Scaling HeightsSukanya VenkatraghavanPosted online: Friday, August 13, 2004 at 0000 hours IST
Not many people can remember that this tall hunk who plays Garv in the popular serial Kkusum also played junior Balram in Mahabharat. Chetan Hansraj has sure come a long way and seems to be enjoying all the attention he warrants. In this interview with Screen he spoke at length about his career, his experiences as an actor and of course the adulation from the female fans. (Something that is obvious, as he signs autographs for giggly teenagers and poses patiently for photos in between the interview). Excerpts:
You have been a successful child artist in the past...
That's right. Although people remember me most for the role of Balram in Mahabharat, I actually started my stint in front of the camera when I was five. I also featured in about 200 press ads and 25 films. My first taste of stardom came when a film in which I featured called Kukuduku was screened at a film festival in France. It was memorable trip because I rubbed shoulders with the likes of Khalid Mohammed and Gulzar.
Like all child artistes you also took a long break before returning as an adult actor?
I was 13 when I did Mahabharat which was one of the toughest things to do. After that I took a 10 year break and within that time, went through a turmoil of figuring out what to do next. I think deep inside my heart I knew acting was my calling but somehow I kept trying other things. I did a full fledged fashion designing course from NIFT and tried to set up my own boutique. But it wasn't successful and I had to move on. Then I did a 3D-Animation course. But I think it was only a matter of time before the limelight lured me. I entered the Gladrags Manhunt in 2001 and came third. That took me to the 'Best Asian Model' contest where I scored as a runner up also bagging the Best Physique trophy. It seemed like a good beginning. I was doing ads left, right and centre like the Thumbs-Up ad with Akshay Kumar or the underwear ad with Mallika Sherawat(smiles). I also dabbled in television with episodic serials like Shhh...Koi Hain.
How did the role in Kkusum happen?
As most stories concerning Ekta Kapoor go, this too is quite interesting. There was a period when I wasn't doing much-waiting for something lucrative to come by when I got a call from Balaji Telefilms. I auditioned for the role of Garv and initially Ekta wasn't too sure. She thought I looked too negative. But she also felt that it could be an interesting combination-to have such a vulnerable character with unconventional looks.
As always her instinct has paid off. Did you grab the role straight away?
Although Ekta was sure that I was 'her Garv', I gave it some thought. I did want to make it in films but that is a big struggle as many will agree. I spoke to friends who told me that I need visibility as an actor and so I should go for it. The idea was to be as busy as possible so that the chances of fading away are less. I decided to take up the role and life has never been the same again.
Why do you say that?
I think that the second generation in KKusum has really hit off well with the viewers. All the characters have become immensely popular. I get letters and sms all the way form UK and US. It is a heady feeling. People almost worship you. I got a whiff of this when I was in Ahmedabad recently. A huge crowd mobbed me and I must have signed at least 2000 autographs (laughs sheepishly). It's crazy.
Your character Garv is almost unbelievably self-sacrificing in the serial-to marry a friend who is carrying someone else's child is a huge gesture. Do you identify in any way at all?
Not really. I mean, the situation is a bit too unreal for me. I am not saying it does not happen but it is hard to put myself in that position. As for helping a friend out to such a large extent, I can get away by saying that I don't have such a close female friend in the first place (laughs). But seriously the key to a convincing performance especially when you don't identify with the situation is to clearly separate the two in your head. There cannot be a confusion going on in real life about your character and his motives.
One has noticed that Garv is a person who doesn't hesitate to cry. Men are usually supposed to be controlled about their emotions...
I know what you mean. Look, that is exactly what's so appealing about Garv. You have this six-foot something guy who is not scared to show his vulnerability. I think the audience loves that. I have a lot of maasi-types who come up and say they want a son just like me (grins).
In the show you are caught between two diametrically opposite women-Kali and Kkumud. How is the chemistry between you and the girls?
