By Siddhi Pathak
I’m playing the lead role in Manjunath, that is a biopic on Shanmugam Manjunath, an IIM graduate who worked as marketing manager with Indian Oil Corporation. He was murdered in UP for sealing a petrol pump in UP. Since it compiles incidents of Manjunath’s life, we had to do a lot of research, and collect matter from various sources. Sandeep sir (director Varma) asked me to keep only one thing in mind, and that was to be true to the spirit true of what Manjunath Shanmugam stood for. It’s a very straight-from-the-heart kind of a film.
Sandeep sir was scouting for an actor to play Manjunath. He had held an audition in Bangalore, where I was performing at a corporate event. He took my audition and asked me to meet him in Mumbai. Once the initial formalities were completed, we put in about three to four months of rehearsals. I feel the first movie chooses you and then the journey begins. I’m lucky and thankful that this movie chose me.
I have gone through the stages that every other budding actor goes through before they get a break. I’ve been a professional dancer and singer and have performed in a lot of shows in India and abroad. I’ve also done a few ad films before.
The first shot was in an office in Mumbai’s Bandra Kurla Complex. Yashpal (Sharma) sir was also a part of it. We had taken the same elevator to reach the set, but since I had make-up on, sir had not recognised me. I wasn’t nervous as Sandeep sir had made sure we don’t shoot anything that was emotionally taxing on the first day.
It was emotionally draining to live through Manjunath’s experiences. During the course of making the film, he became a part of me. It was tough to get out of the character even when I wasn’t shooting. For those 40-45 days that we were shooting, Manju lived with me. There’s a lot of change that I underwent, both emotionally and physically. In Lucknow, where the film was also shot, we had to be very careful, since Manjunath hails from there. We gave the movie a working title, because even now, people know Manju and relate to him. Once, when we were shooting on the streets, a small kid came to us and said, ‘this is the movie on Manjunath’. So we had to be constantly on guard. Also, usually everybody goes from fat-to-fit, but for this film, I had to gain weight as Manju is healthy.
The film has taught me to stand for what you believe in and for what is right. It seemed tough initially, but I started working towards it. For instance, there’s a system at play and we are all a part of that system. If we change ourselves, the system changes, but we can’t keep blaming the system. So I started changing a few things about me. As an actor, I’ve learnt to trust my director and have complete faith in him. He is the captain of the ship. When I came on board, there was one thing that Sandeep sir said, ‘keep your mind free’. So I had to unlearn a lot of things. As actors we give a lot of auditions and pick up a lot of things that people say.
I don’t follow a particular role model. When I follow somebody, I follow them for a particular trait and a lot of people have a lot of good traits in life. I’d follow APJ Abdul Kalam for believing in his dreams, for his compassion, doing what he believes in and for empowering people. I’d follow Rajinikanth for his simplicity off screen. Since I’m a budding actor, I’d follow Mr Bachchan for his acting and perfection, Shah Rukh Khan for his energy and Salman Khan for his style.
Talks are on, but I’m not allowed to reveal anything. I’ve just started and I want to do good work and not restrict myself to any one genre or language. I would also like to work in English and regional films, as then I’ll get to work with a lot of wonderful directors.