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“With theatres struggling to open again, the web is probably the next big step”

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In this exclusive telephonic interview to and Mayapuri, CHETAN PANDIT tells JYOTHI VENKATESH that Shemaroo Entertainment is doing an incredible thing by supporting honest movies like Scotland by taking them to the audience.

You play a corrupt politician in the film Scotland with many layers. What was your reaction on being offered this role?

There is nothing more alluring to an actor than the opportunity to essay a complex character with many shades. I’ve played a good hearted politician in one of my earlier films, but in Scotland I am a leader of a different kind, wicked to another level. In a way, no person looks at himself in a negative light and one always feels he is doing the correct thing. Similarly, my character Balvir Shelar too thinks he is fighting in the “Kurukshetra” and whatever he does is righteous.

Would you say you have rarely been offered such a challenging character?

I’ve done a wide variety of roles in my career, including a crooked Home Minister, the “so called” negative part in Apaharan as well. He was very much like Balvir, but that is where the talent of a great director comes in, who keeps things unique! Even in ads that I did, I’ve worn so many faces that it’s now almost impossible for people to believe that I have also been a truck driver for a famous Castrol ad. In the end, rigorous preparation is very important to make your character stand out and it’s not just about muttering lines. For Balvir Shelar, I envisioned his whole universe to delve deeper into him.

Were you a part of any workshops for Scotland?

Not really. The detailed and descriptive narratives that director Manish Vatssalya gave were more than enough to find the pitch of this character. So, while I personally did a lot of homework, I also left a lot of space for some spontaneity on the sets.

Did you find any resemblance between Balvir and the antagonist in Damini?

If you think of it, music itself has just seven notes, but some tunes inadvertently sound familiar. So, there may be traces that remind you of other works but the plot has been weaved with a completely original perspective. I was astonished by this amazing story when I heard it the first time.

Which was the first film you began your career with?

Technically, I made my debut on the silver screen with Thakshak, though my most memorable role came with Prakash Jha’s Gangaajal, where I played Bholanath Pandey.

It looks like Prakash Jha always brings the best out of you!

You can say that, and having done almost seven films with the man, I do share a good rapport with him. I remember his whole office vehemently opposing my casting as a negative personality in Chakravyuh, but despite all their attempts Prakash was totally convinced about offering me a dark role. Prakash ji has always offered me such different shades in my characters.

Balvir Shelar too is not a plain evil character and there are vulnerabilities to him. Comment!

Definitely, he isn’t a two dimensional villain. This is one thing I again learned working with Mr. Jha, the fact that everyone is a hero in his own mind, nobody thinks of himself as an incarnation of evil.

This is the first time that you are collaborating with Manish. How was it working with him?

Manish has an expansive knowledge of literature and that adds to his craft. The biggest plus of working with this modern breed of directors is the absolute comfort level that they establish. I’ve worked with a few of late and it has been an absolute blast! These young guns listen to us actors and understand our predicaments.

Which are the five best films in your filmography till date?

 Gangaajal , Rajneeti, Apaharan, Agneepath and A Wednesday.

How would you evaluate your growth as an actor in all these years?

When a thinking man like Manish Vatssalya offers me such a refreshing character, it is very satisfying as a performer. The blessing of being called a versatile actor is elating and that is my true growth. I also must admit I was late to join the “web series” bandwagon, having ignored initial offers thinking it is a fad, and look at where we are today, my film is releasing on one of India’s most loved video streaming platforms, like ShemarooMe Box Office. I think it was destined that I explore this huge avenue of digital media with ShemarooMe Box Office. Shemaroo Entertainment is doing an incredible thing by supporting honest movies like ours and it’s wonderful that they are taking my work to the audience.

What do you think about you as an actor?

I had directed a play in Sanskrit way back in 1997 on a national level. The audience expected a veteran walking up to the stage but there I was, a young chap, having learnt each and every line of this scripture by heart. Someone had mentioned back then that when I visit this same text after twenty years, my interpretation of it will change, it will evolve. As one matures, one’s lookout towards life or our work does change.

My father had passed away and I had just about completed all the formalities when I received a call from none other than Sanjay Leela Bhansali to finish some work on his magnum opus Saraswatichandra, it was of utmost necessity that I reported on set as soon as possible. As luck would have it, I was also doing another serial back then, since I had to anyway arrive to finish Sanjayji’s project, I decided to call them up and wrap up some scenes with them too. In this chaos, I also had to work on Chakravyuh. As I had matured, I somehow managed to handle the situation and performed in front of the camera without any hiccups.

What difference do you find in television, films as well as theatre?

I find none, since once the camera switches on and my character is in front of it, there is no other thought of whether this is an advertisement, serial or film.

Which are your five favorite serials till date?

Punar Vivah, Saraswatichandra ,Kagaar, Baahubali and last but not the least Saraswatichandra. Baahubali was written beautifully too and Prakash ji helped me a lot during the shoot to understand my character.

Prakash Jha has played a vital role in your career making you blossom into a fine artist!

Prakashji really brings out the finer nuances of a character. May it be Baabhubali or any other film I did with the man, he is gifted beyond imagination. In Loknayak where I played the great Jaiprakash Narayan; he had perfected the intricacies of the script as well as characters to the “T”, making all the dialogues his own. I would like to believe all directors I have worked with have molded me as an artist. From Prakash Jha and Karan Malhotra, who directed Agneepath to so many others, they are very malleable human beings who facilitated my growth.

Where can we see you on the web?

I’ve done Rangbaaz streaming on Zee5. Those days of dismissing the web space are gone and today it is a booming industry with a bright future. With so many theatres struggling to open again, the web is probably the next big step. The lavish production values on the web are also a great attribute and with big brands like Shemaroo stepping in, sky’s the limit here.

When can we see you on screen next?

There are some talks going on for a few web series that I can’t reveal so soon, but all in good time.

How did you spend time during the lockdown period?

Thankfully, since I’m a musician and have all the equipment for a professional setup, I kept writing lyrics with my daughter who is studying at American Music and Drama Academy in New York. I have a younger daughter as well, who is studying in Mumbai.
Composition was a huge part of my schedule during this lockdown. While others complained of too much time, I discovered I had very less of it as I invested so much in music.

Do you find that your potential as an actor has not been tapped into?

An artist is always hungry till his last breath. I think I was lucky that I got to play someone as inspirational as Jaiprakash Narayan at such a young age. If that’s not destiny I don’t know what is. That film is very close to me. While my potential has been tapped many times, there is a long way to go and since there is no retirement for an actor, who knows what the future holds? It helps me that I am also a very good observer, so no matter wherever I am, an airport or a railway station, I try to imbibe Stanislavsky’s principles and observe people but never mimic.

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