March 30, 2021 12:30:12 pm
As an aspiring actor, Aasif Khan was told by a friend that the late Irrfan Khan owed his baggy eyes to wearing high-power spectacles.
“I went to the optician and got myself a spectacle with -2 power. At night, I would sit and rub my eyes desperately to make them red, believing that is what added to Irrfan’s charm as an actor,” Aasif tells indianexpress.com over the telephone, adding how the 2003 movie Haasil really became a turning point in his life.
Today, the 29-year-old from a small town in Chittor district in Rajasthan, is a much-appreciated face on a lot of web shows; you may know him as the groom in Panchayat, as Babar Khan in Mirzapur or as Anas Ahmad reporter in Jamtara. His latest movie Pagglait with co-stars Ashutosh Rana, Sanya Malhotra, Sayani Gupta, among others, where he essays the role of Parchun, also released recently on Netflix.
Aasif moved to Mumbai just after completing his 11th standard. Like most Indian families, his parents were quite strict about academics — acting was never really considered a career option.
“My father used to work at JK Cement, which also had a school and college. So it was almost predestined that one would study there, and eventually join the factory, and basically spend the entire life there,” except those students who pursued IIT or BTech, the actor shares.
After his father’s passing in 2008, and the ensuing financial constraints, it was decided that Aasif’s elder brother — who fared well in studies — would continue his education while he would take up a job to support the family. He was 16-17 years old at the time.
“I worked with a distributor for a mobile company, where my job entailed collecting forms from people all over the town and then attended a government school in the second shift.” He also did other menial jobs later.
After about 1-1.5 years, when his brother finally completed his education and got a job, Aasif told his mother about his desire to go to Mumbai. There was much resistance, so he left without informing.
Stand-up comedy put him on stage, Rajasthani theatre taught acting
As a young boy, Aasif’s only encounter with acting was through plays and pantomime performed at school functions. Or the annual Ramleela during Dussehra. The Paatal Lok actor recalls the time he played a slapstick role in a school play Kissa Kursi Ka that was much appreciated and one that boosted his confidence.
In fact, the then-teenager also gained some recognition after he started telling jokes on stage. “I was inspired by Raju Shrivastav’s act on The Great Indian Laughter Challenge — be it Jaipur or Udaipur, I wouldn’t miss an opportunity to perform. I wasn’t aware that it was called stand-up comedy but that is what I thought I wanted to pursue.”
Reality struck hard after coming to Mumbai. While running from pillar to post, Aasif realised — for the first time — that acting required proper training. But as someone who was working as a waiter at a five-star hotel and later in a mall, he did not earn enough to be able to pay the fees for an acting school in Mumbai. On enquiring, a friend told him about a theatre group in Jaipur, a relatively affordable city.
Aasif says it was only after joining theatre that he realised acting was all about discipline and consistent practice. He enrolled himself in Ravindra Manch, a theatre school in Jaipur, and trained under Sabir Khan, the director of Sarthak Theatre group, deemed one of the most prestigious theatre groups in Rajasthan. “Irrfan Khan also worked with him before joining National School of Drama. I thought I would learn acting in four-five months, but it took a long time. For the first month, I was just moving planks. I did theatre for six years. In 2016, I finally felt like I was ready for Mumbai.”
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‘Every actor should do theatre’
While doing a variety of work in the film industry, Aasif also manages to take out time to do theatre. Currently, he is doing a play that is a Rajasthani adaptation of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. “I haven’t taken up anything new because of time constraints. But I take part in repeat shows of older plays,” he says.
Theatre plays a crucial role for an aspiring actor, believes the India’s Most Wanted actor. “Whether you are on stage, in front of the camera or behind it, each form is dictated by certain characteristics. When I am live on stage, each of my actions needs to be pronounced for the audience. On camera, on the other hand, the technology is such that it would catch every little movement. That is where you need to be subtle. Acting schools today need students to become all-rounders and tend to overburden them. I believe the National School of Drama and Film and Television Institute of India are really the two main schools of acting. Rather than joining any random film school, one should do theatre.”
The actor, however, acknowledges that pursuing theatre as a career is difficult in our country. “Most people believe films give better exposure. And the hard truth is there is hardly any money in Indian theatre, which is why it is difficult for people to pursue it as a career. Maybe one can take it up as a hobby, or as something you do only after your office hours.”
He adds, “There are only some states where people are aware of theatre and buy tickets to watch it. For instance, there is rich theatre culture in Gujarat. West Bengal is also known for its theatre while mobile theatre is quite popular in Assam.”
‘I do not fear backlash’
On being asked if he fears backlash because of his roles, at a time when many web shows are facing lawsuits, Aasif says, “I believe, in any form of art, there shouldn’t be unnecessary censorship or pressure because through our work, we are only mirroring society. For me, the two most important things are that my character should be entertaining, and it should educate society. I do not fear backlash.”
On the other hand, he likes being carefree and avoids undue stress about work. He reads the namaz every day and makes sure to return home for at least a couple of months every year, no matter how busy his schedule is. “I love being at home — I live a very normal, regular life with my family so I really don’t need to detox as much. My mother keeps us all very grounded, it is not like I get any special preference at home. Even when I am in Mumbai, I do not think about work constantly, unlike what the culture there is.”
‘Reading and writing helps an actor’
Currently at home, Aasif is using his free time to watch movies. “During the lockdown, I watched shows like Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad. I am now watching Fauda on Netflix. If I am watching TV, I mostly watch classic movies of Dilip Kumar.” He also loves fiction and writes occasionally, not just stories but poetry, too. “Jaun Elia is my favourite shayar. Reading and writing also help with acting because when you are playing a character, you need to have a thorough understanding of the text.”
While signing off, he says jokingly that he hopes he would be able to be like Manto one day — unabashed and undaunted. “That is my dream”.
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