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Journalism of Courage

Paatal Lok actor Neeraj Kabi: Want to do commercial movies with Rajkumar Hirani, Zoya Akhtar

Actor Neeraj Kabi takes us through the preparation process for his character in Paatal Lok, his thoughts about the future of cinema and why he thinks web series have the upper hand when it comes to content.

neeraj kabi Neeraj Kabi is trying to do work that makes meaning and sense to him and the audience.

Neeraj Kabi is awaiting the release of Amazon Prime Video’s crime thriller Paatal Lok. The Anushka Sharma production will see him play the role of Sanjeev Mehra – a journalist. For him, the role is a perfect pick since he got to interpret his character in his own way, instead of just adopting the mannerisms of a journalist.

“Adopting mannerisms is called mimicry. That is not a good way to do things. You don’t start to imitate somebody, the way he walks and talks, that is a very irrelevant element of acting. You have to play the heart, soul and mind of the character. So I went deeper into the script of Paatal Lok to understand how do I play this,” Kabi told indianexpress.com.

In a recent interaction, the actor took us through the preparation process for his character, his thoughts about the future of cinema and why he thinks web series have the upper hand when it comes to content.

Given its subject matter, a mix of crime and journalism, what made you choose a web series like Paatal Lok?

There were many reasons why I picked this up but primarily, I have never done an Amazon show before. I didn’t want to get into any Amazon Prime Video show just like that. I was waiting for a big series to come where the script is good, the role is good and where there’s great talent. So, Paatal Lok fit the bill perfectly for me to say yes to it. Secondly, the character that was offered to me was very nuanced. I felt that could be a great treat for me to interpret the character since this is not the kind of a role I’ve done before. Also, on a lighter note, I wanted to play a character that was suave and charming.

How did you approach your character of a prime time journalist?

This was a step by step process. First, I read up and researched about all the great journalists of our country in the 1990s because that’s what my character Sanjeev Mehra wants. He was a journalist of courage, honesty, integrity. That’s the school of journalism he belongs to. So, I read a lot about those kinds of people at that time. That was the first step to understand their mind, psyche and philosophy. Then, I also studied the present-day journalists – what makes them do what they’re doing today, and why journalism has shifted from what it was earlier. I visited a news channel and saw the whole process of how news travels to understand what does Sanjeev Mehra do when he goes to work. This was a skeletal preparation. And then I got into real work, which is understanding the psyche of the character. It is the psyche and the philosophy of a character that an actor plays, not his mannerisms. Copying mannerisms is like mimicry.

So, isn’t it difficult for you to get out of the skin of the character you play?


It is and that is our job as an actor. Yes, it consumes us completely, and it is not easy to come out of it, but I like the transformation I go through for a character. That’s what I enjoy most about acting–the transformation process. When you watch me on the screen, you should not be able to recognise me. If people say, you’re a natural and an organic actor, that’s an insult. If you’re being yourself all the time on screen, that means you don’t know how to act.

We have never seen you in an out-and-out commercial role. Is that a deliberate attempt?

I’m trying to do work that makes meaning and sense to me and the audience. But I have no qualms. I’m always willing to be a part of commercial cinema. In fact, I was offered films by two big banners, but my role didn’t have enough meat. So, I had to say no to them. But I’m still waiting for a good commercial film to come my way. And, there are directors like Rajkumar Hirani, Zoya Akhtar, Anubhav Sinha who I really would want to work with as they make good commercial cinema.

Neeraj Kabi in Paatal Lok.

You have been doing both films and web series for the last couple of years. Is there any major difference between the two platforms? Which one do you prefer?

Not really. For me, both are the same because they’re shot similarly. The only advantage in a web series is you get more time to tell a story. You get nine hours instead of two and a half hours in a film. Also, your role is more fleshed out. So that is it. Otherwise, I like all three platforms, theatre, films and web series.

Also read | Paatal Lok trailer: Jaideep Ahlawat, Neeraj Kabi promise a gripping crime drama

With cinema halls being shut, do you think the future of theaters is in danger?

I don’t think so. Everything will be back to normal. People will continue to watch films, theatre and web series. Each of them has their own distinct identities. It’s not about the medium. It’s about what quality you are bringing into that medium. Web series are now offering an amazing quality, so people are hooked to them. Tomorrow, if you make great films, people will come and watch films. And, there are people like Meghna Gulzar and Anubhav Sinha who are making good films.


You have directed plays. Do you plan to direct a movie too?

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Yes, I would love to, but when I have no clue.

First published on: 13-05-2020 at 12:22 IST
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