb of Abbottabad, the spot was quite far from where I used to live. I have been there twice after I shifted here. The last time I went there was in 1977.