SUNIL THAPA: His return to Bollywood biopic with mary kom
HE GOT A DREAM BREAK INTO BOLLYWOOD, CAME BACK INTO THE NEPALI MOVIE INDUSTRY AND CONQUERED FOR NEARLY FOUR DECADES. NOW, SUNIL THAPA IS MAKING WAVES WITH HIS ROLE IN A POTENTIAL BOLLYWOOD SUPERHIT: MARY KOM.
Arguably the most popular baddie of Kollywood, Sunil Thapa has established himself as a superstar in Nepal. Best known as ‘Raate Kaila’ from his iconic role in the 1989 movie ‘Chino’, he has earned himself everlasting popularity as a beloved antagonist. But he might have to cozy himself into a whole new avatar with the release of ‘Mary Kom’. So what does Nepal’s favorite badass have to say about his start in Bollywood, his career in the Nepali film industry and a massive comeback in Bollywood again? We’re about to find out.
A white ’97 Mitsubishi Pajero drove into the driveway and came to a halt. Inside were three men. One sat on the driver’s seat with a stern look on his face and checked to see the rearview mirror. Another sat behind him; a scruffy man with small eyes, scraggly mustache and a chin beard. A visible scar ran across his jaw line. The third man, was who I was supposed to meet.
A pair of black imposing combat boots emerged from the passenger door that stood ajar and the towering figure of Sunil Thapa stepped out of the vehicle, pushing the door wide open as he did so. He pulled out a cigarette between his teeth from a bulky golden coloured cigarette case that stood apart from the rest of his dark attire. He was much larger than the two of his compatriots, taller and better built. His round face was decorated with wrinkles and he had little hair except for a shadowy white beard that encircled his mouth. Yet he didn’t look terribly old; maybe it was his piercing dark eyes that gleamed from the fold of skin under them or the way he reached in for his jacket which he slung over his shoulder while walking over to the patio. Whatever it may have been, Sunil Thapa fit the bill of a certified baddie.
“IN THE MEAN TIME SUNIL THAPA WENT BACK TO DOING WHAT HE LOVED: PLAYING PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL. ”
However, before he made it big in the film industry, he was a photo journalist working for a weekly magazine called JS (Junior Statesman) Magazine. During his time with JS, he was sent to Bhutan to cover the Bhutan Coronation in 1974. Little did he know, his life wouldbe taking a completely different direction very soon. While at the coronation, he happened to meet the legendary actor Dev Anand who was a guest of the Queen Mother. Dev Anand immediately took a liking to Sunil and discussed the prospects of getting him to appear in one of his movies. Taken aback by the surprising proposal, it took a bit of coaxing from his friends to encourage him to take up Dev Anand’s offer.
One thing led to another and Sunil found himself in Bombay preparing for what most likely promised to be his first movie. ‘Ek Tha Raaja’ a movie based on the famous tale of Robin Hood began shooting; Sunil would be playing the role of Robin Hood’s (played by Dev Anand) friend. Sadly, the shooting of the movie got canceled after the first week and the production was cut short.
Nevertheless, this opened up a new door for Sunil, one which he never thought existed. After the shooting was canceled, Dev Anand introduced Sunil to his elder brother: director/producer Chetan Anand. He was cast in a role in the director’s upcoming movie called Saheb Bahadur and Sunil faced the camera, thereafter, for the first time on the 6th of September, 1974.
But the movie took a long time to release; so in the mean time Sunil Thapa went back to doing what he loved: playing professional football. He began playing for ICL Bombay Senior League and Orkay’s Sports Club. He drifted from the movie business and got more and more into sports. It wasn’t until 1978 that he was steered back into the movie business. It happened during his trip to to Madras from Bombay to watch the 5 day Test series between India and Pakistan. India won the series on the fourth day which gave Sunil one day at hand. Because he was free, a few of his friends got him in touch with another big name in directing in Bollywood: K. Balachander who liked Sunil Thapa once they got talking. He offered Sunil a role in a Telgu movie which he was directing. No sooner had Sunil accepted the offer, he got an even better one from the same director. An actor who had been cast for a role in K. Balachander’s movie Ek Duje ke Liye fell ill due to jaundice and the director offered that role to Sunil Thapa. The movie went on to be a hit in Bollywood and Sunil Thapa also got a lot of recognition from the movie.
“IT WASN’T UNTIL HIS SON’S 43RD DAY THAT HE WAS ABLE TO TAKE HIM IN HIS ARMS. ”
Now, where most people would have gone around looking for more opportunities after such a break in the budding industry of Bollywood, Sunil Thapa decided on laying low. “I felt that if I was really a good actor, people would come to me. I really wasn’t up for searching for opportunities. Plus, I had my football,” says Sunil Thapa.
So, he picked up where he left with his passion for football. On his trip back to Kathmandu in 1986, he met Biswa Basnet who was making a movie in Nepal called Anyaya. Although the movie was never made, Sunil considers this the moment that kick started what was going to be an illustrious career in the Nepali film industry. Although, during the shooting process, Sunil Thapa met Shiva Shrestha with whom he would later act in a movie called Sanjhog.
