|Here's daily soap, Pavitra Rishta's original Maanav Deshmukh, and Kai Po Che's Ishaan ó Sushant Singh Rajput!|
For several of his detractors, his move to quit his debut TV show, Pavitra Rishta, in 2011 when it was soaring on the popularity charts, was a chance to write him off as another TV actor trying to make it big in the bad world of Bollywood that has previously rejected hundreds of small screen wonders. Tongues continued to wag for months after he moved out of sight, but he maintained a resilient silence till the producers of his debut film announced his name as their leading man. The film wasn't a small-budget-big-idea film. It was a big budget, famed director and kick-ass story film.
If you haven't guessed it so far, we're dropping hints at National Award-winning director Abhishek Kapoor's second outing as a filmmaker, Kai Po Che, and its central character Ishaan, played by film debutant, the dishy Mister Sushant Singh Rajput. He's a man who's not new to the camera, script and dialogue sheets, and the two key words, 'Action' and 'Cut'. He's in his late 20s, well-built, well-dressed and knows exactly how much of his mind he needs to speak. Clearly, it was time we turned the Dictaphone towards him and found out how his journey in the big bad world of Bollywood so far has been, since he grabbed two humongous projects even before his first film released.
"Is it..? I don't think that our film industry is a bad world. Yes, it's cut-throat competitive. I knew that, but I always harboured acting dreams. I wanted to learn and grow. When I ventured into acting a few years ago, I didn't have a mission, and the medium was the last thing I was going to bother about. I had told myself that back then, and it continues to be my mantra," says Sushant who was discovered by TV and now, film czarina, Ekta Kapoor and her team at Balaji Telefilms for their daily soap Pavitra Rishta.
The show opened on June 1, 2009, and Sushant became an overnight sensation with housewives and grannies, followed by college-goers, and soon married and unmarried working ladies. Of course, men tuned in too, but it was to find out what was attracting their mothers, sisters, wives, and girlfriends to the tube at 9 pm sharp on weekdays. It was an equally rude shock for the same flock of women to discover another actor playing the role of their ideal man, Maanav, one evening. Wasn't it difficult for Sushant to cut himself off his old role and step into a brand new space which was relatively alien to him then?
"I quit Pavitra Rishta because I wanted to go to UCLA for a film course, but films happened in between. I informed the production house and served notice till they found a replacement. Before I disembarked from the show's unit, I personally informed my producer, Ekta Kapoor about my move, which was only studying till then. She wished me luck with such a lot of heart. I was touched," he recalls, adding that while he was moving on, there were rumours that he had had differences of opinion with Ekta and couldn't bear to work with her, and so had quit.
He says, "But I knew and so did she that this was a pure rumour. So, it didn't pinch. If she had reacted badly to it, then maybe it would have made my transition from one world to another difficult. It was she who recommended me as a good artiste to her cousin Abhishek Kapoor who was planning to cast me in his film then. And I will always be indebted to Ekta ma'am for that. She could have made the parting sour. She made it extremely sweet."
Talking of Pavitra Rishta and not mentioning his ladylove whom he met while shooting that show will be slightly unfair. Plenty of young and old hearts cried foul when they discovered that their ideal man, Maanav, in his real life, was romantically involved with the show's heroine, Ankita Lokhande, who plays Archana even as we speak. Rumours of their affair surfaced six-eight months after the show started airing. Reports were that the Delhi-bred Rajput boy and the Maharashtrian girl were sharing an apartment in a posh Lokhandwala neighbourhood. They were spending hours on the sets and travelling together to and from work. Initially, there were plenty of denials from both but eventually, they admitted to being in love. And that also happened in 'filmy andaaz'.
