“I learn from everyone”
Shekhar Suman opens up to Rishi Rathod about improving through self-effort, keeping the ego in place, and dealing with the loss of his beloved 11-year-old son to heart disease
After changing the schedule a couple of times, I finally got the chance to interview Shekhar Suman at his residence at Lokhandwala in Andheri, Mumbai. The area is known as a place of abode for many TV and film personalities. As I entered his house, I could feel a distinct difference from the outside world. While, outside, it burnt with scorching October heat and noisy traffic, inside, the peace and quietude was disturbed only by the occasional chirping of birds. The walls were covered in a pastel shade of mint green, over which hung paintings and artefacts in contrasting colours, creating a subtle dance of creativity and play. On my right was an open balcony with two chairs that overlooked the green mangroves merging with the distant horizon. The entire place was picturesque.
Suddenly, I could feel footsteps rushing down the stairs, and before I could get up, Shekhar was up close, shaking hands with me. I was pleasantly surprised to see that he had the body of a professional bodybuilder, the energy and enthusiasm of a youth, and the charisma of an icon; yet, he was extremely down to earth. I was overwhelmed but somehow gathered myself and commenced the interview.
I have been watching you for years and could not help but think that you are always working on yourself. It’s not easy and I am sure you have encountered difficulties. How you do you manage or deal with them?
I have encountered every possible roadblock that a human being can ever imagine. Roadblocks and impediments are part of life. No matter what you want to do, a couple of deterrents are already waiting for you. I guess one has to have the mindset: “I will cross all roadblocks. I may slow down, but I will never stop.” It’s like encountering a speed breaker while driving. You slow down but then you go over it and pick up speed later on. Life is full of hurdles. It is not a bed of roses as people think it to be, and when they look at celebrities— people who have made it—they always look at the end results. They don’t see the means, they don’t see the trials and tribulations that have gone with it. I guess I come from a family that believes in perseverance, diligence, determination, and focus. I always keep these things in mind and they keep me going.
People start believing in their projections, especially celebrities, but you seem to have a good head on your shoulders.
I think it largely and squarely depends on the kind of upbringing you have had. If you have a family that is grounded and level-headed, you are likely to follow suit. You are taught to be humble because everything is transient in this world. People who walk around with swollen heads either take their success for granted or are delusional, thinking that their success is everlasting. I guess it is very important to be grounded, to be human first. I come from a simple middle-class family, and I have retained the values that my parents taught me. Apart from this, your schooling, your friends, and the company you keep are very instrumental in shaping your character. I have seen the mightiest ones fall, so there is no point in being proud of your achievements. You should be happy to have inspired others. But I don’t think one needs to take it too seriously, that ‘it is my success,’ ‘I’m a celebrity.’ I don’t think I am a celebrity. Since I am in the glamour business, I am seen on the screen and everywhere else. I am recognised, but I am as much a celebrity as you are because you probably have a talent that I don’t have. So that makes you a bigger celebrity than me. If you think like that then probably all these things don’t matter.
In the world of glamour, where there are phenomenal highs and equally depressing lows, it is difficult to remain centred or grounded. You seem to be pretty cool with it.
I think it’s important to remember your failures and be on ground zero. You saw what happened to the twin towers? They were standing tall; somebody came and decimated them. No matter how tall you are, you have to remember that you started from ground zero. I think the ship sails more smoothly when it is anchored. There is a saying “Empty vessels make the most noise.” However, a full vessel will be still and calm. I learn from people around me. I have seen super-achievers who don’t utter a word about their achievements because when talent speaks for itself, you don’t have to shout from the rooftops “I am the best. I have arrived. I am a star.” These things don’t mean anything. These epithets may please you for a while but must not be taken seriously.
You spoke about remaining grounded and humble on the way to stardom. I am sure you can give us a few examples of such personalities whom you have personally encountered.
You will be surprised if I say somebody like Dilip Kumar. The fact that he chose to do one film in two years speaks volumes about his patience, his understanding of his craft, his understanding of life, and the fact that there’s no point in just being part of the crowd. In Hindi, they say, “Goonj nahi banna hai; awaaz banni hai, ek swar banna hai.” (We don’t have to become echoes; we have to become a voice, a melody). I think he understood clearly that he doesn’t have to run with the rest. In a way, it is a therapeutic and meditative experience because when you have control over your thoughts, you don’t want to follow suit. Then it makes you a cut above the rest.
I have learnt from Mr Amitabh Bachchan too. Despite having achieved so much, he has never said, “I have great qualities in me. I am the best. I am here to last. I am a superstar.” As a matter of fact, every time you meet him, you feel that he cringes when you mention these words. He is modesty personified. Other than these two, there are millions of people around me: my parents, my friends, great teachers, Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, and all the historical figures who have exercised restraint, and who have been my guiding light.
Your language skills are superb—English as well as Hindi. Have you always been good with languages or have you worked your way towards it?
There is a lot of effort that goes behind being effortless. The trick is that the effort should not show. I think every talent is God-gifted, but you have to work on it to perfect it. I have an affinity for languages, whether it is Hindi, Urdu, or English. Hindi mein humare log kahte the ki jaise juban khulti hai aapki, log samaj jate hai ki aap kitne paani mein hai, kitna padha likha hai, kitna sabhya aur kitna asabhya hai. (In Hindi, it is said that the moment you open your mouth, people come to know of your depth, your education, and how civilised you are). No matter how good you look and how well you dress, your real worth becomes evident as soon as you open your mouth. So communication skills are important. Phonetics, semantics, inflexion, and pronunciation are a matter of great importance because that’s how we communicate. I think that when you are communicating, whether it is French or Spanish or Italian or any language, you should be proficient at it. There is a saying: “It’s better to keep your mouth shut and let people imagine that you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”
Usually, actors do have some mentor or spiritual guru who keep them anchored in the reality of life. Do you follow any guru or any spiritual practice?