Frankly speaking, Rucha(who plays Kali) is so tiny looking that initially I found it very difficult to generate chemistry. There's no fun if there is no electricity between co-stars. But over time we have developed it. Now if we have to do a more intimate scene it looks much more convincing than before. With Aashka(who plays KKumud) so far it has been easy because we are supposed to be only friends in the show. But the equation is changing slowly and it will get interesting to see what kind of chemistry we share. What I feel is that, at the end of the day I am an actor. It is my job to look convincing on screen. Anything less than that means that I have failed as a performer.
I was touched when a flower girl at the traffic signal recognized me as Garv. That I think is the power of television today
How is it working with a bunch of people of the same age group? Is there a feeling of one-upmanship at any time?
Absolutely not! We all help each other immensely. Many times when I forget my lines or the energy level is ebbing I get a tap on the shoulder from Aashka or Rucha to wake up. In fact when we just started out shooting I was a little diffident. Amit Sarin who plays Kshitij has been a great support. I can say that I have learnt a lot from his confidence as a performer.
It is difficult to imagine you as a diffident actor.
Strange, but true. Despite being a child actor with a lot of exposure the first time I faced the camera for a serial was traumatic. I was handed pages and pages of lengthy dialogues and it really freaked me out. This was on the sets of Kya Hadsaa Kya Haqeeqat and I used to really struggle to get even two lines straight. Then Ekta set things right. (With a smile)
She heard about my struggle and called me to the studio one evening. I had no inkling what was on her mind. It was late at night and some voice-overs were being dubbed. I just sat there watching in amazement as she spouted the material for the VOs spontaneously; without a break. There was a guy who was writing everything down. Then she asked me to go and do the voice over. It was 2.30 in the night and believe me, she did not let me go until I got every single nuance right. I was sweating bricks as the time ticked on. But that was a major turning point for me. Those six hours inside the studio with Ekta egging me on has made me the actor that I am today. She helped me get over my insecurity as an actor completely.
So you too swear by her ability to get the best out of her actors.
Absolutely! I think Ekta Kapoor can take a complete novice and make a star out of him. She is two hundred percent involved in her artists' progress.
Do you think your unconventional looks are a hindrance when it comes to bagging normal character roles?
I thought as much before bagging the role of Garv. That has changed the perception I have of myself. I am glad I trusted Ekta completely. She had warned me that for the first three four months I would not have much to do. But I hung on and the role has picked up marvelously.
Garv is someone who is not scared to show his vulnerability. The audience loves that about him
You had a small role in the recently released film- Asambhav. Were you happy with that?
Not really. But I had no illusions. Rajiv Rai is a good friend and when he approached me with the role he was frank enough to tell me that it wasn't much. But I took it as I felt that it would be a good showcase. I had one really good chase sequence with Arjun Rampal. I think the problem lay in the fact that there were too many characters you know like Shawar Ali, Mukesh Rishi and myself. It is difficult for one person to hog the limelight.
Are you looking at more film assignments?
Yes. But I am in no hurry. I don't want to take on tukda roles and ruin my chances in the future. Television is going great guns for me now. Infact, I have been offered some international projects too.
Tell us about it.
I have been approached by HBO to do a 13 episode tele-serial called Love Forever.com to be shot in the U.K. I will have to go down there in November or thereabouts for a 45 day schedule. Let's hope it is the big break I have been waiting for. Another major international project that has come my way is a film called Meet Mrs Clooney which is a proper Hollywood production. It has stars like Robert Downey Junior and talks are on to get George Clooney himself for a special appearance. It is going to be a three part series.
How did you bag these projects? Do you have an agent?
No. (grinning widely) The best part is I was offered the HBO serial because they saw me in KKusum. In fact Kkusum has major viewer-ship in the UK and US. So, you see it was not any planned move with a proper agent or anything.
So what will happen to Kksum in the interim?
I have spoken to Ekta about it. But I guess we will cross that bridge when we come to it.
You seem to be poised for a big leap.
I certainly hope so. Lot of interesting things may happen next year and I am keeping my fingers crossed.
Lastly how do you cope with all the female adulation?
It feels great! (Laughing loudly). it is not just the average college crowd who seem to like me. I was touched when a flower girl at the traffic signal recognized me as Garv. That I think is the power of television today.
Edited by samie - 28 March 2005 at 5:03am