The duo was shooting for the dance reality show, Jhalak Dikkhlaa Jaa. Midway through the show, he proposed to her. She said 'yes' with a blush, he was excited and hundreds of Indian women went into mourning that their hero was hitched. That was two years ago. When do they plan to tie the knot, since married heroes (Aamir and Imran Khan for instance) are considered hotter than the single brigade? "Ah!" blushes Sushant, and says, "We'll tie the knot soon. But don't ask me how soon. It will depend largely on her. Right now, I'm keener to work with her again. I miss those days when we shot together for hours on the sets. But today, she's an integral part of my life. I feel extremely fortunate and I thank God for that. No matter whom I work with, but she will remain my most favourite co-star forever."
Apart from day-dreaming about his ladylove and a beautiful future with her, the actor has been toiling all of last year, working on his debut movie Kai Po Che, which he says is a dream launch and he couldn't have asked for anything better. The film is a fascinating story about friendships, based on Chetan Bhagat's acclaimed novel, 3 Mistakes Of My Life. When asked why the name of the film was borrowed from Gujarati, Sushant explains, "The flavour of the film is such. It's based on the bestseller written by Mr Bhagat. I've read the book and loved it. And the script is equally fabulous. It's about victory. The title is metaphoric. It celebrates friendship that emerges triumphant after fighting odds and trying circumstances."
The promos of the film have been making rounds. From the looks of it, one wouldn't need a Pulitzer or a Nobel Prize to guess that the actors are playing middle class boys with sky-high dreams. Co-incidentally, Sushant's look in the film is similar to his look in his TV show. Bring this up and he says that there is no similarity between the roles; they are diametrically different from each other. "They can look the same because the man playing them is the same. But the characters by themselves are dissimilar. The audience will be pleasantly surprised to see me play someone like Ishaan," he adds.
There have been several films based on sports and friendships and both together. The most recent ones include 3 Idiots, Rock On!!, Rang De Basanti and Dil Chahta Hai. Chances are that Kai Po Che may come under the scanner and be compared to these cult hits because even this film is about friendship. Sushant believes that his debut vehicle's story is different from each of the films mentioned. It has a different take on friendship and the screenplay and storyline can give anyone gooseflesh.
Director Abhishek Kapoor has marched slowly on his career path. He made a film revolving around friends and complexes between them back in 2007-2008. This is just his second film. It sure would have been difficult for a newbie to trust a filmmaker who is just one film old, although that one film was raved about. Sushant doesn't quite agree with the idea. He admits that Abhishek, who won a National Award for his movie, offered his second outing to a rank newbie like him. "He's put me into such a good space in the film. Stars were well within his reach. I was excited and impressed by his conviction in three of us. I've discovered that he's a wonderful guy, a passionate filmmaker with tremendous clarity on the script," beams the rising star, who is unaffected by the fact that he's not romancing a heroine in his first outing as a hero because he's romancing some in one of his forthcoming ventures.
Star kids Varun Dhawan and Alia Bhatt, and a non-star kid Siddharth Malhotra, were launched by Karan Johar of Dharma Productions in a glitzy high-school romance. Yash Raj Films has an independent division that works on quirky stories with newcomers. Didn't he ever get a call from them or dream of being launched at their hands since he was one of the most loved names on TV? "The script and character offered are the most important aspects of a film. I'm happy that UTV is launching me. YRF and Dharma are dream production companies for any actor, even if he lands his first chance with them at age 50," smiles Sushant, who will also be seen in Raju Hirani's Peekay and Maneesh Sharma's next for YRF.
No actor in Bollywood, new or old, remains untouched by controversies. This newcomer has already had his share. Reports were that he was signed for Peekay and soon, was shown the door because the film's hero Aamir Khan wanted a bigger better star for the movie. Director Raju Hirani had to make an official statement in newspapers that he was pretty much part of the acting crew. It's even said that he was expecting a big role, but he was offered the smallest one in the film. In another incident, Anushka Sharma, the film's heroine, in an interview, stated that Sushant's role is microscopic because he's just a tiny chapter in her character's life, and he has an eight-day shooting schedule which speaks for itself.