No, not anyone specifically, I learn from everyone. You don’t have to be a guru to teach. I think you can learn from anybody who has a special talent or a special thing to say about life. Whether it is from a newspaper or a magazine, the lady behind the camera, or even you who is interviewing me, I can always pick up something. I keep my eyes open, and I am forever learning. So, I think life is my guru. I meet different kinds of people with different experiences who teach me a lot, but yes, I also listen to philosophers and gurus. If I feel a particular philosophy is going to change my life, I absorb it, assimilate it, and make it a part of my life.
We know about your personal tragedy. It must have been extremely painful to deal with and overcome the situation.
I think that’s a very deep, dark, and tragic corner of my life that I would not like to talk about, but I lost my elder son to heart disease when he was just 11. He suffered from one of the rarest heart diseases in the world. Suddenly, we discovered one day, that he was terminally ill. That he was going to go. From that time onwards till today, I have not been able to come to terms with life, but the bigger tragedy is that you have to live your life. There are other responsibilities that you have. You have parents, you have one of the two sons, and life has to go on. So we have learnt to live with the sweet memory of Ayush, which ironically means the one with a long life. I thought I would never be able to recover from that tragedy. It haunts me every single day, every single moment. I have never been able to get over it, but I try hard. I try to be with my family, give them as much happiness as I can, and that has kept me sort of anchored. I wouldn’t wish this tragedy on my worst enemy. But it’s He (God) who decides everything. I have to take it with a lot of dignity because I am not the only one that has gone through this tragedy. When you see things from this perspective, things look different. “I used to crib about my pinching shoes till I saw a man with no feet.”
Duniya mein kitna gam hai, mera gam kitna kam hai,
Auro ka gam dekha to, mein apna gam bhul gaya
(The world has so much suffering, my suffering is so insignificant;
When I saw the suffering of others, I forgot my own suffering.)
This pain is not worth forgetting, and it will go with me when I leave this body. But I would like to tell those reading this that we are all helpless in the hands of God’s will. If He has given this pain, for whatever reason, so be it. Whoever is born has to die one day. Some die sooner and others later. Whoever you loved and is no more, try to remember them. They have only left the physical body but remain in front of you and live with you. You can even feel them.
I feel my little baby has gone to the heavens and has become my Guardian Angel. He is guiding me at every step. Whenever I am in trouble, have a dilemma, or feel that I am going wrong somewhere, I just look up and ask him for help; so he is there as my son, as my father.
You mean he answers your questions and you get clarity?
Yes, I do. I talk to him every day. I feel that he is around; I can see him at times standing and smiling at all of us. So I try and remember all the good moments that I spent with him. God gave us the strength to go all the way as parents, and whatever we could do, we did. I tell people that if such a thing happens to them, then hang on to your strength. Better moments are about to come. If you live with their beautiful memories then they are going to be there with you, till you live. I am indebted to my wife for standing by me like the rock of Gibraltar and giving me the strength to accept the tragedy and that he is no more. But he is still there, so, I would like to tell people to not be afraid of tragedies. It can happen to anybody, and you are not the only one. It’s the way God has probably thought how the world should function, and in his own sweet way, He is trying to tell you something. Try and understand that. Try and speak to your loved ones when they are there and even when they are not there. It will bring you a lot of solace.
We see you as an anchor and actor who makes people laugh, but you seem to have borne and continue to bear so much pain.
That’s what I said right at the beginning that what you see is not what the truth is. We are here to perform our roles, and it should not be confused with our real self or our real-life persona. Acting is just my talent, my craft, that you see on television. As an actor, I am supposed to do what I am asked to do, but beyond that, it has got nothing to do with the way I am. So a lot of people initially thought that because of comedy shows like Movers and Shakers, The Laughter Show, The Comedy Circus, my life was all fun; but it is far from it. As a matter of fact, if you ask me, comedy is the last thing on my mind.
So, what do you prefer as an actor? Philosophy or drama?
Yes, philosophy, drama, and romance. Two roles which I played recently on stage are of poet Sahir Ludhianvi and writer Manto. These are the kind of roles I associate with and like to play. Something that is more cerebral, more emotional, even dark, because I feel that the darker side of your life is the real side. As I said, life is full of tragedies, struggles, impediments, deterrence, roadblocks, and you know, you may appear very happy and one should be happy, but life is just not a bed of roses.
About Shekhar Suman
Shekhar Suman is an Indian actor, anchor, producer, and director, who debuted with the popular serial Wah Janaab! and then went on to feature in several shows like Dekh Bhai Dekh, Movers n Shakers, Simply Shekhar, Carry On Shekhar, and also hosted The Great Indian Comedy Show on Star One. Not only this, he was one of the judges of The Great Indian Laughter Challenge along with Navjot Singh Sidhu. He has acted in several movies like Naache Mayuri, Sansar, Tridev, Ranbhoomi, Chor Machaaye Shor, and Ek Se Badhkar Ek. He has won The Best Actor Aashirwad Award for the television serial Ek Raja Ek Rani. He also won the Best Anchor Award for Movers And Shakers at the 1st ITA Awards and the Best Anchor Award for Carry on Shekhar at the 3rd Indian Telly Awards. He even directed a movie titled Heartless in 2014, in which he stars with his son Adhyayan Suman playing the lead role. His 2017 acting venture includes the action thriller film Bhoomi, directed by Omung Kumar, which is a revenge story starring Sanjay Dutt and Aditi Rao Hydari in the lead roles.
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