During the next few years a number of things happened. Sunil Thapa got married to his wife in Kathmandu and the couple went to Bombay. He also worked in a couple of movies with a lot of big names, one of which was Ravikant Narayan who is considered the maker of big names like Mithun Chakrobarty and Jitendra. As time went by, some time during his stay in Bombay, he received a call from Shiva Shrestha and Biswa Basnet with the proposal of a role in the movie Chino. Sunil Thapa fell in love with the role and flew back to Kathmandu to begin his work in what would be a defining moment in his career. However, his dedication to his work had to withstand several tests from this point onwards, which he took in stride.
His wife gave birth to a son in Bombay, but because of his tight schedule Sunil Thapa was not able to go see his son after his birth. It wasn’t until his son’s 43rd day that he was able to take him in his arms.
“But you see, this is part of the package. Show business is not as glamorous as it appears to be. If you’re seriously into it, you better pull up your socks. If you’re looking for your 15 minutes of fame, do us a favor and get out before you ruin the industry,” says Sunil Thapa with a stern expression in his voice.
TNM: You seem to be really serious when it comes to your work.
ST: Yes, and you have to be. If there is one thing I learned from my 40 years in acting it is that you’re not going to amount to anything in this industry unless you buckle up and dedicate yourself through and through. There are times when you’re cheezed off with people, but you have to suck it up and do what you have to do. You have to take the director seriously, whether he/she is new or old. He is the captain of the ship. I don’t spare anyone who’s fooling around on the set. Professionalism is important. I don’t let anything come in the way of my work, that’s why I forgo many of our social rituals when it interferes with work.
TNM: Was that your credo right from the start?
ST: Yes, discipline has always been a priority. There is no festival for us, no weather for us. You have to bear everything and you have to make a lot of sacrifices. When my son had jaundice, I didn’t go to see him. I called the doctor and asked if there was anything wrong and when he told he was okay, I was back to work. Yes, it was difficult. But it is part of the job. Although it does get the better of me sometimes. There was this one incident during the shoot of Chino where I had fractured my finger. So, like a smartass, I would take off my plaster at the doctor’s every morning, get the shoot done and re-plaster my finger in the evening.
TNM: Chino was a massive success. What followedafter Chino?
ST: Well, I flew back to Bombay to my wife and kid. I did a couple of movies there. But Chino became a massive hit. So big that not sticking to the Nepali film industry seemed like a mistake.
TNM: And you left Bollywood? Just like that?
ST: I didn’t have much choice, did I? I was swamped with so much work. I must have done over 200 movies. Actually, I did get an offer to work with the Markanda Brothers for a tele-series in Zee TV called Commander. They wanted me to be in India 20 days a month, but I had to decline because I was busy with my work in Nepal.
TNM: Most would have jumped at such a chance.
ST: I was given an earful from my loved ones about that. But I loved what I was doing. The Nepali audience loved me and I loved my job. I wasn’t looking to going anywhere anytime soon.
TNM: But you made it back to Bollywood, and in style too. Tell us about how Mary Kom happened.
ST: On the 5th of April 2013, I got a call from the casting director of Sanjay Leela Bhansali Production. They wanted me to audition for a role in their upcoming movie which fit me perfectly. They sent me a couple of scenes which I had to act out. The role demanded that I play the role of a boxing coach. A few of my friends were with me and they helped me make the entire thing as professional as possible. We went to a gym to record the audition and sent it over to them. By the 9th of April, I was told that I was doing the movie and asked me to come down ASAP. I was able to reach Bombay on the 27th where I first met with the director Umar Kumar.
TNM: What sort of preparations did you have to go through for the movie?
ST: It was extremely extensive. T he shooting only started in June 17th but the entire month of May and up till 14th of June we had to go through a lot of preparation. From dialogue reading to workshops, we had to get everything right. To fit in for the role of a boxing trainer, I even had to go through a daily training regimen of 3 hours. Then we had to think of an appearance that would suit the character. I showed them my getup for my movie Rudraksha, but it was too similar to that of Sanjay Dutt in Rudraksha. So, I started to grow a beard which I wasn’t sure of. But it looked great in the end.
TNM: How different was the shoot from what you were used to?
ST: It was really different, not only from how things went in Nepal but from what Bollywood was like in 1979-78. Things were done extremely professionally. The shoot started on June 15th and went on for 25 days. We used to shoot 12 hours every day. I had to get out of the house 1.5 hours early to reach the set every day and 1.5 hours to get back home. That’s 15 hours of the day gone. In the remaining 9 hours, there was little I could do. I stopped smoking, I stopped boozing. But it was really fun. It was extremely professional.
TNM: Do you like your new look? Personally I think it really suits you.
ST: Having that beard and moustache for 13-14 months was a pain. The first thing I did after the shoot ended was shave it right off. But I kind of began liking it again so I grew it back.
TNM: How does it feel to get back into Bollywood?
ST: It feels great. I love representing Nepal to the best of my abilities. The people all over the world, who care to ask, will know that a Nepali person is representing himself in the movie. It is a great feeling. It is a part of a bigger picture because I think in the movie Barfee too there was a Nepali person who played Ranbir Kapoor’s friend. His mane was Bhola. Wilson Bikram Rai was supposed to be playing a role in Ashutosh Gowariker’s mega series for Star Plus. But because Wilson was caught up in other commitments, he wasn’t able to take up on the offer. Nevertheless, these are good signs for Nepal. My role is a small stepping stone for the entire Nepali movie industry.