Actor Neeraj Kabi recently impressed audiences as primetime journalist Sanjeev Mehra in Amazon Prime Video’s crime-thriller Paatal Lok.
But Kabi is not one to rest on his laurels. He gives back to his admirers by training hard to better his craft. And, in times of failure, he doesn’t stop. “I never depended on films to take me ahead and didn’t wait for auditions to come through. I never stopped, and that’s the essence of my journey in films,” the actor shared as he went LIVE from Indian Express’ Facebook page.
In the latest interaction, the actor shared what makes Paatal Lok unique, what he learnt about journalism after playing Sanjeev Mehra and much more.
What is the best compliment that you got for your role in Paatal Lok?
Many wonderful compliments are coming in, but I can’t differentiate and say this one is better than the others. All of them have been encouraging enough to take more and more roles and be there for my audience.
How does the success of your projects affect you?
I feel great when people like my work, but after a day or two, I don’t keep that in my head. I go back to working and training. I don’t rest on my laurels. I don’t party after a success. My way of thanking my admirers is by getting back to training again.
According to you, what made Paatal Lok such a huge success?
It is a unique thriller which travels the journey of four assassins. The interesting part is, here we see the humane side of criminals. We get a complete perspective of the crime in the three worlds that India is divided into – the upper class, the middle class and the lower class. You very clearly see there is a creator of crime and there is a doer of crime. Paatal Lok doesn’t let you judge. It leaves you to empathise with these assassins. It also doesn’t justify the crime but makes you see where they come from and how the nexus of crime functions. All the three ‘loks’ combine in Paatal Lok, and that is the tragedy of the country we are living in today. One of the inspectors in the show says, “This is a well-oiled machinery. Whether you are a part of it or not, it will continue to function like that,” and this is a scary thought.
What do you think about Jaideep Ahlawat?
Jaideep is a very prepared actor. He is a man who reads his script multiple times. It’s a complete joy to work with such trained actors.
What was the biggest challenge of playing the role of primetime journalist Sanjeev Mehra?
The biggest complexity about this role was its nuances. In the show, Sanjeev Mehra begins at his failure. Then, he uses the news of his assassins as an opportunity and grabs power but at the cost of his integrity. He loses his personal life and turns out to be a complete loner. So, this arc in his character was pretty challenging.
However, I enjoyed the process of the creation of the character. It was a give and take atmosphere between the actors and the directors on set. Every day before the shoot, we would sit down and thrash out what is exactly being said in a scene and identify the psychological spaces of the character. We also did many workshops with all the actors and the commitment of the entire team amazed me. It was never about just memorising the lines and giving the shot. It was about understanding the script.
What have you learnt about journalism after portraying the role of Sanjeev Mehra?
When you are a journalist, you have a big responsibility towards your audience and it is important to respect that responsibility. Also, I have realised the lives of journalists can be very complex. They are trolled, stalked and some people might even kill them. I feel the journalists with integrity are brave hearts. Even in these times of the pandemic, you still get the news. You still have journalism alive and kicking. They are doing everything they can at this point of time, so hats off to them.
Was there any difficulty working with two directors on Paatal Lok?
The entire shoot was divided into two parts, one was with Hathi Ram which was done by Avinash Arun and one was with me and Swastika Mukherjee which Prosit Roy directed. So, there was no chance of disagreements or confusions.
How has been your journey in the Hindi film industry?
I don’t discuss my journey in the Hindi film industry since it is something personal to me. It is this journey where I get my energy and impetus from. What I can say is, it’s been a long journey and I have taken some courageous decisions. I have worked hard for this because the work that you do as an actor involves physical training, reading, studying and experiencing life at a very different level. It’s well above 25 years of the journey but it was only in 2012 when Ship of Theseus came out that things began to happen in my life. Meanwhile, I was busy training and did a lot of work. I never depended on films to take me ahead and didn’t wait for auditions to come through. I never stopped and that’s the essence of my journey.
What do you prefer, theatre or films?
Both. I do work on stage as an actor. I do films as well. Television, I haven’t done much. I’ve done one television series with Shyam Benegal called Samvidhaan where I performed the role of Mahatma Gandhi. That’s my only tryst with television. I cannot choose between theatre and cinema. Both are equally sacred to me. But, theatre is the foundation of an actor. It is where you learn everything, right from script analysis to character building, voice, emotions, and working with co-actors.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui recently said actors shouldn’t be bothered whether the film is releasing on an OTT platform or in cinema halls. What is your view on this debate between the web and the big screen?
Yes, he is right. Your work, your craft and your talent is everything. The platform is not important to an actor. For us, it is only a different format. The film gives you two hours to tell your story and to create your character arc. Whereas, web series gives you good seven to nine hours to create a character. That’s the only difference. Otherwise, I don’t think the actor should be really concerned. That is the worry of the director. The director decides how to frame his shots because when you frame your shots for cinema, they’re different, and when you frame your shots for OTT, it is different.
What is your methodology of choosing roles?
My methodology of choosing roles is to see the quality of the team that’s working on the project. Even when I speak to my managers, the first discussion is who are the producers and what’s the platform. If there are producers who I don’t know, I will find out about them and their previous work. For me, the human quality of the team is very important. Then, I ask for the script. The script must have a quality that must appeal. The writing must be impeccable. It should give me ample space to say what I want to say as an actor. Also, I try and choose a variety of roles. I don’t like to label myself as a romantic, villainous or crime-thriller actor. In fact, comedy is one space that I would want to explore.
Also read | Jaideep Ahlawat on Paatal Lok success: We were shocked for initial two days | Paatal Lok review: An intelligently written, engrossing series | Paatal Lok: Journey to the dark side | Was unsure of pulling off Hathoda Tyagi in Paatal Lok: Abhishek Banerjee | Jagjeet Sandhu on Paatal Lok’s success: I feel blessed to be part of such a big show
Any suggestions for the budding actors?
Train. Learn the craft. Don’t only go to the gym, click photographs and go to auditions. That will never help you. Learn the technique, do workshops and do acting courses. Do things you’re not comfortable doing. If you’re shy of meeting people, go meet people. Get involved with life, with humanity. The more you’ll experience it, the better actor you will become.
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