Two curvaceous Js jive symmetrically in the musical-clef-note-like autograph of Jaaved Jaaferi. That's what happens when you thrust a pen into the hands of a gifted dancer.
Jaaferi--who perhaps gave Hindi cinema its first smooth, grooving villain through his debut film 'Meri Jung'--is etched in a generation's collective brain not only as the nuanced judge of the long-running dance reality show 'Boogie Woogie' but also as the hilarious
voiceover of the game show 'Takeshi's Castle'. An underrated side of the dexterous actor, though, is his ability to bend words for comedic value (he once mangled 'hypotenuse' into 'high party news' for a punchline).
While his love of words endures, his penmanship is deteriorating, Jaaferi confesses in an interview that covers the ground from the early 80s when he waited for an autograph of Israeli actor Chaim Topol to modern times when Indians interrupt him mid-dinner for a photograph
What's your earliest memory of seeking an autograph?
In the early 1980s, I took the autograph of an actor named Topol at a play in London. He had played the lead in the film 'Fiddler On The Roof' and I became a huge fan of both him and the movie (I have watched it 15 times till date and know the songs by heart). Which is why I went to see the play in London and stood backstage while it was drizzling to meet him. I had waited for 20 minutes to get his autograph on the back of the playbook that they sell outside the theatre. The interaction lasted for barely a minute and a half. He asked me where I was from. I told him I had seen him in 'Fiddler On The Roof'.
When was the first time someone came up to you for an autograph?
It was after my first film, 'Meri Jung.' I had gone to watch it with a few friends at Mumbai's Maratha Mandir. After the screening, someone asked for my autograph. My friends teased me saying "damn it, you've arrived."
How do you sign?
I worked on the signature. I write two big Js in the form of a musical clef note. It's a very curvaceous and rounded signature. It's symmetrical too.
Did you ever get weird requests for autographs?
Not really. People have come up to me with a shirt or a cap but that's about it.
Do you think autographs are better than selfies?
Taking a picture is much faster. Many do believe in the sanctity of handwriting and they even read the signatures of presidents, prime ministers and scientists to decipher character. But you go with the times. In the digital era, the paper has become perishable. You have to take care to preserve an autograph.
Do you still get fan mail?
Not as much. I used to get 8 to 10 letters a day. Now I get 2 or 3 a month. Recently, maybe about a year ago, someone had sent me my pictures by post requesting me to sign them along with a return envelope mentioning his address. It was all very organised. He didn't leave anything to chance and made sure that he got a reply.
When did you get the most fan mail? Was it during the Boogie Woogie era?
Probably in the late 80s and the mid-90s. After 2005, it started dropping. I would get a few letters from abroad. I had printed a reply mail. I would sign these and post them to the senders.
Do you get strange requests for selfies?
No, but when my assistant offers to click photographs of people with me, some of them still want a separate picture of them clicking the selfie with me. It is some strange aspect of the selfie culture.
But do people always seek your permission while clicking pictures?
Some do start clicking randomly. Sometimes, I could be in the middle of a meal at a restaurant and they click a picture. Sometimes, people at the next table have come up to me to ask for a picture saying: "humara ho gaya" (We are done with our meal). It's not courteous to go up to people while they are eating and expect them to leave their meal.
Is it a cultural thing?
This happens only in India. Abroad, people don't bother us while we are eating.
Are you particular about what pen you use?
I did buy calligraphy pens some time ago to write. Now, they've run out of ink. My handwriting used to be decent. Now, when I put pen to paper, I can sense the deterioration of penmanship. I write my script on my laptop. I am not as adept at typing, though. My children are much faster. Typing's more convenient. Writing is on the wane. I save ideas as voice notes or text notes. It's not convenient to use a pen and a diary, especially when the car is jumping around.
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