From Kai Po Che to Detective Byomkesh Bakshy, have you become more comfortable as a leading man?
I don’t know about being a leading man but for me, the real trip is to become the character I’m supposed to be. I’ve been acting since the last eight years and I’ve learnt that as long as I can connect with the character in my head, the rest flows. Maybe I’m not able to portray the character that well but I do ample preparation and research on my own so the discomfort of playing someone new goes away.
While shooting for Detective Byomkesh Bakshy, as a director what did Dibakar Banerjee unlock in you?
Dibakar’s best quality is that he never told me what to do and only told me what not to do. By not telling me what to do, he freed me. I was reading a book on American filmmaker Sydney Pollack and even he used to never tell his actors what to do and still he got them to do what he wanted them to do. As a director, he was playing with his actors so that they figure out organically what needs to be done. That’s how Dibakar let me work. I’ve never been as close to any character that I’ve played as I’ve been with Byomkesh.
Byomkesh Bakshy has massive pop culture value, how did you interpret him and make him yours to be able to play him?
It starts with reading the script. Once you read it, you get to know the intent of the filmmaker and why this character is so important to the script. There are so many ways to approach a character. You have to figure out the similarities between you and the character, build on them and at the same time blur the dissimilarities. Since you do it day in and day out, it becomes a process and a part of you. That’s why I disagree when actors say that I’m immersed in this character. This can’t happen totally. You and the character are different. I read an interview of Kevin Spacey where he mentioned an Al Pacino anecdote that has stayed with me. During the shooting of Dog Day Afternoon, director Sidney Lumet was taking 40-50 takes of every shot and Pacino patiently went through the takes. At the end of the day, he went to Lumet and told him “something happened in the 19th or 20th take. Please check it.” As an actor, the discovery of ‘something happened’ is what we live for. In the case of Byomkesh, the character came from Dibakar but I played it as how I thought he is.
All these anecdotes you are sprinkling in the conversation makes me believe that you read a lot?
See, I’m a trained engineer so I’m conditioned to come up with a right answer to a difficult question but when it comes to art, there is no definite answer because it’s so subjective. So I try to read up as much as I can in order to understand from other actor’s experiences and their process.
That word ‘process’ again. That’s a Mahendra Singh Dhoni patented word. So I’ve got to ask you about the Dhoni biopic. How is it coming along?
I can’t talk about the film but I’ll tell you why process is important. Tell me what is the opposite of ‘love’? It’s not ‘hate’ since it requires the same amount of emotional investment; actually ‘indifference’ is the opposite of love. Similarly, ‘sadness’ is not the opposite of ‘happiness’ but ‘boredom’ is. ‘Excitement’ is a synonym of ‘happiness’. You know I really wanted to buy a Range Rover. It was a big dream and the day I bought it, I was very happy but by evening I was immune to it. That’s when I realized that excitement if it’s happiness is not in reaching the goal but in the process. Thus process trumps over realization.
It seems I’m talking to a Zen Master. But tell me is playing MS Dhoni, the biggest challenge of your life?
(Smiles) I’m a Zen Master. Getting into any character and letting go of yourself is difficult but in this case it’s more complex since there is a visual reference of MS Dhoni.
What is the biggest thing you have learnt about yourself since you became a part of Bollywood?
I’ve stopped taking myself seriously because now I understand how fickle my thoughts are.
You tend to keep a low profile. Is that deliberate?
That’s how I can work. I won’t lie and say that I’m not seduced by fame and money but I try and remember the reason why I wanted to be in the industry. I belong to a big family and being the youngest, I was really pampered but also very shy and introvert. I had an angst with others because I lacked the ability to talk to people. I took up dancing with Shiamak and then I realized that I don’t need words to express myself. Then I discovered theatre and I realized that I could hide behind interesting characters and say what I wanted to say. Television was a natural progression but I quit it after two years because I could predict what I’ll be saying or doing. Then I got a call to audition for Kai Po Che. This has been my journey so far and through it all, what has kept me going is the excitement of finding a character and living him. I want to be a part of all the good films being made. Like, I would have loved to do Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s role in Badlapur.
Any tips for TV actors who want to follow your path?
It is difficult for everyone to break in because Bollywood thrives on mediocrity and nepotism. Since TV actors already have fame and a good fan following there is a tendency to take things a tad lightly. They just need to understand that it’s a new turf and they need to give it time and effort.