In the middle of the photo shoot at Churchgate station, when H Kumar happily poses for us with a hoarding of Phata Poster Nikla Hero as the backdrop, a commuter rushes past, gets into a train and yells, “Kumar sahab hamare hero hain.” I smile at him, but H Kumar, is still in character, holding his pose and expression. It’s probably something he learnt in his three month-long acting workshop in 1984, in which veteran actor Pankaj Kapur would teach the class and at times bring along his then 4-year-old son Shahid, the lead actor in the film, the poster of which Kumar stands against.
“I’m no Dilip Kumar or Amitabh Bachchan. I didn’t ‘struggle’ in the conventional sense. I didn’t sleep on the roads or outside film studios; nor did I go hungry for days,” H Kumar tells me seconds after we enter his office, a rather lonely guard’s cabin at the end of the 8.33pm Churchgate-Borivli slow local.
He rises from his high chair and stands at the door when the train is about to arrive at Marine Lines station, takes a quick look at the platform and continues, “My father passed away when I was very young. He was only 50. I had four sisters and a brother to take care of, I couldn’t afford to simply struggle on the streets. I took up this job after my father in 1988. He was also in the railways. I would fend for my entire family.” That didn’t mean he had to give up his childhood dream of becoming an actor.
For the first five years of his job as a guard in his hometown Ratlam, Madhya Pradesh, Kumar would often visit Mumbai with his photographs to get a break in Bollywood. “I had already acted in a small budget film in 1986. It was called Daaku Bijlee and was made by a Hyderabadi pilot, who was interested in making films,” he says, signaling to the motorman in the front of the train to start moving away from Charni Road station.
Kumar would visit studios and producers for a role and they would always ask him to leave his photographs behind and promised to call if they had a role for him. No one, of course, ever called.
But that never worried him because he had a great job. He would travel in an air-conditioned coach to Mumbai, stay in a luxurious railway guesthouse in Mumbai Central and eat good food.
In 1993, he thought he was too far away from his dream and asked for a transfer to Mumbai.
“Mumbai mein do hi cheez chalti hain, ek local train, jo main chalata hoon aur ek kismat jo main aazmaane aa gaya (Only two things work in Mumbai; the local train and destiny, which I came to pursue).” Since then, he only managed to get small roles in a few unsuccessful Bollywood films and a couple of regional films, the most notable one being the role of an inspector in the 1998 Dharmendra starer Kalicharan, that didn’t do as well as the one Subhash Ghai directed in 1976.
Three decades and almost no success later, Kumar has neither given up on the industry nor is he a bitter man. “Why should I be bitter? The railway has given me a 1000 sq ft apartment in Bandra, I get free travel, my medical expenses are taken care off, my salary is Rs70,000 and I have 10 years of service still to go, I am not overworked, my children study in good schools and I’m soon going to make my own film,” he says, while walking across the compartment to look at the train arriving at Mumbai Central station.
Five years ago, Kumar registered his production house — Kumar Sippy Films and became a member of the India Motion Picture Producers’ Association. In November, he will start shooting for his first film as a director and producer Tu Hi Mera Pyaar, which he says is “loosely inspired” from the 1979 Mithun Chakraborty film Tarana that was made by Rajshri Productions. It’s a simple concept — a city boy from a well-to-do family falls in love with a good looking girl from the Banjara community that travel across the country and camps in tents. He hands me a CD and says, “This (the CD) has the songs of my film. Kumar Sanu, Alka Yagnik and Sadhana Sargam are the singers. The music directors are Ketan-Suman, they are new.” Who are the actors, I ask. “I am considering Jackky Bhagnani. Govinda’s nephew Vinay Anand, who has done well for himself in Bhojpuri films, is also a good option,” he says. “Ladka khoobsurat hai, accha dancer bhi hai, apne budget ke hisab se theek hai,” he adds.
The budget for the film is Rs1 crore, some of the money is his own, some his friends have invested and a lot of it has come from one Abhay Veer Solanki, who Kumar says, belongs to a royal family from Bharatpur, Rajasthan.
After the train leaves Lower Parel station, I ask him if the prospect of the film failing at the box office scares him and he quickly dismisses the possibility. “I know A to Z of this industry. There is no way I am going to incur a loss. I’ll easily convert the Rs1 crore we are investing into Rs2 crore from the distribution, audio, video, satellite and oversees rights,” he says with an unnerving
As I stand at the door looking at my destination fast approaching, he asks me the only question of the night, “Don’t you ever want to become an actor?” No, I tell him, I always wanted to be a writer.
“Write for me someday,” he says, signaling the motorman to leave the platform and waving at me, once again lonely in his cabin inside a crowded train on a monsoon night.