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Friday, July 10, 2020

Sushant was a gentle soul, boy-geek: Sonchiriya director Abhishek Chaubey

Abhishek Chaubey says Sushant Singh was going to keep getting love. He added that the actor was set up for big things.

Written by Abhishek Chaubey | Mumbai | Published: June 16, 2020 7:12:45 pm
A still from film Sonchiriya Abhishek Chaubey helmed Sushant Singh-starrer Sonchiriya. (Express archive photo)

Sushant was one of a kind. I don’t think I have come across another male Bollywood star like him.

The first time I met Sushant was after I messaged him for Sonchiriya. He was shooting for a film and staying in a hotel in Powai. This was Holi of 2017. So, he asked if I would be okay to meet him on Holi, and I replied, “Absolutely.” I thought I would give him a broad idea to get a sense whether he would be interested in doing a film of this sort. I ended up sitting with him for two to three hours, talking about the film mainly, but also all sorts of things. He immediately asked for the script. I hadn’t even carried it, thinking he would take his time to decide. I sent across the script to him, and that very night, he read it and wanted to do it.

Sushant’s face was very unique as far as male leads go. When we started actively thinking about casting, Sushant’s name was on top because of that certain quality of his. Most Bollywood male actors actually look like different versions of the same guy. But Sushant was different, for whatever reason. There was also something very desi about him, perhaps because of his heritage as he didn’t come from Bandra and Juhu.

He came from a different world, and it was that quality that really appealed to me as far as Lakhna was concerned.

During Sonchiriya, we would, of course, speak a lot about the film and his character, but there was never any conversation about the business or the film industry. He wasn’t obsessed with his career. He was not insecure about marketing himself or his films. He would talk about science, the universe, astronomy, philosophy. It was very interesting and freeing.

When we would celebrate, he would sing old Hindi film songs and talk passionately about science. No bullshitting, it was serious stuff. I am not from a science background, but others would tell me that this guy made so much sense.

He had a telescope, not one of those fancy ones, but not purely for decoration either. It weighed some 200 kgs, and he carried it to our hotel in Dholpur, Rajasthan, where a professional had to come to install it. And he would look at the stars at night. That’s who he was. I have never met anybody else like that.

He was a geek, a science geek, and he knew his thing. He could make you understand really hard concepts. It was not an image he was trying to cultivate. He was naturally that person. He was really setting a bar.

He was also very interested in virtual reality and had VR equipment in his room. He made me put on glasses and experience it. I remember it as it was my time. I was walking weirdly and banging into things because I felt I was on the moon. And he was taking my pictures as I made a fool of myself. He had a good sense of fun.

I always thought he was one of those guys who would not take things seriously. I know there are things being said, but I don’t buy it entirely that the industry treated him badly and he felt bad about it. Sushant was beyond all that. I felt he was comfortable in his own skin. He didn’t care what you thought about him. Nepotism in this industry affects actors much more than directors. He felt that. But it is one thing to say that it exists but how much does it affect you personally?

If we look at his career, he was doing well for himself. He had one of the biggest hits of his career in Chhichhore. He got some love for Sonchiriya. He had a film coming. Maybe lately, he felt that people were not responding to his work much. But the fact of the industry is that no matter how many Godfathers or powerful people decide not to work with you, there are so many who still would if you are good. And Sushant always struck me as someone who was confident in his skin. He was a sharp, intelligent man.

He was going to keep getting love. He was set up for big things.

I spoke to him in April briefly. It was just a casual conversation about COVID and lockdown.

His death was a bolt from the blue. I just don’t understand it. I can’t process it.

I don’t think I will be watching Sonchiriya now. It will be too much for me. That moment in the film where Lakhna has a vision of his alternate life, has taken a completely different meaning in my head. It will be too emotional. It has taken a life of its own.

I will always think of Sushant as my friend, although I knew him all of three years out of which one-and-a-half years, we worked very closely. But I will consider him my friend and an extremely sweet man. A gentle soul and a geek. That’s how I will remember him, a boy-geek. You don’t meet geeks in these parts. You don’t find them in Bandra, Versova. You find them in IIT Kharagpur. He was one of those.

(Abhishek Chaubey is the director of Sushant Singh-starrer Sonchiriya. He spoke to Priyanka Sharma)

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