Table these and Sushant decides to tackle one issue at a time. When asked about Aamir Khan, he says, "An actor can be small, but no role is ever irrelevant to a film regardless of the screen time. I respect Mr Hirani; he's a dream director to work with. I can guarantee my character is pivotal to the film. As for Mr Khan, I met him at a movie premiere. He said he had seen my audition tapes and was mighty impressed. This was a sheer compliment. He said he was happy I was a part of Peekay team. He also invited me to his house party which is so encouraging for a newbie like me."
And Anushka's statements? "Hmm, as for the number of days, I'll have to check with the scheduler. Small or big, my chapter in her character's life should be an interesting one. I won't comment on her comments, but I've come from a space where we're taught that if someone like Amitabh Bachchan, for the love of art, agrees to a cameo in The Great Gatsby, why can't we newcomers follow suit," asks Sushant rhetorically, as he gears up to romance Parineeti Chopra on screen for Maneesh Sharma's third outing with YRF. The role was initially offered to Shahid Kapoor who opted out citing date hassles and an indefinite wait for the film to roll.
It sounds strange to our ears that an actor, who plays the central character in a UTV production and a forthcoming YRF film, accepted a miniscule role in Peekay. Was it the lure of the setup and the cast that tempted him to become a small part of a big project? Sushant, as if he was expecting us to ask him this, is ready with his answer: "I can stand in the crowd in a single frame for Mr. Hirani's film and still be a proud actor."
Sushant was reportedly offered to play the lead in YRF's Aurangzeb, besides another project with the company apart from what he is already doing. The reason he couldn't accept the offers was that he was legally bound to UTV. It's even heard that UTV's head honcho Ronnie Screwvala made an allowance for him to work on Maneesh's film on the condition that he works in a solo hero project produced by his company, which rolls soon after the YRF movie. Apparently, he has also been signed by YRF for three films, out of which, one is known to the world. The other two are still not public knowledge.
Sushant is visibly feeling loaded with our queries. He once again decides to tackle one query at a time. The actor admits, without mentioning names, that several production houses offered him their films, but he was forced to decline their offers because he was already shooting for Kai Po Che. He adds that UTV had been lenient with him and had allowed him to venture out before their contract expired.
He adds, "I've been a background dancer in so many YRF movies when I was a part of Shiamak Davar's troupe. He often said that one day, I would be a hero in one of their films. His words have come true. And after Maneesh's film, if they find me worthy of another project, I'd be more than happy to work again with them. As on today, I'm under contract with UTV for two movies. And that's not going to change. Their next project with me is also extremely exciting."
In under two years in Bollywood, the actor has teamed up with Abhishek Kapoor (and wants to feature in every film of his in future), Maneesh Sharma and Raju Hirani, all three who were on his wish-list when he was only dreaming of becoming an actor. The list, however, doesn't end there. He's also keen to work with Anurag Kashyap, Vishal Bhardwaj, Shimit Amin, Mira Nair, Anurag Basu, Martin Scorsese, Christopher Nolan and some others whose names spread over five pages. "I'd give an arm and leg to be a part of their movies. Any actor in my place would do that, right?" Sushant beams.
The actor hails from the world of television. Monetarily it's a risky call. Most actors from there, who succeed in small proportions, or those who don't succeed at all, at some point, return to that world of daily soaps and 18-hour routines on the sets. If offered something unique, would he like to return to his roots or has he bid adieu to his first medium? Sushant clarifies that his roots don't lie in TV or movies. They lie in theatre and dance. "I'd even do a nukkad natak if I can find an interesting character to play," he says, adding, "As for money, I agree that for a lot of people, shifting from TV to films is a taxing decision that leaves them insecure for years. But thanks to almighty and probably my mother who is watching over me from the heavens, that I have made just enough money to sustain and keep my family happy for the next five to six years. Money thankfully won't be the agenda in the near-future for sure. Quality work, however, will always be!"
Hiten J Trivedi and Rachana Dubey
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