In Delhi to attend the Sahitya utsav, Jashn-e-Adab, Raghubir Yadav talks about his creative metamorphosis from an actor to a passionate fan of Hindi and Urdu poetry
Fresh from wrapping up Season 2 of Panchayat and crime thriller Six Suspects, actor Raghubir Yadav says he is the kind of artiste who rarely falls into a cultural limbo. Even though he is acclaimed as an actor, it is music, poetry, singing and set designing that keeps him going.
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“I am never out of work, because I do not chase fame or money but focus on doing good work,” says the actor, who has essayed memorable character roles from his debut film Massey Sahib in 1985 to recent OTT release Pagglait in 2020. “I do not work according to the ways and pace of the film industry but wait till I get a role that I am completely convinced about.”
That he has been a vital part of six films (Peepli Live, Rudali, Bandit Queen, Salaam Bombay, Lagaan and Newton) that were India’s nominations to the Oscars has been celebrated. But what many do not know is his penchant for poetry. “Poetry is often overlooked but it fosters pluralism and shows courage to speak against injustices,” says Yadav, “The ‘maahaul’ (ambience) in our society today is such that we can bank on democratic forms of speech and art to empower those who have the will to change things.”
This passion has egged him on to participate in the 10th edition of the three-day poetry festival, Jashn-e-Adab, to be held in New Delhi from December 17. Here, he will recite the works of Ghalib, Tulsidas and Kabir, whose lines he admires. “They are filled with pain but underline hope,” he states.
Yadav’s tryst with poetry and art started during his childhood, which he spent in the fields of Ranjhi Karondi village in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh, listening to old film songs on the gramophone. “Watching the village Ramlila and Rasleelas evoked curiosity in me and taught me many things about live performances, costumes, make-up and folk music.”
When his grandfather established a school in the village, Yadav was forced to study science. The fear of failing in the exams made him leave home before completing high school. “I did not run away. I explained to my father that music was my calling and left home requesting the family not to search for me,” he says.
He landed in a Parsi theatre company near Lucknow, UP, and was paid ₹ 2.50 as a salary for singing performances. After six years of doing Urdu and musical plays, he trained at NSD, Delhi, where he also worked on plays helmed by theatre director Barry John. Then, Massey Sahib happened, and he debuted as an actor. “But my dream was to become a singer.”
Yadav’s genre is difficult to define as he functions independently and allows his setbacks to fuel a drive in him. Folklore remains his constant source of fascination and music helps him tide over crises, he says, and also has a good word for the OTT productions because young talents are getting the opportunity to showcase their artistic curiosity and creativity.
Pivotal roles in small films helped Yadav climb the steps of Bollywood, but he believes he is still humble. “My desire is always to be a part of good pieces of art,” he says, and believes every learning in life comes from scarcity. “Contemporary cinema is luxurious today. Art has turned into business. That is why entertainment has no soul today.”
(The 10th International Hindi and Urdu Poetry Festival will be held on December 17 to 19 at India International Centre, Max Muller Marg, Lodhi Road, New Delhi)