Two months ago Amar Upadhyay was just another up and coming television actor with the good fortune to be a part of the most popular soap on Indian cable television, Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi (KSBKBT). Not so today.
It all changed for him after Ekta Kapoor, creative director of Balaji Films which produces KSBKBT for Star, decided to bump off Mihir (the character he plays) to further boost the soap's TRPs. Since KSBKBT's launch on 3 July, 2000, Mihir, with his good natured and pleasant appearance, grew on audiences and become a household favourite, so the sudden twist in the tale where he dies came as a rude shock to viewers.
Calls poured into Balaji's offices, with anxious enquiries about Upadhayay's well being and even whether Mihir was alright in real life. Why else would they want him out of the serial, was the question. There were others who were livid at the turn the story had taken and irate callers even vowed not to watch the serial anymore. To quote a song from the Hindi filmstar Govinda's movie Pardesi Babu: "It happens only in India."
We digress. The point is that Upadhyay is very much in the public spotlight and loving every minute of it. "I do come back in Kyunki Saas... flashback scenes," says Upadhayay. Things are just not the same for him anymore. "Nearly 17 offers have come this month, even a proposal to act in movies," he says.
Indiantelevision.com's correspondent Harsha Khot caught up with the "good boy of television", Amar Upadhyay, and found him still on a high. Excerpts from the conversation.
As an actor what is important to you before taking up an assignment?
Three things. First the script, then marketing and lastly publicity. There are two things that I would definitely go for after approving the script. Firstly, who is producing the product and then how well is it going to be marketed. But the script is the most important. For instance the movie Pyar Mein Kabhi Kabhi. It was publicised so well but it was a flop. It lacked a good storyline.
Is that all you would be looking for?
My emphasis is on exclusivity of the role. Right now I have been approached with some offers promising me six figure sums per episode, but since I intend to be in this field for a long time and I believe exclusive roles is what is going to make me last.
You are a chemical engineer. How did you end up in acting?
I have been in the modelling scene ever since my college days and have done all possible FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) ads like that of various soaps, shampoos, etc. After finishing college, I hunted for jobs but couldn't get one so I decided to take up tele-serials and advertising assignments that were coming my way.
How was it acting in a serial for the first time?
It was in the sitcom Dekh Bhai Dekh that I got my break in television. I play the role of 'Chachu'. There I did not act, I think. I just spoke lines from the script. I was very nervous since the Dekh Bhai Dekh team consisted of eminent names like Shekhar Suman, Navin Nischol, Bhavana Balsaver and Farida Jalal. But since there were other kids in the serial, I would compare myself to them and say to myself 'I have company, I am not alone'.
How different are you from the kind of roles you play?
I have this "good boy of television" image and the roles that I have been playing so far are quite similar and limited in their range. I am not like that.
Limited in what way?
The characters I play are limited by the script while in real life I would have handled adverse situations head-on and done something about it.
Do you often feel it would have been better if you had acted out a scene in a different way?
Do you approach the director and discuss your doubts?
Yes I often do that, and many a times I am wrong. But earlier I would quietly do whatever I was asked to do.
How do you work on emotional scenes?
In an emotional scene where I really can't get the emotions required, I think of something very drastic, say a death of a dear one and presto the emotions flow.
As Ram in Kalash
Were you always serious about acting?
No, I went on taking up assignments as they came along. I have done all possible things that came my way. FMCG ads for shampoos, soaps… etc.
What about acting made you think of it seriously as a profession?
Acting has more security than modelling. Even if you take Dekh Bhai Dekh where I was a novice. I was having fun and loved being seen on television. In September '98 when the ads weren't coming, I gave it a serious thought and decided that I wanted to be here permanently. In the serial Tulsi there were good actors like Rajeev Verma, who I watched very carefully. They have a certain style and approach which I observed. I didn't discuss the issue with anybody as such. I just decided for myself.
Would you be taking up different kinds of roles?
At this point of time I have not been offered roles different from what I have been doing till now. Mihir (Kyunki Saas…), Ram (Kalash), Akshat (Mehendi Tere Naam Ki). They all are good people, well natured. But I want to break this image and do some characters with more shades of grey. Now I want to show that I can do anything.
While 'Ram', 'Akshat', 'Mihir' are quite similar characters, have you tried to make them appear different from each other?
