Writer-director of India’s first animation movie, yesteryear child artiste JUGAL HANSRAJ is ready with his latest kids’ novel, The Coward and The Sword (to be published by HarperCollins). Based in the US for last two years, the Masoom actor talks to SAURABH TANKHA about being a good storyteller, missing Bollywood arc-lights and working with stalwarts of Hindi cinema as a kid
What is our one-time superstar child artiste doing in the US these days?
Ha! ha! I’m not sure if the word superstar can be used in my context but, of course, I’m writing. Besides that I’m anchoring a weekly television show (which is currently on hold due to the pandemic) and also working on creatively developing a series of an OTT platform. I also had an acting and another direction project lined up which will now mostly happen in the second half of next year.
My first professional assignment for writing was when I wrote the story, screenplay and dialogue of my first film as director of Roadside Romeo. I then ventured into writing a novel for children
When did writing happen to you?
I was always interested in writing. As a child, I would write out stories in my vacations. My first professional assignment for writing was when I wrote the story, screenplay and dialogue of my first film as director of Roadside Romeo. That film went on to win three National Awards. I then ventured into writing a novel for children, Cross Connection, which came out in December 2017. That was my first published work as author. I really enjoyed that process and thought about writing another one.
What made you choose children’s fiction as a genre?
After having made Roadside Romeo which was produced by Walt Disney Pictures and Yash Raj Films and was India’s first animation film, I wrote out a script for my second animation film which was also to be produced by them. Due to reasons beyond our control, it didn’t happen. Some years later, I thought about converting that script into a novel for kids. It got published and was appreciated. That encouraged me to write another novel for young readers and that’s how The Coward and The Sword came about.
Don’t you think it is time we help our kids migrate from fictional tales of kings and fairies and introduce them to a more realistic and scientific world?
It is very important to introduce them not only to a realistic and scientific world but also good moral values. But these things can be introduced to them through engaging stories that interest them. We must not forget whom we are writing for. One can weave moral values and scientific thinking both into imaginative stories that are more engaging to young readers as compared to textbook style books about facts. The stories, therefore, become a medium by which one can inform and educate them in an entertaining way. Learning things can also be fun in this way!
Any author who inspired you to write?
There’s a wide variety of authors whose works I love and have inspired me, from PG Wodehouse to Bill Bryson and JRR Tolkein to JK Rowling. But if I had to name one, then the biggest inspiration would have to be Daisaku Ikeda. His stories for children have been most inspiring.
It is very important to introduce kids not only to a realistic and scientific world but also good moral values. But these things can be introduced to them through engaging stories that interest them
What is that one thing which is the most important part of a book?
The ‘reason’ to actually write out that book. What is it about the idea, what is the real reason you as a writer want to take the effort to write out that particular story as opposed to any other one. That initial idea, that actual point of the book, that reason then becomes the theme of the story.
The word “creative” to you means…
Freedom. The freedom to create, inspire and be inspired, the freedom to let your mind go to places you wouldn’t normally allow it be it through performance, music, writing, art or whatever form your creativity takes.
What does it take to be a good storyteller?
I would think that would be to have a child like quality (by that I don’t mean a childish quality). Like, as kids, we look on everything with a sense of enthusiasm and wonder, everything seems new and every journey is an exploration. To me that’s the same while writing. Having a childlike wonder and excitement about where your story will go next, what your characters will do next. It’s a journey of exploration as much as it is about creativity.
I do enjoy acting and directing films and am open to both so no doors have been closed on my part. Films are an intrinsic part of me
Do you miss Bollywood arc-lights? Any plans to write a movie sometime soon?
I do enjoy acting and directing films and am open to both so no doors have been closed on my part. Films are an intrinsic part of me as Masoom happened when I was nine. I actually began facing the camera for print ads at the age of two. I have already written a film which I also directed but yes, I would love to write another film soon.
From a child actor in 1983 to a lead actor in 1996 to a writer-director of India’s first animation film in 2008 to an author in 2017. How has Jugal Hansraj seen himself change and evolved over these last nearly four decades?
I’ve tried to constantly keep moving and exploring new avenues so there’s been a lot of growth and evolution over the years. Definitely a lot of maturity not only in age but also in my thinking now as opposed to when I started off. I’m constantly learning through every process and it is the learning that makes everything so enjoyable. As the saying goes – ‘a rolling stone gathers no moss.’ 🙂
What were the learnings from your debut movie with stalwarts of Indian cinema, Naseeruddin Shah and Shabana Azmi?
To be on a film set with such stalwarts as Naseeruddin Shah, Shabana Azmi, Shekhar Kapur, Gulzar and RD Burman was something I will never forget
It was a great experience. To be on a film set with such stalwarts as Naseeruddin Shah, Shabana Azmi, Shekhar Kapur, Gulzar and RD Burman was something I will never forget. I was too young then but just by being around such an amazing array of people was definitely a learning experience. To see the actors preparing for each scene, to see how Shekhar handled us kids so patiently, and extracting such performances from each one of us came in handy when I turned director.
Does it happen that if you do not get meatier roles, plump assignments or people do not invite you to their parties, immaterial of the fact whether you are an “insider or outsider”, a feeling of insecurity seeps in and there are chances you get into a phase of depression?
The film industry is definitely a tough place to be in as fortunes change so quickly and there are so many public ups and downs. About parties, it depends on what you give importance to. I’ve never felt the need to feel validated about myself only if I’m invited to certain parties. It doesn’t really matter to me. It’s just a party. If I’m invited and like the people that might be there then I’d go for it, if I don’t like the people there then I’ll avoid and if I’m not invited, it’s even better as I don’t have to bother myself with making that decision. It’s as simple as that.
I was once given a very sage piece of advice from Mr Dilip Kumar himself with whom I had acted in a film. He said: Be in the industry yet be out of it
Yes, one does go through bouts of insecurities but it’s the same in any creative field or rather in any profession anywhere. The main thing is to keep a level head, accept what is happening and keep moving. Having other interests in life also helps making one a well-rounded personality rather than everything being about what’s happening in the film world.
I was once given a very sage piece of advice from Mr Dilip Kumar himself with whom I had acted in a film. He said: Be in the industry yet be out of it. Words I’ve really lived by.
How has the lockdown period treated you?
It’s a tough and anxious time for everyone around the world and I’m no different. It’s definitely made me even more patient than I already am! But I’ve tried to stay positive through it. In fact I used the first couple of months of the lockdown to complete my final revision of my novel, The Coward and The Sword. Having so much time on hand helped me in that regard!