Prem Chopra on completing 60 years in movies: I worked hard, steered clear of controversies
One of Bollywood's most iconic villains, Prem Chopra talks about his success mantra as he completes 60 years in the movies today
One of Bollywood's most iconic villains, Prem Chopra completes 60 years in the industry, today. The veteran will mark the milestone with a celebration at ISKCON auditorium in Juhu this evening, which will see Amitabh Bachchan, Jeetendra, Dharmendra and several other actors, including son-in-law Sharman Joshi, in attendance. At 82, Chopra says he still gets offers - his next, Udanchhoo, is slated to release next month. The senior actor describes his journey as "full of twists and turns laced with failures, setbacks and rewards."
What kept him going, he reflects, was his determination. "I always wanted to be an actor even though my family had no connection with the film industry. My father was an IAS officer. When I decided to leave Shimla [his hometown] and move to Bombay in the late '50s, my father warned me that I was opting for the most insecure profession."
It wasn't a red carpet welcome into the world of movies. Chopra began by balancing his Punjabi film assignments with a day job in the circulation department of a leading newspaper in Bombay. "I must have juggled at least 10-12 films with the job till it became impossible."
Prem Chopra and Rishi Kapoor in Bobby
After the initial struggle, it was the National Award-winning Punjabi film Chaudhary Karnail Singh (1960) that trained the spotlight on him. This was followed by the Hindi film, Hum Hindustani the same year, which had Sunil Dutt and Joy Mukherjee as co-actors. Initially eyeing positive roles, including that in Manoj Kumar's award-winning Shaheed (1965), he later switched to negative roles when he realised that playing the baddie could keep him going for long. Chopra broke into the big league of baddies after the wild success of Teesri Manzil (1966).
When Raj Kapoor approached Chopra for Bobby (1971), he was already an established actor. Kapoor's wife Krishna and Chopra's wife Uma are sisters. "Initially, I had reservations about doing the film as it was not a big role, but Rajji insisted I do it. I later relented. This was the film that gave me my most iconic dialogue, 'Prem naam hai mera, Prem Chopra.' I would have regretted had I not done the film," says Chopra of the role.
What set the veteran actor apart from his contemporaries was that he didn't resort to theatrics to drive home the evil. "It was always pure acting," he says. Chopra has seen several of his peers quit years ago. "But then, it was my goal to keep going. I worked hard, avoided politics and steered clear of controversies. This has been my success mantra."
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