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Everywhere I go, people call me Pradhan ji: Raghubir Yadav on ‘Panchayat’ success

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New Delhi, June 12: Almost four decades after his first film, more since his debut on stage and numerous small screen appearances later, veteran actor Raghubir Yadav says Panchayat has taken his success to the next level with people recognising him as “Pradhan ji” wherever he goes.

“As if what I have done in the past is forgotten. I am Pradhan ji,” Yadav, one of the most prominent faces of the parallel cinema and theatre movement whose career arc spans decades and mediums, told PTI.

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The adulation after Panchayat, which revolves around the everyday struggles of people in an Uttar Pradesh village and is currently in its third season, also worries him. The OTT show has reintroduced him to audiences as the beloved and a little befuddled Pradhan ji, always looking to improve the lives of the people of his village.

“Everywhere I go, people call me Pradhan ji. Right now, I am shooting in Varanasi and people are wondering what is Pradhan ji doing amongst us,” he said in the phone interview from Varanasi.
The 66-year-old acknowledges the enormous success of the OTT show but is also wary of making too much of it in case it affects his performance.

“I will take it in only after there are no more seasons left. Right now, I just worry about the quality of the show. I don’t want to be too happy or sad,” he said. “The characters shown in the series were the kind of people I grew up with or met them during my Parsi theatre days. There was a simplicity and ease to life that is still inherent in our villages. That’s what the series has managed to translate without much artifice,” Yadav said.

He grew up in one such village in Madhya Pradesh’s Jabalpur district. Ranjhi didn’t even have a school but was steeped in melody. He would sing film songs in local functions and perform bhajans in the temple built by his maternal grandfather. And that’s how he started dreaming of a career in music.

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“Sometimes your wishes pave the way for you. I joined a Parsi theatre company run by (actor) Annu Kapoor’s father and worked there for six years. I would get Rs 2.50 daily and I count it among my best days. I would often go hungry but it taught me so much. Thodi takleef na ho to maza nahi aata,” he said.

From the Parsi theatre in Madhya Pradesh, Yadav went on to study in Delhi’s National School of Drama where he stayed for 13 years as part of the repertory company, honing his talents as an actor and also singer.

“Since childhood, I don’t get too happy or sad about things. What people call a struggle, I believe is just motivation to work hard,” he said.

Recalling his student years in NSD, where Panchayat co-star Neena Gupta was his junior, Yadav recalled that Ebrahim Alkazi, then director of the drama school, asked him to choose his specialisation and he responded by saying he wanted to learn everything.

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“And that’s how I came into stagecraft. All the students warned me that you will have to labour a lot but I went ahead with it. It has helped me a lot in acting. I never need any cues or the mark. I know where to stand, when to stop and how much distance there should be between co-actors while performing.”

“I have a small workshop at home and when I am not doing anything, I craft little things like flutes and stuff. I also sometimes pick up the broom and clean the house or get into the kitchen. I find it therapeutic,” he added.

Gupta, who plays his on-screen wife Manju Devi in “Panchayat”, recently posted a picture of their youth which was circulated widely. Yadav said it feels surreal that their life has brought them to this moment.

“We did many plays together and while working on the show we realised we have travelled such a long distance and still are like family to each other. That’s how we behave when we are working on the show. This is a picture from when she was in NSD and I was in the repertory. That photo made us realise the journey we have had. That experience now reflects on our faces,” he said.

Acting, said the Mumbai-based artiste who first came to notice with Massey Sahib and the Doordarshan serial Mungeri Lal Ke Haseen Sapne, is a constant process of learning.

“The field of arts and culture is like an ocean. You can never have enough. If I am honest, I feel one lifetime is too short for it. There is so much to do for everyone. I feel I should learn the best I can and maybe I can excel in my next life because one life is not enough,” he said.

From playing Mungerilal, the day-dreaming protagonist of “Mungerilal…” to Pradhanji in Panchayat, it has been an interesting journey. The film debut came with Pradip Krishen’s Massey Sahib. And it has been quality over quantity for him ever since.

Yadav has also featured in acclaimed films such as Salaam Bombay!, Suraj Ka Satvan Ghoda, Dharavi, Maya Memsaab, Bandit Queen and Saaz. Then there were commercial outings, including Dil Se.., Lagaan, Dilli 6, Peepli Live or Piku, Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar and the latest Kathal.

His television outings have been equally impressive whether it was Mungerilal Ke Haseen Sapne or the Chacha Chowdhary of the beloved comic book adaptation. That’s not counting his theatre years and the music work that he has done over the years.

Not all the film roles were to his liking. It was challenging to say no to movies that were of inferior quality but came with attractive pay cheques, he said. However, he always felt he should stay true to his craft, he said.

“I always feel that I shouldn’t be doing something that does not feel right. You may earn money in the short term but what will you do after that. I come from theatre and understand the joy that comes from playing varied characters. In the other kind of work, you are playing the same character with different outfits after a point,” he said.

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