There are a lot of ways to make them look different. First is appearance. 'Akshat' is always in formal suits, 'Mihir' is always in Kurta Pyjamas while 'Ram' is mostly a shirt and trousers guy. And each character has slightly different mannerisms. For instance, 'Ram' has a peculiar mannerism of saying 'huh huh, do you understand what I am saying' to make sure he has been heard clearly. However, there is not much you can do to bring out the differences in these characters, and that's the reason I am handling only a few projects at a time. At the moment I am doing three.
While selecting a role, who do you turn to for advice?
I decide for myself, nobody tells me. I give a nod if I want to take up the project and decide on how I should play them.
What is your approach towards acting?
I just follow my heart and the mind controls it. Nobody is teaching me anything. I am teaching myself. I don't follow any method. I meet a lot of people, observe them and if I like something of somebody it stays in my mind and if the situation requires it I try to use those mannerisms. I listen to the character and do it accordingly on the sets, apart from that I don't think about it at home or anywhere else. On the sets I give my best. I think about how I would react to the given situation either as Ram, Mihir, or me and do what I feel would be appropriate. And if I go wrong the director is there to correct me.
How long does it take you to grasp the script?
It doesn't take me very long, hardly a look or two at the script to grasp the dialogues. Then while acting I understand of the mood of the character. It is only when two unconnected scenes are shot that I have to refer back to the script.
How would you define Amar?
I am very humble, very polite, who when not acting likes to watch movies in the theatre, surf the net at a friend's place in Malad, or just relax at home reading a novel.
What kind of books do you like to read and why?
Jeffrey Archer and Sidney Sheldon are my favourite authors. What I like about Archer's novels is that the protagonist comes mostly from a poor background and ultimately makes it big. The journey of a lad born into a poor family to become somebody big is so beautiful; its success is inspiring. Every stage of the journey that characters in books like Kane and Able, As the Crow Flies, Fourth Estate inspires me. Even Sidney Sheldon's books are on the same lines.
Apart from books what inspires you?
Books do inspire but in real life, as an actor, it is good performances which do it for me. I have seen all the Amitabh Bachchan and Aamir Khan movies. I don't know how Amitabh's approach has been but I ponder over how they could have done that. Other than that, people I meet or come across every day inspire me. Whenever I meet people, I observe their ways, and if I like it, it lingers in my mind and maybe in a year or two when a similar situation or character comes across it helps me, and I wonder if I could play around that, so my antennae are always up.
Were would you want to be in the next few years?
Who are your favourite directors?
I see myself as an actor for a long time. But at some point in my life I want to get into direction.
Anurag Mathur, Ashish Patil and Mahendra Batra. They have different techniques. Mahendra Batra for one uses a lot of gimmicks. For instance, suppose a scene requires to be shot in a restaurant, he would do the same in a room. The room would be arranged and the scenes shot from such camera angles that it gives a feel just like a real restaurant. He will cut a lot and as director experiment with camera angles a lot. He won't take long shots, but capture scene from every angle, and shoot the scenes in the way that is more than what's written in the script. It is all about different angles and position. Ashish Patil come from the Gautami Adhikari school. He shoots in such a way that it enhances dull scenes, he does believe in making the scene larger than life. Suppose he would shoot whole master scene first. He doesn't believe in angles but still he would shoot the whole master scene first. Where there is dull scene he know how to enhance it. The emphasis is on expression. Mahendra is more of a good technician although at time he does shoot a master.
How do you perceive the television industry as a medium?
With a lot more channels coming into the picture, I see it as a mega giant much bigger than films. You can experiment here. When Sholay became a hit, four million people watched it over five to six years and enjoyed it. Kyunki Saas… reaches every cable house. Cable reaches 40 million people. The downside is that TV memory is very shortlived. Since people watch it for free they tend to take it lightly, while in the theatre people pay so they observe you more seriously. You get less time on the big screen but its challenging while on the small screen since you can experiment a lot and it sates an actor's appetite.
Are you a product of boom in the television industry?
When I joined television, I had not given it a thought really. I could just as easily have approached theatre but the serials came along. Had the serials not come my way, I may have taken up theatre. I tried a lot for jobs. Anything from chemical engineering to marketing. But somehow I did not like the thought of a desk job.
What about acting do you dislike?
Scenes that require hamming. I want to be as realistic as possible. Even where the loud stuff is required, I try to be as normal and casual as possible.
How would you define success?
Like the one I got for 'Mihir.' I still can't believe the response I've got. I want to be mobbed all the time. Every since the character expired, it's all been really crazy. Now I want more of that. That is success. That is what I have always craved for all these years. Success in my eyes is to be mobbed all the time.