By Kishor Dwivedi
Actor Shekhar Suman, who impersonated Atal Bihari Vajpayee often on his TV talk show in the 1990s, says the former prime minister’s mannerisms were so extraordinarily dramatic that he became a performer’s favourite muse.
Suman, who first did an impression of Vajpayee in his popular late night talk-show “Movers and Shakers”, says even while performing the character he would be in awe of the leader.
Among India’s tallest politicians, Vajpayee, a three-time prime minister and Bharat Ratna, passed away on August 16 in New Delhi after prolonged illness at the age of 93.
“I have the highest regard for Atal ji. I never mimicked him, that would be a wrong term to use. I did an impression of him. There is a huge difference as the first one borders on caricature, while the second one is an impersonation.
“Though my show was an irreverent show but whenever I talked about him I was filled with awe, admiration and reverence,” Suman, who is in Switzerland at the moment, told PTI over the phone.
Suman, whose regular impersonation of Vajpayee made phrases like “Ye achchi baat nai hai” popular in households, says the statesman was an actor’s delight.
“It was fun to portray him because of his mannerisms. His style of speech, his pauses were so poetic yet dramatic and theatrical. His pauses and gesticulations were so meaningful and theatrical that it prompted me to essay him.
“Also, political satire was so new to India then. I thought, as an actor, if I could turn it around and start playing these characters, it will be an interesting and entertaining thing to watch. Naturally, Atal ji became my favourite muse,” he says.
Suman, 55, also recalls meeting Vajpayee, when he became the prime minister and calls the rendezvous the “greatest moment” of his life.
“… When he was still the prime minister, he actually stopped his cavalcade after spotting me at Nusli Wadia’s son’s wedding in Bombay. To everyone’s surprise, he got out of his car and hugged me.
“He gently patted on my cheek and said, ‘I watch your show every day, you do a wonderful job of me and I laugh the loudest when you take on me… Keep up the good work,'” he says.
The actor, who has also dabbled in politics, remembers Vajpayee as a selfless politician, a freedom fighter and as one above party lines and differences.
“He was, indeed, a statesman who thought and fought for his country. A gentle soul and a thorough gentleman. An intense poet and a good Samaritan, erudite and a philosopher.
“Atal ji lent dignity and credibility to politics which is considered to be the last refuge of a scoundrel,” Suman, who was once affiliated to the Congress party, says.