Maniesh Paul in Dubai: On hosting, clean humour and Bollywood
The anchor, host and actor gets candid in a chat at the Khaleej Times office.
It’s been a pretty busy 2020 for television host, anchor and actor Maniesh Paul, despite the Covid pandemic having a detrimental effect on India’s entertainment industry. Maniesh — who describes himself as a ‘workaholic’ — was thrilled to do a live show after ages, on New Year’s Eve in Dubai, he revealed in a chat at the Khaleej Times office on Wednesday, January 6.
“I was very happy to be on stage after almost a year. I’ve been doing a lot of corporate shows online, but the feel of a live audience is something else, especially for a person like me who loves to interact with people,” said the Mickey Virus actor and host of popular shows like Jhalak Dikhhla Ja and Nach Baliye. He praised the social distancing and other Covid precautions at the event, saying they signalled hope for the live entertainment industry. “I was happy that, yes, this is the new normal, and people are following it. If shows are happening like this then we will bounce back soon,” he shared.
Maniesh, who kept himself busy during the lockdown in India with, among other things, making short films (Hichki and What If), music videos, and a poetic song (Chawkhat) praised and shared by Amitabh Bachchan on social media, says he ‘can’t complain’ about how life has panned out since the pandemic began. “God has been kind. I always feel that one has to find a way out, rather than feeling bogged down or saying, ‘things are not happening’. You have to make them work out.”
The popular anchor also shot for his reality show Sa Re Ga Ma Pa post the lockdown and began filming his new Bollywood film Jug Jugg Jeeyo in Chandigarh. Also starring Varun Dhawan, Kiara Advani, Neetu Kapoor and Anil Kapoor, Jug Jugg Jeeyo marks Maniesh’s debut with Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions.
“I am very happy and excited; Karan Johar called and told me about the role; the director is Raj Mehta (whose last film Good Newwz was a super-duper hit). It’s quite a good part and I’m happy that they saw me in it. Thankfully I have a great timing with all the actors, be it Anil (his energy is great!), Neetu, Varun, or Kiara. It was like a family. Till now I have been sharing the stage with them, I haven’t ‘acted’ with them, so obviously on the first day I was quite nervous. They were chilled out! I’m happy to be back on a set!”
Maniesh is candid about his interactions as a host with various stars from Bollywood, saying he prefers to create a happy environment of clean fun rather than court controversy on stage. He also says in order to be a good host you have to deviate from the script. “I never follow the script. I love to be on the spot. That’s what people like about me, whether it’s holding Madhuri Dixit’s sari pallu, having fun with Karan Johar, Amitabh Bachchan or Shah Rukh Khan, it has all been spontaneous. You have to make the show, you have to own the stage. You have to make sure that you follow what is happening around you rather than just following what is written on the prompter. So I keep telling everybody, be aware of the person you are talking to, be aware of the kind of work he has done, try and keep the humour clean. I have a ‘funda’ that whatever I do, my mother is watching, and my guest’s family is also watching!”
Stars are known for being whimsical and often sensitive, and Maniesh emphasised that it was important to read actors’ moods while hosting them on stage. “With Amitabh Bachchan, you can’t write ‘fun’, you can’t write, ‘I will say this and he will say this’. You have to gauge his mood. You can’t try any hanky-panky humour with him.”
He recalls how he got Katrina Kaif, whose Hindi was often made fun of when she entered the industry, to get comfortable with him on stage. “I was one of the few hosts, who was not making fun of her Hindi! Because I thought it was done to death! So when she came in, I said ‘we are talking in English’. And she was like ‘wow, thanks’.” Why create humour where somebody goes off stage and says ‘what the hell man’. I want the person to go back and say ‘I had a good time’.”
Maniesh who has engaged with many stars during his time as a host and anchor is appreciative of those who manage to stay grounded and humble despite their stardom and had a special mention for Shah Rukh Khan who put him at ease while filming a show. “I was growing as a host at that time and was hesitant over what I should say. He called me to his van, offered me refreshments. He read the script and saw that all the punchlines were written for him, and then said that I should be given half of them. He made sure that I had something to do on stage. I was very impressed with the fact that he was so down to earth.”
Maniesh, who contributed to his staff’s welfare financially during the pandemic and also helped migrant labourers reach their hometowns, feels 2021 holds a lot of promise, despite the shadow of Covid-19. He is grateful for lessons learned from 2020 and happy about upcoming projects. “I am feeling very excited. I have too much of energy all the time. I’m planning a podcast, then there is Jug Jugg Jeeyo; till now, things are looking good.”