The not-so-media- savvy DEEPRAJ RANA tells JYOTHI VENKATESH in this exclusive and frank no holds barred telephonic interview that his basic approach as an actor does not change from movie to movie, whether the director is Sooraj Barjatya or Suzad Iqbal Khan.
Are you sceptical about being typecast as a “tough guy” having played such roles innumerable times?
I don’t think I am in any way type-cast, because I get offered certain roles because of the way I look, but as an actor it is my delight to perform any kind of character. For example, in The Hidden Strike I do not just essay just another rough and raw guy’s part, but there are a lot of shades to his personality, as the way the film treats all its characters is truly commendable.
Do you feel your latent potential has not yet been exploited as an actor till date?
Yes, I do feel my best role is yet to come. But there is a lot of optimism with the way things are being reinvented, take Shemaroo Me for example, they’ve proven to be a platform that promotes talent and it is very heartening to know my film will not have to keep scampering for screens when land on ShemarooMe Box Office.
Is nepotism causing a hurdle in your path?
Not really, as I feel that nepotism isn’t much of a factor, especially since sometimes the stars are just not aligned. I can say that I have not worked as hard as I should. Even though I know most of the directors who matter in Bollywood, I hesitate to approach them from my side. When the almighty wishes, he will shower me with his blessings.
How challenging was it to portray your character?
Especially since the movie is based on true incidents, playing the role of an army officer posed a lot of challenges, one of them being shooting in real locations. The entire team had to face the wrath of the nature with landslides occurring in the area apart from heavy rain. The terrain itself wasn’t the easiest to navigate. I don’t think I’ve shot in such a risky place ever in my career. Apart from this, the character had many intricacies to him, which I mentally dwelled upon with the help of my director. But I take pride in getting to play a fearless man in uniform, and the fact that the film will arrive on the eve of Independence Day makes it a memorable moment. It is a film made for the warriors in green and releases on the day India became free of tyranny. I’ve asked all of my friends and family to forget everything and just log on to ShemarooMe on Friday the 14th.
What do you feel about your director?
Suzad Iqbal Khan is a brilliant director and fantastic technician. The way he has created this film, nobody else can even imagine. Our chemistry was fabulous on set and I am very impressed by him, as despite unfavourable climatic conditions he managed to extract the best from everybody. I really liked his previous directorial, My Father Iqbal with Narendra Jha. With The Hidden Strike, I feel he has truly hit it out of the park, and you will see jaw dropping action sequences in this film.
In what way have you grown as an actor in all these years of working in the industry?
I have learnt many things as time passed, things which I did not know of when I entered this industry. Slowly, with self realisation I improved. You don’t get perfect directors to guide you in each of your projects, so one must learn on their own too, and that is how I deciphered acting. I believe I am a natural performer, leaving myself in the hands of the directors; I function according to their vision, and have never been selfish about myself in a film. Sometimes my effort pays off, sometimes it doesn’t.
Does your approach as an actor change with each new film and role?
No. I give equal amount of sincerity and truth to all, whether it is a Sooraj Barjatya or a Suzad Iqbal Khan movie.
Which are the directors who have helped you in further moulding your craft as an actor?
I blended nicely with Tigmanshu Dhulia and also enjoyed working with Soorajji.
How did you manage to fit into a comic role for Milan Talkies?
The way Tigmanshu had penned the dialogues, my character and his world started to become crystal clear, which helped me in performing, as I am of the opinion that the director’s input always helps.
What kind of preparation did you undergo for The Hidden Strike?
To be honest, I had done very little, as for me, my homework is to know the script in and out, and in the case of this film the script was crisp and tight, and left no doubts. There are also instances when directors consider the demand for a bound script an insult and we have come a long way from there. In television, actors sometimes receive the script on the morning of the shoot. I have worked in a lot of such “interesting” environments. I’ve just been on a serial called Muskaan where we had to finish off 14 to 15 pages in just four hours. Our “creativity” really goes for a toss in these cases!(Laughs)
Which filmmakers are you looking forward to work with?
I have been blessed to get the opportunity to already work with many of my favourite of film makers till now. I’d love to work with Rajkumar Hirani and Vishal Bharadwaj.
Can you name five best films of yours as an actor till date?
Sahib Biwi Aur Gangster, Aarakshan, Prem Ratan Dhan Payo, Machli Jal Ki Rani Hai and now The Hidden Strike.
Do you nurse any desire to venture into direction?
I have just finished writing a script, which is a biopic on the first female who began burning corpses, a predominantly male dominated tradition. I got the time to completely stitch it together during the recent lockdown. Although she passed away in 2000, I am in touch with her son who provided me with a lot of material. A lot of people who have read my story do feel that I myself should helm the film. I’m open to making films, but knowing how harrowing direction is, I am a little wary though if destiny wills I will be game to direct
Though you have worked in mainstream films, how come you are interested in directing aesthetic films?
Yes! This kind of tale has been told never before, it is truly something different. The lady I am speaking of ushered a lot of evolution in mindsets, and it is thanks to her that her daughters could set out to perform last rites of their fathers; something frowned upon in the past. It also explores Aghori culture a lot. A lot of people do not know about this culture, the mysticism of the ghats.
The Hidden Strike has a feminist angle, what do you feel about the same?
Yes, in a way, change is coming, but it is slow but firm.
In how many TV serials have you acted till date?
I have appeared in hundreds of episodes in over hundreds of serials like Reporters, The Great Maratha, Muskaan etc.
What gives you greater satisfaction- Cinema or TV?
Cinema for sure! An actor needs Television essentially to pay the bills while films are to soothe an artist’s soul. No matter how good or bad the role, one must invest their all into acting, and not just give it a shot for the heck of it for four or five films. Acting should be your life. I came here as a young boy and never looked behind, that’s how magical it is.
Which are your favourite serials among the many you have done?
I’d say that the four TV serials I liked myself in are The Great Maratha, Devon Ka Dev Mahadev, Reporters and Tara.
Did you ever harbour the desire to be a commercial leading man?
Never! Once I finished my training in acting, I came to Mumbai and joined Nadira Babbarji’s Ekjut group. Back then there weren’t satellite channels, just Doordarshan. I landed a small part in Main Azaad Hoon. I was fascinated by Mr. Bachchan since then. I worked in Shyam Benegal’s Discovery of India, which also paid very well, the roles on offer used to be insignificant but the handsome payment of Rs 2000 per day really helped us survive those days.
Looking behind, how do you feel about your journey as an actor?
I feel there is a very promising road ahead and much more left to do.
Which are your forthcoming projects?
I am working on a film with Randeep Hooda titled Mard.
Is it goodbye to television serials?
I only do them for survival, as otherwise I am not very happy working in that space because it is very vexing thanks to the heavy workload. I often wonder how people continually slog in television serials despite having all the riches.
The web series bandwagon is now on. Do you have any plans to go digital?
I haven’t been offered anything amazing; I did work on a series written by Zeeshan Quadri of Gangs of Wasseypur fame, and after The Hidden Strike which is premiering on digital space though it is a film, I will have more exposure in this digital zone. From buying Shemaroo’s DVD’s to now watching my own film on their streaming platform, life has come full circle.
What is the difference between theatre, film, television and web series?
All the four are more or less similar, but I’d say that theatre is a different beast since we face a live audience and that is truly another kind of madness.
You’ve never been very media friendly. Why?
I’m still old school that way, a little restrained, but who knows what tomorrow holds!