ASHISH SHARMA tells JYOTHI VENKATESH in this telephonic interview that whatever he has been able to achieve till today as an actor has been only because of television.
How is the coronavirus treating you and how has the lockdown been?
Honestly, my wife and I are anyway not very social and don’t go out much. It’s only for work that we step out. Currently shoots are not happening and people are working from home. We are currently in the pre production phase of writing the script. To be honest I don’t realise how many days/months have passed. Initial one week was very different since the body was not used to sitting at home. The body clock was disturbed completely. I wasn’t sleeping in the night and sleeping in the morning. I think now we have become comfortable staying at home and it will be difficult for us to go back out and work.
In what way did playing the character of Modi on ‘Eros Now’ help you as an actor?
It depends on how makers perceive the whole project. It has more to do with that rather than me being an actor and contributing in any way. Firstly, I think the project should be seen in an apolitical manner. The project was handled by director Umesh Shukla in a way where it wasn’t about politics but as the name suggests, the story talks about the journey of a common man who went on and became the nation’s leader. Keeping aside Modiji’s political journey, the show focused on the inspirational journey of Modiji who came from a small town in Gujarat and how he became the Prime Minister of one of the World’s largest democracy, India.
How did you prepare for this role?
I did a lot of research for my role considering we had a lot of time in our hands for it. The entire team researched on the smaller intricacies of the show right from his childhood to the time he became the Prime Minister. I essayed the role of young Modiji before he became the Prime Minister. I went through footages provided by the team to enhance my role. Also, Umeshji did not want me to mimic Modiji as he is, and wanted me to pick up his essential qualities.
How were you zeroed in for the role? Was it easy or was it the luck factor?
It was luck, I feel. The producers of the show knew me well. They were looking for someone to fit the role, but couldn’t find the perfect fit. Apparently, nobody was ready to commit to perform such a big role since it was a huge task to portray the role of our Prime Minister. So, when I was offered the role, I took it as a big opportunity. Also, the fact that I was getting to work with big producers and directors who would push me to strive hard made me say a yes to this role.
You made your debut with Love Sex Aur Dhokha. Why didn’t you continue with films after that?
I came to Mumbai from a small town in Rajasthan. As a newcomer, beggars can’t be choosers and do what you get. Before Love Sex Aur Dhokha, I had already done three films, which never released. I came to Mumbai to train myself as an actor and joined Anupam Kher’s acting academy. However, post Love Sex Aur Dhokha, I was offered the main lead in a massive television project, Gunahon Ka Devta. I chose television since I felt that was the right choice at that point in time for my career. That was how my journey as an individual started.
Rajkumar Rao and Nushrat Bharucha who acted in LSD were also from small towns but didn’t they concentrate on films more?
I don’t think we can compare television to the film industry. Television as a medium is as strong and impactful as films. Today, whatever I have achieved so far is only because of television. While I understand that the mediums are different, today, even film actors are promoting their films on television. That’s the power and the reach of the medium. Everybody has his own journey.
You and your wife turned producers; what gave you guts to produce?
My wife Archana has been an actress for over 7-8 years now and has started writing scripts. Our Khejdi was written by her and she is also writing our next movie. We produced a feature film with Rohit Dwivedi as the director and had the courage to do so only because we were financially stable, especially as I was in a position to say no to stuff. We also had the vision and the drive to do the film. The story was strong to be heard but was stuck with us for almost 4 years. We did not release it in India. We went through various film festivals and got awards across the globe. We were slated to release it in August but the lockdown erupted. I played the lead. The story is about a drunken transgender. The role was not only physically challenging but also mentally very taxing.
Which are your 5 best TV shows?
Chandragupt Maurya and Rangrasiya were the ones that stood out most for me. Rab Se Sohna Ishq, also had its own charm as it was the first Indian Television show that was completely shot outside of the country, in London. Prithvi Vallabh – Itihaas Bhi, Rahasya Bhi and Siyake Ram were also special.
How has the growth been for you as an actor over 10 years?
Every person grows with time. I have grown not only with my skills but also personally. I have become a lot calmer and more composed over a period of time. I have begun to see myself very objectively. I believe you grow as an actor when you grow as an individual and it is all interconnected.
