Neeraj Kabi starrer Taj Mahal 1989 is available for streaming on Netflix from Valentine’s Day. The 51-year-old has made his mark in the web space and has been part of shows like Sacred Games, The Final Call, Delhi Crime among more.
While performance in films like Talvar and Hichki also got him the much required mainstream recognition, he has also been shuffling between theatre and his job as an acting coach.
In an exclusive chat with indianexpress.com, Neeraj Kabi opened up on his new project, changes in the expression of love and being the poster boy of digital medium.
Excerpts from the conversation
What is Taj Mahal 1989 all about?
Taj Mahal 1989 is a love story of four couples. Geetanjali Kulkarni and I are playing one of the couples. They are both professors in Lucknow University. Then there’s another story of our own students, one about two long lost friends meeting, and the last one about a girl falling in love with a much older man. So it’s an interesting mix of stories of a generation where there was no TV or mobile phones, neither the advent of technology. We are trying to explore what romance was at that point.
Tell us more about your character and his love story.
I am playing Akhtar Baig, who is a philosophy professor. He lives in an igloo of his words and enjoys to read and write. His wife is a physics professor, and for him, that’s utterly boring and non-intelluctual. They are just existing in the marriage. He finds solace in his poetry and lives in a selfish world. However, she feels that they need love and romance in their lives. That’s when she threatens him with a divorce, and he realises that he cannot lose her. They go on a holiday which is simple yet very beautiful. There they find each other and the happiness in their relationship. It’s relevant in today’s time as people will get to see what love actually was before technology seeped in our lives.
How was the experience of reliving the past days?
I was quite young, in college in 1989, and was deeply in love then. So, I could relate to those emotions. Redoing these things gave me a sense of what it felt in those days. We spent a lot of time with our partners then, and most of it went into just looking at each other. That purity is missing now. For us, our whole world was that person alone but today, people have so many options. Even touching the hand was a big thing. That waiting and longing to see each other again was so beautiful. One couldn’t sleep at night waiting for the sun to rise and meet your loved ones again.
Do you feel today, because emotions have become so superficial that relationships don’t last, compared to the earlier generation?
May be yes, it lasted longer then because there was less distraction. Today, the options are so open. You can find your next girlfriend or boyfriend on your phone. The charm of staying and loving is not there. Also, with social media, suddenly everything is about making an image. There is no concreteness. This is why there’s so much restlessness. Relationships have become like pizza and coke, which might look fancy but has nothing good to offer.
Having done so many intense roles, was doing a romantic series a good break for you?
I did another romantic short film Once Again with Shefali Shah. And I was so kicked about it. I was thrilled by not just being a part of it, but also by the responses that I received. I was happy to know that people do want to see middle-aged romance. So when this came my way, I said a yes instantly in my head, and after I read the script, I was on board.
With so many back-to-back projects on the web, you’ve become the poster boy for the digital space.
(Laughs) I don’t know if I can call myself the poster boy. But yes, I am fortunate that a lot of work that I did was on the web. It has definitely got me some really good roles and a great audience.
But has that changed things for you? Does the recognition translate into better offers, especially from Bollywood?
Well, to tell you honestly, I am still waiting for much better roles. And I am slightly surprised that despite seeing the quality and hard work, the Hindi film industry is still not creating projects that I can be a part of. And that will just not happen overnight. I want that creation to happen when stories are written for actors like me. I am confident that I am capable of leading projects, which are even complex. It’s taking some extra time than I imagined but I am hopeful that it will come. Till then, I am happy that I got to project such a range of characters on the web.
What’s next for you?
There are a few other web series that I am working on, two are almost ready to be released. I am also doing a film Raahgir. I also have a couple of other features, one with Dibaker Banerjee. But I really cannot talk about it at the moment.
Taj Mahal 1989 also stars Danish Hussain, Sheeba Chaddha, Geetanjali Kulkarni, Anshul Chauhan, Paras Priyadarshan, Vasundhara Singh Rajput, Shiri Sewani, Anud Singh Dhaka and Mihir Ahuja. It will stream on Netflix from February 14.
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