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"Artist of the Millennium"

The Badshah of Blah-Blah

H
e has been called the badshah of bullshit, bakwas, bedlam, blah-blah, the king of kitsch. He has also been billed as the man who would be the Indian Jay Leno or even worse Jerry Springer. Viewers hate him - apparently a poll on a web site rated him as one of the most repugnant television artistes on TV - but yet they tune in to watch him as he comes on the small screen five late nights a week on what some call that wretched programme Movers & Shakers.

He makes celebrities do things they would not be caught doing dead on any other show. He puts inane questions to famous people who you would like to be grilled seriously and punnily. Grr..gnash. he moves you so bad you want to shake him up real good so that he does what you want. But, guess what, he continues doing exactly as he wants and sometimes you enjoy it.

Shekhar Suman may have got success late in life after struggling to make it in the harsh world of Bollywood. But he is sure is making up for lost time quickly. Tune into Sony you see him there. Tune into Star Plus he is very much there grinning away at you. Or even on staid old Doordarshan. Shekhar like God appears to be omnipresent - at least on television.

Born in a renowned Bihari family in Patna, Shekhar did his History honours from Delhi university, took his diploma in acting from the Shri Ram Centre in Delhi and later joined its repertory.

He was initially known as that wimpish actor who could not stand up against macho stars such as Dharmendra, Vinod Khanna, Amitabh Bachchan. He came down to Mumbai in the early eighties. He got his first break in Shashi Kapoor's epic Utsav where he played Charudatta opposite the sexy siren of those days Rekha and he and matched her in quite a few sensous and erotic scenes.

"Comedy is my forte. I like to make people laugh."


The film sank hurting Shashi Kapoor leaving him in debt for quite a while. According to Shekhar, his real struggle actually commenced after this though "The Mumbai industry was not yet geared to accept a hero in a classical mould. Circling trees and singing songs in black leather pants was the quintessential hero material," says Shekhar.

Despite acting in over 30 films, with some of the leading heroines of the time Shekhar's career graph remained static. Manav Hatya (Madhuri Dixit, 1986), Anubhav (Padmini Kolhapure, 1987), Jaan Pe Khel Kar (Juhi Chawla, 1988), Pati Parmeshwar (Sudha Chandran) (1989) were films that sank without a trace.

Shekhar was actually married at the tender age of 21, got his break at 22, became a Dad within a year, and two years later was labeled a flop film actor. The ups and downs of stardom to failuredom really hurt. "The responsibility of running a family was a cause for worry, but then I couldn't keep accepting ridiculous roles just for the sake of keeping myself going," he told a magazine.

For five years from 1989, he passed through turbulent times with his wife actually supporting the family through her dress designing business and Shekhar playing chauffeur in his battered Fiat.

And then further disaster struck. His elder son Aayush developed endocardio- myofibrosis which affects the heart's ability to pump blood. Aayush battled the ailment for a while but it was only a matter of time and the couple was shattered when he passed away. But what kept him going during that period was the fact that his second son Aadhyayan and wife Alka depended on him.

From the mid-90s the wheel of fortune turned. The small screen transformed him the wimp into a tiger. An artiste who proved his talent time and again. Jaya Bachchan's television sitcom Dekh Bhai Dekh exploited Shekhar's flair for the comic and made him popular. Vinod Pandey's Reporter, in which he played the role of an intrepid journalist, propelled him to stardom. The peak came in 1998 when Shekhar was Mr Television: he was in seven serials on a single day. On a Wednesday he would be seen in Dum Duma Dum at 11 a.m. on Zee TV, Kabhi Idhar Kabhi Udhar at 1.30 a.m. on Home TV, Amar Prem at 5 p.m. on Zee TV, Reporter at 6 p.m. on Star Plus, Geet Gata Chal at 7.30 p.m. on Zee, Dekh Bhai Dekh at 9 p.m. on Sony and Movers and Shakers at 10 pm on Sony. On other days you would see him on Made in India on DD-1, and Ek Raja Ek Rani, Andaz, Film Deewane and Chote Miya Bade Miya - all on Zee.

Shekhar believes that the turning point of his acting career came with the television sitcom Dekh Bhai Dekh. Shekhar started getting noticed as a man who could make you laugh and hold an audience, unlike his cinema days where the public refused to accept him as a big-screen hero. Shekhar told a magazine a few years ago: "Comedy is my forte. I like to make people laugh."

But Shekhar points out that he is no Jay Leno and that he has no Leno Deno with the man. "I am my own original version of Movers & Shakers."
And guess who is his favourite poltiican? You guessed right: it is Laloo Prasad Yadav, the remote chief minister of Bihar whom he rips apart on every episode of M&S. Then of course there is our Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. Suman calls Yadav a smart Alec. "You never know he could be the guy from Harvard pretending to be somebody he is not."

Suman indeed has a sense of humour. "Early to bird and early to rise makes your girlfriend go out with other guys," Suman said to a glossy recently. And he's also blasé enough to say that if his joke falls flat he will be the one to laugh the loudest. It's not difficult to be funny he believes but it is funny how people can be difficult all the time, he admits, probably referring to himself.

He can also be extremely bombastic and he knows his worth. And tries his darnnest best to get what he wants. Even if he treads on more than a few toes making their owners yelp in pain. Members of one of his production units call him that big pain in the butt, because he can send all of them round the bend if things are not measuring up to what he wants. But yet they continue to work with him because of his star potential.. "It's quite an experience working with him," says one of them. "He can be very difficult."

Suman is so full of himself, said a wag recently, that his favourite food must be I-ce-cream. Because of his penchant to put off people, he probably is hated by the journalist fraternity and hence does not get the kind of press he should. But he is bland enough to admit that he has not made too many friends over his career. "And today success gets you not friends but competition."

Shekhar is mobbed by fans wherever he goes in India and internationally. Love him or hate him, you can't help but take note of Mr Television.



He loves eating at the Samapan, Holiday Inn and driving around in his Toyota. He is currently excited about M&S going live to audiences wherein viewers will pay money to be part of the show. An audience of 200-300 will cough up to see how it is shot what goes into its making. The show will move to a bowling alley and it will even have a museum of sorts for the public so that they can get more involved with it. "I would like to know how much people would shell out to see me," he says. "I am all prepared to take the national flak. "I'll host the show more fearlessly. After all, it's a lot more challenging.

Then he is currently working with theatre personality Om Katare who runs the Yatri theatre group to set up a theatre academy Silhouette and enact at least two plays per year and also new talent for theatre. Excited about the new venture Suman said that his dream was to create something like Prithvi or better still earn a reputation like Broadway "which people who visit the States make it a point to watch".

He has additionally set up a company called Seven Thirty Entertainment which will be providing software to television channels. And is working on a deal with someone big worldwide which will propel him to megastar status.

At a Hard Rock Café party in Singapore around a year ago when he had been nominated for an Asian award for best anchor, Shekhar was spotted grooving away quietly by himself. Even then, he stood out amongst the rest of the crowd consisting of Asian celebrities. His eyes were looking around seeking some sign of recognition from those at the Hard Rock Café. But then there were none. And one wonders whether he was disappointed or whether he heaved a sigh of relief.

Today, that's not the case. His stature has risen to that of a celebrity. He is noticed and is also mobbed by fans wherever he goes in India and internationally. And time can only make that better as his show is taken afurther by Sony to Indians all over the world. Love him or hate him, but they will indeed notice Mr Television.

Also read:
Tete A Tete: TV Star of the millennium Shekhar Suman

Why we chose Shekar Suman as Artist of the millennium


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