By Subhash K Jha
MUMBAI: Comic virtuoso Ali Asgar has been a part of the television industry for 27 years,and still going strong…and how!
Ali’s tipsy Daadi act in Comedy Nights With Kapil is an incredible hit with viewers across the age-barrier. In a conversation with Subhash K Jha he discusses his comedic journey.
Your Daadi is a scene-stealer. How much of it is improvised?
It’s almost 60 percent improvised. The nuances of the character were worked out by me. I wanted to create a Daadi that audiences had never seen before and not the long-suffering coughing , cooking., sewing matriarch we’re used to. Har Daadi potey ka mooh dekhkar marna chahti hai. This Daadi takes on her grandson like a man.
So where did this Daadi come from?
I’ve modelled Daadi from my Maasi, my mother’s sister. Though my Maasi is not a boozard. But that unstoppable gusto and the tireless spirit is the same. I remember when I was very young and I’d be just loitering, my Maasi would creep up on me and say, ‘Kya kar raha hai?’ I’d say, ‘Chocolate kha raha hoon.’ She’d retort, ‘Paagal hai? Yeh umr hai teri cigarette peene ki.’ She’d look for lipstick marks on my shirt and taunt me if there were none. I remember I was doing a film Shikari with director Rajiv Mehra. My Maasi told me, ‘Arrey, what a handsome man he is. I wish my husband was like that!’ Maasi isn’t a loose-character woman. She is just so feisty.
You play Daadi without changing your voice?
All her glands and hormones are fully on alert. I didn’t want her voice or her body-language to be frail. That would have come across as caricatural. If I did a female voice, audiences would be distracted by it. We tried to make her more feminine. But it didn’t work out. On twitter people comment against Daadi’s rough behaviour. But that’s okay. They don’t spare Shahrukh and Bhai (Salman) either.
How do your kids react to Daadi?
I was totally opposed to playing Daadi because of my kids. During my drag-act on Comedy Circus one day my 9-year old son taunted me saying, ‘Aapko aur kuch nahin aata?’ I had to explain to him that my work was sacred to me, that as an actor I’ve to play every character including women. But he was too young to understand. Then even my mother and wife objected .So I gave up playing woman character for my family specially my son’s sake.
How were you convinced about doing Daadi?
Kapil Sharma and the Colors channel executives said , ‘Kar lo Bhai’. This was not the usual drag act. We made sure Daadi was Asgar Ali first then a woman. I am also working in Jeannie Aur Junu as a man. So I don’t have to be playing a woman constantly.
How has Daadi made a difference to your career?
Initially I had no time to understand the character’s impact.I was traveling back and forth from my home to studio with little time to understand what was going on. Then the messages started coming in. Preeti from Kapil’s K9 Production also informed me of how popular Daadi was getting. But then on the Ganesh Visarjan day I was caught in the visarjan traffic on a flyover. They spotted me from a truck. They got down and surrounded my car. They looked a little drunk.I was scared. They asked me to get down from the car.I was petrified. But when I came out, they did my tikka and said, ‘Ganpati bappa maurya. Daadi ki jai ho.’
Ali, you’ve been a part of the home-viewing experience from the time of Doordarshan!
Ha ha. I’ve never stopped to think of my journey. There is a hunger inside me to just go on doing work.I’ve been working from the time today’s generation.I started working at the age of 15.I was called called for Vivek Mushran role in Saudagar. But I ended up playing the young Anupam Kher instead. Such is fate.
When you are pitched against superstars who are not half as talented as you, don’t you feel frustrated?
Aisa hota hai,jee. But I remember when I had done the film Joru Ka Ghulam with one of our finest actors Govinda, I was called a scene-stealer…Maybe I haven’t marketed myself properly .Mera vasool hai kaam karo aur ghar jaao. I did my first serial Ek Do Teen Chaar in 1987. To this day I haven’t got a single photo-session done. I remember reading Dharamji often saying he doesn’t know how to market himself. Agar Dharmaji yeh sochte hain toh main kaun hoon?
Are you lazy about marketing yourself?
Certainly not. I am very focused about my work. I don’t party and I don’t drink. I am the only actor in my entire clan. I come from a family of Irani restaurateur. My grandfather’s restaurant Bharat Restaurant is still there.
But your Daadi is a sloshed all the time?
Sir, that’s called acting. Please do a DNA test on me. You won’t find a drop of alcohol in my life.People close to me have destroyed their lives by drinking.So I stayed away.
You do terrific impersonation of Dharamji. Has any star ever objected to your impersonation?
Never. God has been kind. Just imagine when Sunny Deol had come on Comedy Nights With Kapil everyone was scared of how he would react to the jokes. But he came up to me and said, ‘Aap meri pappi loge show mein?’ Shah Rukh, Salman Bhai they’ve all been sporting.
But Salman didn’t allow your Daadi the shagun ki pappi?
That’s because Bhai has a phobia about men in drag. He doesn’t allow men dressed as women any physical contact. The same had happened when I visited Bigg Boss as Daadi. I could’ve insisted on giving him the pappi. But he’s so childlike in his objection. I didn’t have the heart to force Daadi’s paapi on Bhai. I respected his need to draw a line. As an actor even I have my Laxman Rekha.
Any more ambitions?
I’d like to have my own show. Comedy Nights With Kapil has given me me a lot and added success. By God’s grace I’ve never had to struggle. The opportunities just kept flowing in. I did Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki for 8 ½ years. I am still in touch with the entire team.I am specially close to Saakshi Tanwar.She’s a lovely person.
After Daadi any role you’d like to play?
I’ve grown up watching Mehmood Saab. To me no actor is greater than Mehmood Saab. I idolize Dilip Kumar Saab.I am like his bachcha. But for me the ultimate is Mehmood,Mehmood and Mehmood.I’d love to do a television version of his film Kunwara Baap.My greatest moment was when I worked with Mehmood Saab in a film Dushman Duniya Ka.
How was the experience?
He is the only actor who left me speechless. For the first ten days I’d just stare at him open-mouthed to see how he looked, unka naak kaisa hai, kaan kaise hain, aankhen, baal, pet…From my childhood to this day if I want a stress-buster it’s a film starring Mehmood Saab. He is my greatest inspiration.
Any other comic idols?
Jerry Lewis. But Mehmood Saab is the ultimate. Like him, if I can bring a chuckle into people’s lives I am blessed.