Most aspiring actors dream of making their debut in an out-and-out romantic film which is, usually, considered a safe bet to start your acting career with. Neil Nitin Mukesh, however, thought differently. When given an option to choose between ‘Jaane Tu…Ya Jaane Na’ and ‘Johnny Gaddaar’ by the late Jhamu Sughand, who was then producing the two films, Neil opted for the latter. Sughand opted out of both the films as a producer and after being stalled for a while, ‘Johnny Gaddaar’ ended up being produced by Adlabs and released on 28 September, 2007. Neil did complete justice to his role of an anti-hero in the thriller directed by Sriram Raghavan. Everybody concurred that here was an actor who was not only ‘hero-material’ but had great acting abilities as well. The only downside was that, though the film is considered to be a cult classic today, it did not do that well upon release. That it is a much revered film even today can be gauged from the fact that it was remade into Malayalam, Telugu and Tamil, with the Tamil remake ‘Unnam’ being made and released just last year.
‘Johnny Gaddaar’ marked Neil’s debut as an adult actor; he had earlier worked as a child actor in films like ‘Vijay’ (1988) and ‘Jaisi Karni Waisi Bharni’ (1989). After the release of ‘Johnny Gaddaar’ there was a gap of a year after which he was seen in three films in the year 2009 – ‘Aa Dekhein Zara’, ‘New York’ and ‘Jail’. Coming from a musical family, Neil always had an inclination towards music. He plays the piano and in ‘Aa Dekhein Zara’, he lent his voice for the title track. The film had an interesting premise but failed to woo the audience perhaps because of an incoherent script. Neil finally tasted commercial success with ‘New York’ which was his third release as an actor. The Kabir Khan directed film was based on the 9/11 attacks in New York and Neil received a lot of accolades for his turn as the righteous young man who stands up against his friend who was now treading on the wrong path. ‘Jail’, his third release of the year, went unnoticed by a large section of the audience. That is quite unfortunate as it was a genuinely well-made film which definitely deserved more attention. Neil delivered a first-rate performance as a man who was wrongfully convicted in a case.
In 2010, Neil’s sole release was the Yash Raj Films produced and Pradeep Sarkar directed ‘Lafangey Parindey’. In the film, Neil played Nandu, a tough local fighter with a soft heart. He struck a wonderful balance with the two contrasting aspects of his roles and it remains to be one of his most underrated performances. The same year, he was all set to appear as Johnny again in Sudhir Mishra’s ‘Tera Kya Hoga Johnny’. The trailer and a song of the film were aired on television but the film, for some reason, never saw the light of the day despite being complete.
In the years that followed, one saw the actor experimenting hugely with his choice of films and roles and taking up challenges that most actors would shy away from. He played a rather dark character in Vishal Bhardwaj’s ‘Saat Khoon Maaf’. He played the ruthless major in ‘Aadamkhor Major’, one of the seven stories in the film. It was a role most leading men would have turned down but Neil decided to rise up to the challenge and played the part to perfection. In Abbas Mustan’s ‘Players’, which was an official remake of the Hollywood film Italian Job (made in 1969, remade in 2003), Neil’s menacing act stood out in the ensemble cast. Bejoy Nambiar’s ‘David’ had many shortcomings but Neil left an indelible impression with his performance as David/Iqbal. His villainous turn in A.R Murugadoss’ Tamil film ‘Kathhi (2014) was much appreciated too. Films like ‘Prem Ratan Dhan Payo’ (2015) and ‘Saaho’ (2019) further helped him in reaching out to the masses. His performances in ‘Wazir’ (2016) and ‘Indu Sarkar’ (2017), despite the films not making much of a mark at the box-office, were appreciated.
In his twelve-year long career, the actor has made it loud and clear that he is someone who refuses to be stereotyped as an actor and is always up for a new challenge. A large part of his filmography consists of action films/thrillers. Even in a largely comic film like ‘Golmaal Again’, he played a menacing villain. Of course, in each of these films his role has been different from anything he would have played in another project. His new film ‘Bypass Road’, which he has written and co-produced apart from playing the central protagonist in, one expects him to see him in an avatar which he had not donned in the past. This is also an important film for as it is his first film as a solo lead actor in a long time (‘Ishqeria’ and ‘Dussehra’, both released in 2018, were delayed products). Now that he has begun his journey as a producer, one hopes to see him back the kind of content he truly believes in. As an actor, one hopes to see him continue to be brave in his choices and also explore subjects or genres one has not seen him venturing into yet. An out-and-out comedy or a romantic drama would be great, for starters.