Bollywood actor Ishaan Khatter got attracted to Maan Kapoor in A Suitable Boy because of his unpredictability. “It just gave me the opportunity to explore so much within one character,” Ishaan says. Directed by ace filmmaker Mira Nair, A Suitable Boy is an adaptation of Vikram Seth’s novel of the same name. The BBC series is set to premiere on Netflix India on October 23.
Set in newly independent India, it tells a sprawling story of four families. The 10-episode miniseries has a remarkable ensemble cast comprising Tabu, Ram Kapoor, Tanya Maniktala, Rasika Dugal, Mahira Kakkar, Vivaan Shah, Vivek Gomber, Shahana Goswami, Aamir Bashir, Vijay Varma, Namit Das among others.
In an exclusive chat with indianexpress.com, Ishaan Khatter got candid about what drew him to A Suitable Boy, Maan’s forbidden love story and working with directors like Mira Nair and Majid Majidi early in his career.
Here are excerpts from the conversation:
Maan Kapoor’s flamboyance in the initial storyline feels a lot like you in real life. How right is that?
Maan is an almost kaleidoscopic character who’s curious about life. It’s that unpredictability that I find very interesting. There are things that I’ve brought to the character which are mine, but there is a lot of Maan that is also completely new to me.
Did you manage to read the book before going on the sets?
It was unmanageable. It’s a thick book (laughs). But when I was offered the part, they gave me eight episodes drilled into six. So I already had about 500 plus pages of material. They were converting a 1500 page saga into six hours. I carried a copy of the book to Lucknow, and I used to look into Maan’s portions the night before shoot. Sometime I would find details which I would want to bring to the scene. So it was like having a guidebook, but I didn’t want to read too much because for me it was about Maan’s journey.
Maan has a beautiful track with Saeeda Bai, and such a relationship can be viewed as a taboo. It requires a lot of conviction to play it. How was that experience?
I think it’s one of the most important parts of Maan’s journey – his love and passion for Saeeda. It’s a very unusual relationship. I don’t think there’s anybody else but Tabu who could play Saeeda. It’s almost like a doomed romance. It’s constantly looming over their head that it’s not possible in the circumstances that they are in. It is socially unacceptable. She is a Muslim courtesan who practices the art of enticement. And he is a young Hindu man, the son of a revenue minister, coming into his own. There are so many things that divide them. But the beauty is in what brings them together and what they find in each other.
The series has a brilliant star cast. So when you’re part of such a project, do you ever feel the fear of getting lost among such stalwarts?
When I decided to do this, I knew it’s going to be an ensemble piece as a lot of the casting had been done. It only excited me to work with some of my favourite actors like Ranvir Shorey, Vijay Varma and Rasika Dugal. My character is completely on his own. And his track is so crucial for the larger socio-political story to go forward, that I don’t think there is any other character I would rather play.
You got to work with dream directors like Mira Nair and Majid Majidi (Beyond The Clouds) so early in your career. How lucky do you feel?
It’s been a blessing. I consider Majidi sir like a spiritual guide in my life. He has contributed directly in my journey. He’s been like a father figure. I wouldn’t exchange that experience for anything. And he trusted me with such an amazing part in my first film. He’s given me everything that I needed as an actor.
Mira ji has given me an opportunity to be seen by a whole new audience, and to be able to portray such a difficult part. She is an incredible person, who gives so much to an actor. Her wonderful team of stalwarts are incredible at their job.
How aware does an actor needs to be about the actual socio political setup, when a story is based in a certain time frame? The Suitable Boy also has a lot of political undertones.
It’s a prerequisite to know what is important to be able to portray your character authentically and not go out of rhythm. It’s important to do the groundwork. And that varies for every character. Personally, I think it’s very important to know what part you are playing in the whole picture. Once you have all that knowledge, you can choose to do what you want to do with it. But if you don’t have the knowledge, then you’ll just be experimenting.
All the roles that you’ve done – Beyond The Clouds, Dhadak, A Suitable Boy, have an undercurrent of youth aspirations. Do you consciously pick such characters or they just happen?
I think I’m more attracted towards characters that gives me the opportunity to play up those things.
But do you think if you had done hardcore commercial potboilers in the beginning itself, things would have been different in your career?
You are defined by your choices, so of course, it would have been different. I want to make the most of every experience of my life. These are early years of my life. If you are a certain kind of an actor and like to give yourself more to the director, it takes a lot out of you. I guess, you decide what’s worth it and what’s not. I did Khaali Peeli, and then there’s Phone Booth coming up. Phone Booth is my first horror-comedy. It is so interesting to be able to now push myself in that direction after having done some really intense characters. So I’m very excited.
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