Jameel Khan on his journey and why 'Gullak' speaks to middle class Indians: It evokes nostalgia

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Jameel Khan

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New Delhi: "Gullak" star Jameel Khan still remembers his father's words when they argued over a white lie the elder Khan had told when he was young. And they were: "You won't be able to make it in business." What he did not know at the time was that his father's words would turn out to be prophetic and he would go on to chart a different course in Mumbai, far away from the family's thriving carpet business in Bhadohi, Uttar Pradesh.

Interestingly, he found fame while playing Santosh Mishra, a middle class patriarch in popular SonyLIV series "Gullak", which the actor says reflects the upbringing he and many in India have received.

"There are many people of my age, who come from lower middle class and have made a mark for themselves, for whom the show evokes a sense of nostalgia... It's a show written with a lot of love, served with a lot of love," Khan told PTI in an interview.

"We are in season four and it is on par with the previous seasons, if not higher. That's the love of the audience, they have related so wonderfully with the show," the actor said about the TVF-produced show that revolves around the daily life of the Mishra family, living in a nondescript Uttar Pradesh city.

Khan was born in an upper middle-class business family from Bhadohi, home to the largest hand-knotted carpet weaving industry hub in South Asia. Much like everyone else in the town, his father was also in the same business, specialising in Persian designs. He describes it as a "simple but happy and privileged background".

Recalling the argument with his father, the actor said, "We had a carpet business and we used to live right above the workshop. One day, a worker came and told my father that some sahab was asking for him... My father asked the worker to say that he wasn't at home. As soon as he left, I asked him 'Why did you lie?'" His father brushed off the incident as a business matter but the actor stuck to his guns. "No, you lied!" he had said.

"My father then explained why he had to do so for the sake of business. But I was still not convinced. He then said with a laugh that 'Tumse jo hai na, business nahin ho payega life mein' ('You won't be able to do business in life'). For me, it was either black or white." Khan, who did his schooling from Nainital's Sherwood College and completed his graduation from Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and masters from University of Mumbai, said whatever he has achieved in life is because of his parents and their upbringing, which gave him a strong sense of morality.

The shift to Mumbai came as a culture shock for the actor.

"Raising one's voice is something that's frowned upon in our house. No abusive language or 'tu-tadak' (informal) at all. Then, I came to Bombay, which is culturally a very different place. So, (I would be shocked) when people would refer to me using words like 'tu' or 'tum'... But I understood that's how the language is here. I speak to my children using 'aap'... I feel everybody deserves respect whether they are younger or junior to you," he said.

For many viewers who love "Gullak", he is Santosh Mishra, the affable, honest father stuck in a dead-end government job. But the 49-year-old's career is filled with several milestones, whether it's his feature debut with Sanjay Leela Bhansali's "Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam" in 1999, "Baby" or his small but memorable role in "Gangs of Wasseypur", directed by Anurag Kashyap.

Khan credits his love for theatre for leading him to Mumbai, where he found a window into the entertainment world through veteran actor Naseeruddin Shah's theatre group Motley.

"I did many plays with them, two of my favourites are 'Manto Ismat Haazir Hain' and 'Katha Collage', which changed my life. People got to know about Jameel Khan, the actor, through this play and from there I was cast in films, advertisements and for voiceovers." There was a gap after "Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam" for the actor because he was doing theatre passionately.

"I used to ignore films thinking I'll take one up only when it's a good one and on my terms. I'll do theatre first, then films. Theatre was my first priority. When I got married, I realised I had to shoulder responsibilities, so I could no longer ignore films. I had to earn money. I started doing more films and then OTT happened." Then came "Gangs of Wasseypur". Working with director Anurag Kashyap was another experience for Khan, who said he got "a lot of scope to play" while essaying the role of Asghar Khan, the sworn cousin of Manoj Bajpayee's Sardar Khan.

There are many breakout performances for the actor across mediums, "Gullak" being the latest.

"In films, there was this very lovely indie film called 'Loins of Punjab'. There was this paint commercial, 'Waah Sunil Babu, naya ghar, nayi gadi, nayi Mrs, badhiya hai'. These are those milestones that will be remembered, then there was the ad 'Shauq badi cheez hai'.

"Then, 'Baby', 'Gangs of Wasseypur', 'Ram-Leela'... And, now 'Gullak' has been a milestone since 2019 because it's there constantly in public memory. The reach of OTT is really wide. That's also why it's a breakout performance."

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