Robert De Niro: A Love Affair With Comedy

Robert De Niro

Robert De Niro

Robert De Niro is the quintessential Hollywood actor. He has performed in every major motion picture from Breakfast at Tiffany’s to Rabbit Hole. He has had a starring role in all of his films and has been in some of them for close to two decades.

In India, he is known as ‘Maneesh’, because of his love for the Indian subcontinent. He could have continued his legacy with Hollywood by becoming an American citizen but chose not to do so. He remains proud of his roots and is very much an Indian. His early upbringing in Bombay and Calcutta (now Mumbai) made him consider America his natural home.

In India, he starred in a number of Gujarati films in the 1980s. His fans affectionately call him ‘Mani’ which means ‘little brother’ in Gujarati.

When he first appeared in a movie, he could have become a celebrity but did not want to do so. When a student asked him why he did not become a star, he said, “I don’t want to be treated like a star, I want to be treated like a person.” That attitude led him to make a decision that would not always agree with his conscience.

A few years later, De Niro was attending a University in New York and befriended a friend who was studying film making. De Niro, who knew of the lessons he had learned at Bombay’s Jeevika College and Calcutta’s Lakshmi Vidyapeetha School, enrolled himself in the program.

Robert De Niro

Robert De Niro

After graduation, De Niro joined the film institute of the Pellagra Institute. In 1982, he made his debut in Hollywood with a part in Martin Scorsese’s GoodFellas.

The film did not find a place in his second outing with Scorsese, Days of Thunder. This was a betrayal of sorts because he had made a promise to his mother to become a star, and was one step away from getting there. His parents finally agreed to allow him to travel to the United States in a spirit of reconciliation.

“My mother told me once that her wish was to see me being interviewed in the press, wearing a tennis shirt in Hollywood, sitting next to other famous Indians,” he later recalled. However, with his mother’s encouragement, he became a Hollywood star and, in 1993, became the first Indian to win an Academy Award. It was a momentous occasion for him and the film industry as a whole.

He did not fare as well at the 1997 Asian Film Awards ceremony held in Fiji. De Niro received one of the best supporting actor awards for his work in the South Pacific. However, it was his big break that was expected to come.

At a time when many aspiring stars had their hair cut to fit the Hollywood fashion norms, De Niro opted for a buzz cut and took on the role of a joker. He parodied himself and the character he portrayed, Michael Caine’s antagonist George Gently, on a late-night television show.

By then, the role had become iconic, so, as a bit of post-production jockeying, De Niro made a claim that the character had been written by Michael Caine in his autobiography. He also claimed the role was the most difficult in the film.

It was not until his third outing in India, Cape Fear, that he went over the top, capturing the national heart. His films are big box office successes, and his personality in this style of comedy-drama is warmly accepted by audiences of all ages.

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