He has all the trappings of the perfect catch: he loves adventure sports, believes in the idea of unconditional love and has even set up an NGO that looks after elderly women. Bollywood’s dishy singleton Neil Nitin Mukesh chats with Farhad J Dadyburjor about why he’s not in favour of a live-in relationship, his unknown split personality and the reason he’s never chased the ‘star’ tag.
While every newbie in Bollywood today blatantly uses his PR machinery to build himself up into a star and dreams of breaking into the R100-crore club to enter the pantheon of demigods, Neil Nitin Mukesh took on his first film with a very different objective. “The day I was offered Johnny Gaddaar I was also offered another love story by the same producer, and I came back and told myself, ‘Neil, this is the moment when you have to sit down and be true to yourself. There is a chance that you might not succeed or you might succeed. If you do the love story, you might become the next chocolate boy and a star. But if Johnny Gaddaar works, you will be respected as an actor for all your life.’ So I thought very hard about this because there are many guys who come here to become stars, but I really wanted to respect the reason that I wanted to be a part of this profession and that was to be an actor,” says Neil. “You know, a lot of stars take time to get the actor tag attached to them; I worked right from the beginning towards it. Today I might not be that big a star, but I am definitely respected as an actor,” he admits candidly.
In his choice of roles, he veers towards the unconventional. Sure, he’s done his fair share of run-of-the-mill action thrillers, but there’s also been New York, 7 Khoon Maaf, David and Jail, the last which caused much controversy with its nudity and masturbation scene. “I’ve always pushed the boundaries and I always will. I’m not scared of trying and experimenting. I’m not in the race for the position of number 1, number 2...,” states Neil. “All I’m here for is to get into my craft and to make sure that I work enough that my family is happy. Happiness is not limited to the amount of money you make or the position you have, it’s about the smaller things in life,” he says, philosophically. Coming from a family of renowned playback singers of Hindi films (his father is Nitin Mukesh and his grandfather is the legendary singer Mukesh), Neil was sure by the age of three that he wanted to be an actor. “By four I had done a film called Vijay and by five I had starred in Jaisi Karni Waisi Bharni. By then I already knew what my grandfather used to do as a profession but I kept arguing with my grandmother that ‘you’re lying to me, it’s not my grandfather it’s Raj Kapoor who is actually singing all the songs in the film’,” laughs Neil. “Finally, when I did these films that’s when I got a taste of playback singing, where I had to just move my lips to a song that was playing and I immediately understood what it was all about.”
Neil says it’s the atmosphere on the sets that had him mesmerised from the word go. “I very clearly remember the first day of my shoot at the age of four. I was being directed by the late Yash Chopra and was playing junior Rishi Kapoor (in Vijay) and walking on the sets with those lines and hearing ‘action’, ‘cut’, ‘take’...there was always something to do. And ever since I’ve been a kid I’ve been somebody who’s quite restless. I don’t like sitting in one place, I always like to be on the go. I like to jump around.”
Neil likes to keep the adrenaline pumping, a quality of his that’s been put to much use in the crazy daredevil stunts he’s done—whether it was jumping off nine floors in Aa Dekhen Zara or running in front of a speeding car in New York. “That was really crazy. I even got injured a little bit.” Not surprisingly, he’s taken to adventure sports like a fish to water. “I love it! From rock climbing to bungee jumping to dirt biking, I love all of that. It comes quite naturally. Unfortunately our country doesn’t have too many opportunities for it so I usually do it when I travel abroad...” says Neil, pausing suddenly. “There are a few things that I’m not allowed to do because my father’s petrified.” Family has always played a very important role in Neil’s life, and that’s the sort of life he would like to lead. “I’m not too open to the whole live-in relationship idea. I’m quite orthodox in my thinking and upbringing. I stay with my parents and always will—it’s my duty as a son to look after them, especially as they are ageing,” explains Neil. “I definitely do believe in relationships though. I believe that it’s important for everyone to be in a relationship, it’s very healthy. And I completely believe in the institution of marriage—provided she’s ready,” he chuckles.
Currently single, Neil laughs off the rumours linking him to Sonal Chauhan. “No no, we were co-stars in a film and that was all. When two single stars are doing a film that’s what happens.”
So for all the women who are already queuing up, what’s the quickest way to woo him? “Just be yourself. The one thing that really puts me off are fake people or put-ons. I am so attracted to people who are real, who are themselves, there’s a natural beauty to them.”
He says he’s a die-hard romantic. “For me, love is just unconditional. I know it’s a very convenient word, a word that’s used far too often and it’s difficult to define. It doesn’t mean ‘no questions asked’; love has to just exist. For me, love is as simple as the fact that she just loves me...it’s as beautiful as that,” states Neil.
In fact however busy he might be, Neil always finds time for a project that’s close to his heart—an NGO he’s set up to help needy women. “Initially we used to help elderly and aged women through friends and organisations, but now I want to get personally involved. I was very close to my grandmom. I loved her tremendously and I always felt that luckily she had us, but what about those people who are just left to lead their life. It hurts me that they take care of us their whole life and when we grow up and start earning, we decide to just leave them when they need us the most,” he says emotionally.
With two releases on the anvil, a love story called Ishqeria and an action thriller called Dussehra, is there one thing that nobody knows about him? “I’m like a split personality,” he laughs. “I am extremely mature when I have to take a decision that requires maturity, but on the other hand I am completely a baby at heart. So while I come across onscreen as this action guy who does all these stunts, actually I’m just the kid who loves jumping around the house.”
This article first appeared in February 2014 issue of Hi! BLITZ magazine
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