(October 26, 2023) Most of us remember Jugal Hansraj as the vulnerable little boy in the Shekhar Kapur directed film Masoom. He was also the face of several ad campaigns back in the 80s and 90s. At 21, he played the lead role in a few movies; and in the year 2000, he acted in the multi-starrer Mohabbatein. In 2008, he was back in the news for Roadside Romeo, an animation film he wrote and directed.
Bollywood Highs and Lows
In an exclusive with Global Indian, Jugal recalls, “I had signed about 30 projects over many years in Bollywood; except that in the 90s, it was a shake hands kind of commitment and not the formal signed contracts they are now. For multiple reasons, the projects would fail to take off. In the process, I’d say no to other offers and ironically, those would go on to become big hits.”
In other interviews, Jugal has admitted to being in tears in the early days of his career as an aspiring actor, when his movies failed to launch. He admits he changed his attitude towards these setbacks later. “It hurt a lot, initially. I was young and would wonder what else could I do. I realised that getting upset was not helping. It came to a point where, when the producer would call and say the film is being shelved, I’d say thank you and hang up.”
Yet, in the year 2008, he wrote and directed Roadside Romeo, an animated feature film about street dogs. Released by Disney Studios and Yash Raj Films, it went on to win three National Awards including Best Animation Film and Best Director. After that, he directed another rom-com for Yashraj Films – Pyaar Impossible – starring Priyanka Chopra in the lead. Still, it did not translate to substantial amounts of work for Jugal.
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He is a believer in the premise that one should keep moving. “Just like a rolling stone gathers no moss, I moved on to writing when acting wasn’t working out the way I wished. I am a voracious reader, always have been, and being in the creative field, writing came naturally to me.”
Theme Tunes and More
Strangely, it is in the unplanned, that Jugal seems to have found success. The title track of the film Kuch KuchHota Hai which later when on to become the theme music that is played in the opening credits of every film by Dharma Productions, Karan Johar’s production firm, has been composed by Jugal. He reveals how that came about. “In the late 90s, I was learning Hindustani classical music from Suresh Wadkarji and his wife Padmaji. Once, I met Karan Johar and other friends for lunch where Karan showed me the script of KKHH. Later that day, the tune for the first eight lines of the title song just came to me and I composed it. Karan liked it so much he asked if he could keep the rights to the tune. As a friendly gesture, I gave it to him and it is now the theme music for Dharma films. It wasn’t a professional or commercial arrangement at all.”
Cut to the present day, and a suave Jugal, with a George Clooney-esque grey head of hair, is now a successful author of two children’s books, Cross Connection – The Big Circus Adventure – about a naughty monkey, an unassuming elephant, and other animals at a circus; and The Coward and the Sword.
Living in New York with his wife Jasmine, and son Sidak, Jugal, recalls how the first book came about. “After Roadside Romeo, I was writing my second script as it was a three-film deal with YRF. Again, the film didn’t progress due to financial constraints. One day, I was cleaning out my pen drives and I came across this screenplay I had written. I showed it to a friend of mine who is also an author and filmmaker –Jyotin Goel. He encouraged me to rewrite it as a novel. That is how Cross Connection came about. Then I contacted Rupa publications and they agreed to publish my book.”
A Hero’s Journey
Serendipity at its best, because the script that became a book, led to the next one. The Coward and the Sword, inspired by his son, is essentially the hero’s journey, a prince in a fantasy land who grows from being a diffident, shy and lonely teenager to become a brave leader with the help of his friends. Published by Harper Collins, the second book, titled The Jewel of Nisawa, is due to release early January next year. Jugal is currently writing the third book in this series.
What is heartening about both the books is that Jugal has maintained a vocabulary far-richer than what is used in some children’s books and has not dumbed down the content. Cross Connection is aimed at children up to the age of ten and the second one is for older kids. The plot, language and imagery encourage a child to imagine the incidents that occur in this fantasy world. The names and landscape denote a Japanese influence, and one of the people he has dedicated the book to is Daisaku Ikeda, the President of Soka Gakkai International. Jugal explains, “Soka is a Buddhist organisation and Ikeda is the author of several books on the Nichiren Buddhist philosophy that I follow.”
Life in New York
Jugal met his wife Jasmine, who is from New York,through friends. Jugal likens NYC to Mumbai. “We lived in India post marriage for three years when I was taking care of my mother. We moved to New York in 2018, because of the birth of our son and Jasmine’s career in banking.Life in New York is similar to living in an apartment in Mumbai, and it has the same big city fast paced atmosphere. I enjoy being a father to Sidak, despite all the challenges, and I write when he goes to school.”
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What advice does he give other young men who move to the US, with wives who have probably lived there longer than they have? He says, “It is important to have respect and boundaries in the relationship, then everything else falls into place. You have to respect your partner and the need for space on both sides.”
Incidentally, the quality of work he has got as an actor, after becoming an author has changed for the better. He acted in a film called Shiv Shastri Balboa with Anupam Kher and Neena Gupta, where he played a single dad to two young kids. He says, “Anupamji was in New York, shooting for the series New Amsterdam and he called me. After scolding me for not keeping in touch, he offered me this role and I jumped at the opportunity. It was a great learning experience. He has been a very positive and encouraging influence. I have also acted in the second season of the show Mismatched, which released on Netflix. One more, tentatively titled Nanda Devi, a seven-episode streaming show where I play an important character, produced by Lionsgate, a Hollywood studio and directed by Rohan Khambati, will release next year.”
For the future, Jugal hopes that the fantasy world he has created in his books, will become a film or a streaming series for kids and adults alike to enjoy. Given his serendipitous trajectory, this dream too could come true someday.
- Authors who inspire his writing: Since I write in the fantasy fiction genre, it would have to be JRR Tolkien and J K Rowling.
- Favourite authors: P G Wodehouse, Bill Bryson, Anthony Bourdain and William Dalrymple.
- Advice to aspiring writers: Write about that which you would like to read; as opposed to what people will enjoy. Figure out what you like and write. Keep it simple. Be authentic to yourself.
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