You’ve made a significant mark for yourself in the industry, delivering some great content for the movies as well as OTT. What has been your biggest takeaway?
To have people from the media and cinema acknowledge your work is the best compliment. One of my biggest takeaways has been, being present and patient about things shaping up for me. I’ve learnt the importance of hard work, and have made sure to give my 100 per cent no matter how big or small a project is. I think when I started working, I remember saying to myself that it doesn’t matter if the film works or not, as long as you can prove yourself as an actor. In our industry, if you can prove that you are good actor, and you can pull off different roles, then that is and should be your win. With time, I’ve been able to create a space for myself, so for me, that’s a huge achievement. That’s all I ever wanted. I hope I keep doing this, and not get lose sight.
What challenges do you face now?
A lot of what I do is based on my instinct. I don’t go based on what the market forces you to do and expects from you. I don’t really strategise my career. There was a phase when I was in a darker place in my personal life, and at that point of time, I happened to read somewhere that whatever you’re going through at a time, you should take up that kind of work. That eventually made me pick darker films like, ‘Gurgaon’ and ‘Laal Rang’. Lately, I’m feeling much more satisfied and happy with my life. I’m currently working on a show that is a very light-hearted love story. I think letting that dictate my work helps me have variety in my films. As human beings, we go through a plethora of emotions not just one or two things. We’re not either happy or sad, but all kinds of things at different points in our life. I’m just picking projects and doing things based on how I’m feeling at the time, and I think that has helped me find a balance in my work.
With a string of successful web shows you seem to be enjoying the OTT space? Does it feel like a success?
I am too overwhelmed right now. I think it’s scratching the surface of success right now. The parameters of success have already been defined by our industry – how much you earn per project, how many Instagram followers you have, which producer knocks on your door, etc. But my own metric of success is the variety and growth as an actor. And I think by that metric, with my own parameters, I think I have achieved success. I feel I have not yet been typecast, play a variety of characters and that’s the real challenge that I was after. I wasn’t really after big money, I was after versatility, it does feel I’ve finally got in some ways.
Take us through the period when you were not choosing the right projects…
People have this nepotism debate and I don’t really want to get into that. This is a line that you’re not equipped at all to deal with. I think the only benefit star kids have is that there’s somebody who’s done it before them who can educate them. Otherwise, they are also going through the same things we are. That is the only difference. They know a little bit more about films work, which films wouldn’t. They have a better understanding and backing that way. It did take a lot of time for me to decide, what are the kind of films, and roles I should pick and do at a given point in time. Most of my films didn’t work, maybe because of the promotions, or of the theatre numbers.
It took me a long time to get beyond that, plan, execute concerning what works for me, what wouldn’t. Frankly, I can’t get lost in what I did in the first half of my career again. With my films not working, that’s too miserable of a time to think about. Being offered things by X, Y and Z, to get lost in that, takes a long time to overcome to just focus on the right thing. My own journeys have sort of been that way. Today, I know to align my mind correctly. It’s a long-winded way to say that the struggle was bad and I’m glad it’s almost over.
You have worked with some of the finest and biggest names in the industry and been part of prolific movies, yet it took a while before the ‘recognition’ came your way…
I think passion makes you do some really crazy things. My love for acting has kept me sane. I always say – follow your heart and listen to what your body and mind are telling you, somewhere in my head I knew, if I stuck this out, I’ll make it. And I think, because of that I have immense confidence now. I’m sure people used to write me off at the start and say, how does he think he’s gonna make it? This is such a difficult thing. But I think your passion is the only thing that makes you survive this difficult journey. In this industry, if you want to be an actor, there can be no plan B. I didn’t give up on my bad days and promised myself, I am going to be here, whether I fail at it or succeed at it. And I think that’s the attitude that helped me. It doesn’t work for everyone, it worked for me.
As an artiste, how do you take care of your mental health?
Mental health is a real issue. And not just for artistes, for everyone. So artistes, by nature, are sensitive people. And we do face a lot of rejection. Our work is out there for everyone to see and judge. For me, it’s more about mindfulness, which really works for an actor as well. It’s very necessary to be present in the moment. We’re so programmed to think about everything else, but not the current moment. And it’s not our fault. It’s the way that we set up societies.
What has been the biggest obstacle in your career so far, and how did you manage yourself mentally?
I think one of the problems with our industry is the way that we’ve created this whole big break moment. Yes, I fell into a pit too. No learning can happen until you fall and hurt yourself very badly. That is when you start learning. So I definitely have fallen many times flat on my face, picked myself up again, and tried again. I was in a bad phase. I’ve been through real heartbreak and things just not going the way you want them to be, the struggle, the frustration, and the pain that comes with it are terrible. Being an actor, I feel a lot of that got poured into my work. I can take it out on my character or with my profession. So that’s why I always feel blessed that this is the line I choose.
You belong to a filmy family, Vivek Oberoi is your cousin, yet you started on your own…
I think people out there who know me and know my journey, are aware that it’s all been kind of solo. I’m sure, somewhere because Vivek and Suresh tauji were actors, that must have inspired me. So I’ll never take that away from them. Unfortunately, for whatever circumstances, which I’m not even really aware of, nor do I ever want to get into, because it doesn’t bother me, they were not a part of my journey. You know, it would have been probably a little bit helpful for me maybe, maybe not. I’m grateful that whether they were instrumental in my career or not, that aside, I’m grateful that they chose this line because that’s how I had the confidence to do it. Because I felt if my blood could do it, why can’t I? I’m a fan of who they are. I’m a fan of their work. They’re both tremendous actors. So I would actually like to thank them. We don’t speak as often as we should. But I’d like to thank them for even starting and especially Suresh tauji for coming here to Bombay in the ’70s.
You will soon be seen in ‘Inside Edge 3’, in which you’ll be sharing screen space with Vivek Oberoi. How does it feel?
This is a question I was asked at the very start when Karan Anshuman offered me the project. They told me that I might have a day with Vivek and actually wanted to see my reaction (laughs). I was so thrilled about it. We are not in the same frame, but we have a scene together. He is a BCCI personnel, and I am one of the cricketers. I hope one day somebody will cast us and if he’s up for it, I would love to work with him.
Are you happy with the way things are shaping up for you in the industry?
Today, with a lot of confidence and gratitude, I say things are finally shaping up for me in a positive way. All these years, I felt like I was running a marathon. Today I can relax. All those big and small roles have somewhere helped me pave my way. You know, all throughout my life, I wanted to be an actor, and follow this path badly. I’ve wanted to do this so badly. And there was always that fear in my 20s, where I was like, what if it never happens for me. I want to share my deepest insecurity with you—I am so scared that the phone, which keeps ringing continuously right now, will stop someday. It’s my deepest fear. Because it took so long for the phone to ring the way, it rings today.
What are the upcoming projects that you are working on?
There’s ‘Inside Edge’. There’s a South remake I did with Vineet Singh and Urvashi Rautela. Then I’m working on Vikram Bhatt’s ‘Cold’ with a newcomer actress. There’s a Disney Hotstar show which I am currently shooting. There’s a couple of really exciting things. A lot of fresh, new and exciting stuff soon.
What inspires you about this industry?
Our industry is filled with some really amazing people. To get an opportunity to speak and work with them is so inspiring!
One message for aspiring actors…
There’s no plan B here. Today, if you want to show the world how talented and creative you are, pick up your phone, shoot something, and show it off. It’s a privilege to have social media today, for expressing yourself. Don’t hang up waiting for stuff to happen.