When Sachin Pilgaonkar stepped on a film set at the age of four, he felt at home. As the actor-filmmaker clocks nearly six decades in the industry, he is proud to have followed his heart, singing his own tunes, making his own art.
Pilgaonkar is easily one of the most versatile artistes in the Indian film industry, whose work not only traverses different languages but also mediums. He began his journey as a child actor with the 1962 Marathi film Ha Maza Marg Ekla, smoothly transitioning into a lead star 13 years later with the successful Geet Gaata Chal. Pilgaonkar then went on to direct and produce, and eventually embraced the changing times, appearing on reality shows and digital medium with equal ease.
In an interview with PTI, the 63-year old actor credited his continued relevance to his drive to act, which remains uncorrupted. “I wasn’t after money, I wasn’t chasing stardom. Not that it’s bad, but I didn’t want to become a star at the cost of not being recognised as an actor. I expanded myself as an actor, I wasn’t stuck at only singing songs with the heroine.
“Otherwise I wouldn’t have done Satte Pe Satta or an Avtaar, which came after my massive hit Nadiya Ke Paar. I didn’t limit myself to a ‘hero image’ and did roles because of which people still remember me," he said.
Recalling his early days in showbiz, Pilgaonkar said his entry to cinema was an “accident". His father’s friend was a landlord to Marathi filmmaker, Sudhir Phadke. He would collect rent every month from Phadke until one day, when he saw a queue of parents with children outside Phadke’s Dadar house. Upon enquiry, Phadke told Pilgaonkar’s father that it was a casting call for a film he was producing, to be directed by Raja Paranjpe. Pilgaonkar remembered that his father, who was a movie buff, saw this as the perfect opportunity to pitch his son for the protagonist and took him for the audition. The actor was on board for Ha Majha Marg Ekla, a film which bagged him a National Award and paved the way for him to act in over 65 films as a child artiste.
“When I went on set, I felt so comfortable. Thanks to my guru, Raja ji, that by the third day I felt at home. I felt I belonged there, that a film set was my home and this is where I’d live and breathe. I still remember that moment," the actor said.
With Rajshri Productions’ 1975 hit Geet Gaata Chal, Pilgaonkar, who was then 18, switched to playing the lead. The same year saw him star in a small role in Ramesh Sippy’s blockbuster Sholay as Ahmed, son of Rahim Chacha, the village imam (played by veteran actor AK Hangal), who is shot dead by the film’s antagonist Gabbar’s (Amjad Khan) henchmen. Pilgaonkar quipped he was probably the only actor who played two contrasting roles within a year.
“Both Geet Gaata Chal and Sholay released in 1975. I’m the only actor who played an adolescent character in one film and was a leading boy in the other! Sholay released on August 15, two days before my birthday, so I wasn’t even 18 when the film released."
As Ahmed, the actor left his mark in a brief but a memorable role in the classic, which also had him credited as one of the assistant directors, along with Khan. Pilgaonkar continued his successful streak in the late ’70s with Balika Badhu (1976) and Ankhiyon Ke Jharokhon Se (1978), culminating with a blockbuster like Nadiya Ke Paar, before switching to another role: direction. Starting with the Marathi film Mai Baap in 1982, the actor went on to helm acclaimed films like Ashi Hi Banwa Banwi and Gammat Jammat and Savvasher, where he met his actor-wife, Supriya Pilgaonkar. One of his biggest directorial successes was with the popular TV show Tu Tu Main Main in the mid ’90s, starring veteran actor Reema Lagoo and Supriya Pilgaonkar as the often at loggerheads mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, respectively. But Pilgaonkar soon realised that the industry perceived his inclination towards direction as a farewell to acting.
“When people came to know I’m directing, acting offers almost stopped (coming). At that time, there was this perception that ‘Oh he’s become a director, no he has quit acting.’ I would wonder ‘but who declared this?!’
“Some people thought that now that I’m a director I’ll start interfering. The offers then decreased as an actor. But direction is a full-time job, so it was natural for me to keep myself busy. I didn’t really mind that happening and continued directing."
His acting assignments resumed only after he and Supriya Pilgaonkar won the inaugural season of the dance reality show Nach Baliye in 2005. A few film appearances and a decade later, the 2015 Marathi film Katyar Kaljat Ghusali was a “major twist" in his career, he said.
As the menacing classical singer Khansaheb, Pilgaonkar had won new fans, and it led him to his digital debut, City of Dreams the 2019 Hotstar series. After having worked through changing times, trends and mediums, the actor said he takes cue from one of the most popular songs of his long and enduring career: Geet Gaata Chal (keep singing). “Don’t forget you’re born as a human being, not an actor. Acting is just a part of your life. I don’t celebrate my success and that’s why I don’t moan my failures," he added.