The last few months have been insanely hectic for actor Ashutosh Rana. He has wrapped up shooting for four films in the past six months, and is now busy with the upcoming release of Dhadak, Karan Johar’s remake of Nagraj Manjule’s Marathi blockbuster, Sairat — slated for mid-July. Given his absence from the limelight in the past few years, it seems as if Rana is making up for lost time. The National School of Drama graduate (1994) has come a long way from his Swabhimaan days in the mid-nineties, when he became a household name for his portrayal of Tyagi — the loyal friend/gangster with the heart of gold in the popular television show. The following decade saw the rise of Rana as a consummate villain with films such as Dushman (1998), Sangharsh (1999) and Zakhm (1998). Now, he is back to exploring shades of grey, with his role of Parthavi’s (Janhvi Kapoor) father in Dhadak. In this conversation, he talks about his political dissent, his writing and future projects. Edited excerpts:
You have a slew of releases and new projects lined up.
Yes there is Simbaa, helmed by Rohit Shetty; Son Chiriya, being directed by Abhishek Chaubey; Anubhav Sinha’s Mulq; and, Ismail Darbar’s directorial debut, Yeh Kaisa Tigdam. There is Milan Talkies by Tigmanshu Dhulia as well. There are also two books in the offing — one is a collection of essays and another a collection of stories.
You were the go-to villain in the late-Nineties and early-2000s. What changed? Do you think you were typecast?
Not at all. Even after something as career defining as Sangharsh and Dushman, I am very fortunate that the Hindi film industry has given me opportunities to explore a variety of roles as an actor. My role in Dushman as Gokul Pandit was different from that of Lajja Shankar Pandey in Sangharsh — which, in turn, stood out against what I portrayed in Badal (2000) as Jai Singh Rana. I think that in all the characters, even the more recent one of Mr Singh in Humpty Sharma ki Dulhania (2014), I have never repeated myself. The variety I was offered, even within the greyscale, I think is commendable for any actor. Even in my forthcoming releases, I am playing a variety of roles. In Yeh Kaisa Tigdam, I am playing four characters. Who has had that opportunity lately? Sanjeev Kumar played nine, Dilip Kumar had a triple role, and, Priyanka Chopra played seven in Saat Khoon Maaf.
You remain etched in public memory, though, for your portrayal of Tyagi in Swabhimaan.
Again, I thank my stars. Because I don’t think anyone can recall any character from contemporary TV shows these days, but here we are talking about Tyagi after 23 years. I think Tyagi worked because his heart was in the right place, and he was supremely honest, which made him loveable. It helped that he was completely in sync with his roots, and didn’t decry his desi-pana because he was in love with this slick urban girl.
Swabhimaan, written by Mahesh Bhatt, also marked your entry into the Bhatt camp — and you ended up doing 10 films with him. Aren’t camps an extension of nepotism too?
Whatever I am today is because of Bhatt sahab. Had he not trusted me as a newcomer, I, perhaps, would not have been having this conversation. Having said that, nepotism is an age-old practice, prevalent not just in the industry, but in every sphere of life. It’s the natural order of things. Whatever a father gathers in his lifetime, it is but natural that those things would be easily accessible to his children. I think more of it as exposure. A cricketer’s child will have better access to a cricket kit and field. The same goes for a doctor’s kid. But, what if the child is not good in that particular field? They still have to prove themselves — inheriting something is not the question, what you do with it is more pertinent.
You are quite active on Facebook where you post your views. But you stay away from Twitter, where your wife Renuka Shahane is more vocal.
Twitter’s 280-character format doesn’t work for me. It’s akin to presenting your thoughts and then running away. Like how you might throw a stone in a pond and dash away. You create a ripple, but are absent to witness the after-effects. For a mature dialogue, we need a platform where we can present opposing points of view. The key is to not lose civility and resort to immature tactics. I write my thoughts (on Facebook), and people comment that it’s long — then it’s not meant for them. My interest is to not create a sensation, but to establish a dialogue. Simply put, to interact and not just act. What I write is, of course, not any universal truth, only my own views. But everyone has a right to find his/her truth and defend it to his/her last breath.
Do opposing view points cause any friction at home?
Renuka, too, doesn’t just act, but interacts. The atmosphere is actually quite pleasant at home! We are two different people, and it’s our differences that make us tick. We may have different opinions but that doesn’t mean our worldviews become polar opposites at every level. Dissent has been the cornerstone for democracy, and zero or no opinion is more dangerous than having opposing views. Renuka has her thoughts and ideology, and, similarly, I have my ideas. But both of us don’t establish our thoughts as the ultimate truth — one can be civil and yet be in disagreement, whereas one can be on the same side and be completely uncivil. This is where the difference between vichardhara (ideology) and mansikta (mentality) comes in.
What do you make of the new crop of actors in Bollywood?
All of them have great skill and talent, and enter the industry fully prepared. Look at Pankaj Tripathi and Nawazuddin Siddiqui. People like Vinod Khanna, Amitabh Bachchan, Sanjeev Kumar rose to great heights only after starting small. So let’s not unnecessarily glorify only our time.