Jaaved Jaaferi has always been more than an actor – a dancer, mimic, comedian, rapper, advertising copywriter, video jockey and host, and producer of documentaries (Inshallah, Football and Inshallah, Kashmir).

In David Dhawan’s Coolie No. 1, an update of his own 1995 superhit, Jaaferi dons the hat of the comic. He plays the dual roles of Jai Kishan and Jackson, a “pandit-cum-matchmaker,” Jaaferi told Scroll.in. “When he is insulted by this man, he promises vengeance. He then disguises himself as someone else, and plots to get this man’s daughter hitched with the hero, who also pretends to be someone else.”

Starring Varun Dhawan, Sara Ali Khan, Paresh Rawal, Rajpal Yadav, Sahil Vaid, and Johnny Lever, the film will be streamed on Amazon Prime Video from December 25. “Being in a race and being the only one ahead is boring,” Jaaferi observed. “But in a film with comic talent like this, everyone’s running with you, which is great.”

The son of the actor Jagdeep, Jaaferi made his Hindi film debut as a dancing villain in Subhash Ghai’s Meri Jung (1985). Since then, he has gone on to ace several areas in popular entertainment, particularly dancing and kids-oriented television. His upcoming releases include Rohit Shetty’s cop drama Sooryavanshi and the horror-comedy Bhoot Police. Excerpts from an interview.

Your comic work in 1990s television was great, while ‘Salaam Namaste’ and the ‘Dhamaal’ films raised your profile as a deft comedian.
Whatever I did in my life, I think nothing went to waste. Everything helped me somewhere, both in terms of personal life and career.

Jaggu in Salaam Namaste became a cult character and “eggjactly” became a rage. Very few characters become that were emulated like, say, a Gabbar, Mogambo, or Soorma Bhopali. I am lucky I got this character and it stood the taste of time. And being in three Dhamaal films helped the character stay on people’s minds.

Coolie No. 1 (2020).

What is the flip side of such fame?
After Salaam Namaste, I got at least 15 such offers of doing two-three scenes. I had to let go of all these films. I insisted on being a part of the principal cast. In Salaam Namaste, I’m credited as a special appearance.

This happened early as well. After Bol Baby Bol [the Meri Jung song], I became the boy who can dance. But I can act too. I really had to struggle not to get typecast. At the same time, I had responsibilities as a family man. So I kept doing things to remain visible and relevant in public.

But at the end of the day, the love and appreciation I get for my Channel V work, Mumbhai [the Bombay Boys song], Salaam Namaste, Dhamaal, Jajantaram Mamantaram makes it all worth it. These are what I call milestones, which come every now and then and give a boost to your career.

Your dancing skills were established with ‘Bol Baby Bol’. But your journey as a comic moved more slowly.
It all began with Channel V, with whom I worked on two shows, Videocon Flashback and Timex Timepass, between 1994 and 1999. They became cult shows and got me from a lot of appreciation from within and outside the industry.

Then I began hosting award shows. That’s where people began noticing, arre yaar, this is a different kind of humour. I was bringing in a lot of puns and Hinglish. Also the Maggi sauce ads helped. The tagline was “It’s different.” I wrote the dialogue and the scenarios and sometimes co-directed with Prahlad Kakkar. We made a great team.

The Maggi ketchup ads featuring Jaaved Jaaferi and Pankaj Kapoor from the 1990s.

How have you used your improvising skills in your major roles?
Salaam Namaste is a good example. Director Siddharth Anand gave me a lot of leeway. Abbas Tyrewala had written the script, featuring this strange character with bad English, but he was nowhere on set in Australia. I travelled from US to India and reached Australia without any time for preparation. It was during the shoot that I worked on the character with Siddharth. The accent, the walk, the posture were developed on the spot.

I had to shoot for four-five days. Immediately after my wrap, the Australian crew gave me a minute-long ovation after my final scene of walking down the steps. I just kept saying stuff like “Goods the mornings” and “When in Rome, do the Romans”. Siddharth told me back then that this character is going to stand out.

Jaaved Jaaferi in Salaam Namaste.

‘Dhamaal’ starred you as Manav, a man-baby or baby-man, quite a unique character.
Inder Kumar gave me a character of a childish simpleton who relies on his brother to take care of him. He told him, ‘Your voice is so nice, how will you do this?’ I told him not to worry, and then made up this baby voice

My immediate inspiration was Laurel from Laurel and Hardy, making my body loose like him. I chose to wear a polo neck t-shirt with long sleeves and a dungaree. Because I was muscular and taller than the rest, I covered my forearms, stooped down, made my posture concave, to seem like a weaker guy.

There is no process to improvisation. It comes from within, based on the data you have collected all your life. The script has to help. Like in Singh Is Kinng, I was blind as well as deaf in one ear. That itself opens up possibilities for you to improvise within the boundaries of the role.

Jaaved Jaaferi in Dhamaal.

Do you ever think that you never got that one role that combined all your talents?
Honestly, I do feel that. I could have been a main player. I had the so-called prerequisites. I could sing, dance, do comedy, look reasonably smart. Maybe it was bad PR or bad marketing or bad business acumen on my end, or destiny.

I think that either I made some mistake somewhere, or it wasn’t meant to be. I can’t change the past, so I can only learn from it. I don’t sit and grumble about it. I thank god for whatever I got.

What advice did Jagdeep give you about the ways of showbiz?
It’s that he never complained. My father was launched as a hero by AVM Productions, which was the equivalent of Yash Raj Films or Dharma back in the day. But then things happened, or were not conducive, and ultimately, he found fame with Soorma Bhopali, but he was always positive.

For him, the film industry was everything. He hadn’t seen anything else from the age of nine or ten. This was survival, not pleasure or timepass. He had to make ends meet for him and his mother. The people who moulded him then were his colleagues and mentors like Guru Dutt, Bimal Roy, K Asif, Mehboob Khan, V Shantaram, KA Abbas, Sahir Ludhianvi, Sadat Hasan Manto. That’s the legacy he has passed on to us.

He told us that the entertainment industry is the best representation of India. Because unlike Hollywood or European films, our audience is extremely difficult to cater to. So many languages, cultures, religions, traditions, and they are all important. You have to keep everyone’s sentiments in mind and still make them laugh. That’s difficult.

That was ingrained in me early on, so I always had a censor within myself to keep myself in check. He taught us that understanding the country and its audience is our responsibility.

Mumbhai, Bombay Boys (1998).