Are you happy with the way your career has progressed?
I am absolutely happy and have no regrets. I am in a position where I can do what I want to do and choose what I don’t want to do. Over the years I have made some great content and have been a part of great projects. I have had the opportunity to work with some great talent. It has been a very fulfilling and very enriching journey.
How was your experience with reality shows?
I had fun doing Jhalak Dikhla Jaa. I love dancing and that show gave me an opportunity to learn dancing. Learning something new every day got me excited to do the show. I am not a reality show enthusiast and I haven’t done anything post that as I am not cut out for a reality show. I can’t add anything to them and they can’t add anything to me. I don’t like to do something that doesn’t enhance me as an individual.
What are the movies you are working on now?
There is one with a wonderful director that I won’t be able to name now. Another one is a home production. This time we are keeping the commercial aspect in mind unlike our last movie Khejdi. Other than that, I am only looking at movies and web series as of now.
Which are the directors on your wish list?
Umesh Shukla, Shoojit Sircar, Raj Kumar Gupta and Anurag Basu.
What do you look for in a movie or TV serial as an actor?
I always look at the story and how I will be a part of the narrative. I was offered Rab Se Sohna Ishq right after Chandragupt Maurya. It was a love triangle. They wanted me to play the protagonist who was the quintessential hero. But it didn’t excite me. I said I would rather do the other role. The channel Imagine was baffled but I was sure as I knew that what they were offering would eventually become monotonous. The other character had shades and I wanted to play that. Later they did agree that the story revolved around my character rather than the protagonist. I like to look at the story and understand the arch of the story and where I am placed in it.
You also played the role of Ram in Siya Ke Ram!
It is about the viewers’ perception and the point of view of the story. Siyake Ram was from Sita’s point of view and the team of researchers was incredible. I like to work in a show which is well researched and well made especially in terms of costume dramas. In television we try to modify the script for entertainment value and because of this the subject matter goes for a toss. I feel it is my moral responsibility to not take up such projects. I do not have control over such things but in my capacity I still retain the option of saying no.
How do you differentiate your role in Siyake Ram?
I took it up because of how the character of Ram was perceived. Initially I was reluctant to do it, because I do not look anything close to Ram. The makers who I had worked with earlier convinced me. They told me that as Ram I have honest eyes and there is certain calm in me that was needed. Earlier Ram was depicted from the perspective of God. Here it was about the journey of the Prince who became God because of his deeds. Because of the way he led his life, his wife considered him as God. The point of view was different so things automatically changed as how it was depicted on screen. I feel historical and mythological shows should be made again and again for our younger generation. We seldom read about them, and only watch them. It is an easier medium to take our stories to the audience. It should be made in a very contemporary way so that they can relate to it. Siyake Ram was very contemporary. It was shot with the latest technology on humongous sets. It was a brilliantly made show and stood out from earlier versions.
After being an actor, producer and a reality show participant, do we see you as a director too very soon?
Though not very soon, in the future for sure because whatever projects I do I work very closely with the director. While playing PM Narendra Modi, Umesh ji kind of mentored me and gave me an opportunity to direct a few scenes. That’s the kind of understanding I have had with directors. It’s the inclination also which makes them take me under their wings.
What do you feel about Dangal TV? How many of your shows have been shown on Dangal TV?
Chandragupt Maurya and Gunahon Ka Devta have been aired on Dangal TV. I think it’s great. It’s got a wide reach since it’s a free channel because every other channel has become a paid channel. It becomes disappointing when you pay for a channel and the content does not turn out to be how you want. It is better to see a channel, where I don’t have to pay and also watch content that I like. The best part of Dangal is that the channel knows how the shows have fared in the past. It is easier for them to pick up shows which have a recall value and it also attracts viewers. There are loads of people who are watching it again and also plenty who are watching it for the first time also. It’s a brilliant idea to syndicate the content and also create their own new fresh shows and content since they have tried and tested formulae in place.
Lastly, which are the shows that you are all set to do now?
I have not been doing television for over 2 years now. The last I did was Prithvi Vallabhai Patel. After that I have consciously not taken up any TV series. Last year I was going around the globe with my movie and then the OTT film Modi happened. Currently I am part of two web shows.