This week's First of Many features Yashpal Sharma. In the 80th edition of our exclusive series, the ace actor talks about his first acting project, Govind Nihalani directed film Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa (1998).

Many still refer to actor Yashpal Sharma by his onscreen name of Lakha from Lagaan (2001). In a career spanning over two decades, Sharma has done varied roles in films across genres like Gangaajal, Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi, Ab Tak Chhappan, Yahaan, Yeh Saali Zindagi and more.

The actor has also explored the small screen. His recent released film Van Rakshak is currently streaming on ShemarooMe Box office.

From Sudhir Mishra to Ram Gopal Varma and Ashutosh Gowariker, Sharma has had successful collaboration with ace filmmakers over the years. His Bollywood journey also began with one such veteran filmmaker, Govind Nihalani, in the iconic film Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa. Here’s what Sharma shared about landed the film and how he looks back at the memories.

What was your first acting project? How did the project come to you?

My first project was Govind Nihalani directed Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa, though it wasn’t a very big role. I had arrived in Mumbai two years earlier and was getting tiny roles. I was tired of distributing my photos and wasn’t even sure how they’ll contact me since there were no mobile phones and we used to give out phone numbers of any ‘paan’ stall nearby. That’s when I learned speeches of three of my plays and wherever I went to meet people, I used to ask for five minutes and enact those speeches before leaving my number.

Surendra Rajan was a good photographer. He played the cleaner in Munna Bhai MBBS. He clicked some photos of mine. You can say that was my first photo session or portfolio. An assistant of Govind Nihalani got my number from actor Harish Khanna, who was a friend. It was supposed to be Jaya Bachchan’s comeback. Govind Nihalani was so big, that I agreed. On the audition day, it was raining. When I reached the venue, I dried myself, ironed my clothes and auditioned. The character’s name was Laltu. He was the leader of a Naxalite group. Govind Nihalani told me all the roles have been cast, and this was the best he could offer me.

After I did the film, we were at a party by producer Manmohan Shetty. There, Govind Nihalani made me meet Shyam Benegal. Govind Nihalani later gave me a good role in Samar (1999). Eventually, Sudhir Mishra and Ram Gopal Varma called me, Ashutosh Gowariker also called me for Lagaan.

What do you remember of your first day on set?

On the first day of shoot, actors Joy Sengupta, Sandeep Kulkarni and others were siting around me. My first scene was a long one with a lengthy speech. That was also my major scene. The entire set of the movie was created at Rajkamal Studios in Mumbai. I received Rs. 2,500 for the film. The first day was the mahurat shot where Amitabh Bachchan gave the mahurat clap. Everyone was getting a pic clicked with him, but I did not. I said I’ll work with him one day. The film also starred Anupam Kher and Nandita Das.

Were you nervous? How many retakes did you take?

I wasn’t nervous as such. I shot for just 3-4 days.

How was the rapport with your co-stars when you got to meet or work with them again later?

Rapport was great as all of us belonged to theatre, mainly NSD. We were all on the same page – Rajesh Tailang, Harish Sharma, Kumud Mishra, Riju Bajaj, Sandeep Kulkarni. I had collaborated with all of them somewhere or the other in theatre.

If given a chance to go back to your debut role, what would you like to change or do better?

I watched the film only on its preview day, never after that. So I do not remember how I did it, that well.

One film or role that inspired you to become an actor?

I saw Tamas, Discovery of India, Katha Sagar, Malgudi Days, Mirza Ghalib, Chanakya, Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi, Nukkad on television. These films and shows shaped my preference about acting. I was never really impressed by, say Amitabh Bachchan’s angry young man image. I loved the films of Nana Patekar, Naseeruddin Shah, Balraj Sahni and Om Puri. Ankush, Do Bigha Zameen, Mother India, Do Aankhen Barah Haath, Waqt and Garam Hava influenced me a lot. Then there was Sayajit Ray’s Pather Panchali, Apur Sansar and Aparajito. I was so impressed by these that everything else looked like buffoonery to me.

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