Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Kunal Khemu

“I’m way more involved as an actor now because now it’s not my hobby, it’s my profession”

By Ankita R Kanabar

(This interview has been published in the May 11, 2013 issue of Super Cinema) 

You still somewhere cannot get over the fact that the little kid of ‘Hum Hai Rahi Pyaar Ke’, ‘Raja Hindustani’ and ‘Zakhm’, is now a grown man, and a lead actor. That’s the kind of impact Kunal Khemu made with his performances even as a child. And while his debut film as a lead, ‘Kalyug’ came in easily to him, the real struggle began post that. The fact that he’s been on a film set for so many years justifies his knowledge and passion when it comes to films. And I come across that side of his, while I catch up with him for a chat. Kunal gets talking about the recently released ‘Go Goa Gone’, and his journey from being a child artist to lead actor in Hindi cinema:

While ‘Go Goa Gone’ is such a unique concept, even the promos got some great response. That must have felt good?
The energies are so positive right now, because it all changed when the trailer came online, everybody responded so well to it. We’ve always been pepped up with the film because from day one, we knew that this film is just going to be the first of its kind. To be very honest, I always expected a reaction like this, at least from the youth. I knew that because it was new, young and so different, at least the youth will pick it up and they would talk about it. But it’s one thing to imagine it and another thing to actually see that happening. So, it was happiness all over again, when I saw everyone was talking about it. But in all honesty, I did hope for this to happen, and I’m glad it happened.

We’re guessing, the idea of ‘Go Goa Gone’ originated quite some time back while you worked on ‘99’ with Raj and DK…
Post ‘99’ and ‘Shor In the City’, we used to meet quite a lot, because we’re friends also. We initially were thinking of a crime comedy set in Goa, we wanted to do a slacker film. And then one day, from America, Raj called me up and said, how about we think slightly different, something like zombies. It took me ten seconds to kind of understand what he meant, because I love zombie films but I had never once thought that we would make a zombie film. I realised that the space we had set up for the film we wanted to do, it was very easy to bring zombies there, and take it further. So, we started two years ago with that thought, and then we spent endless hours, at my house, at their house, at coffee shops, thinking what we could do and how we could do it, and that’s how the process began. I kind of became a part of their core writing team and we wrote this. In fact, I actually ended up getting credits also for the dialogues, because Raj and DK speak in English, and they’re not very good with Hindi. Since I was spending each and every day while they were writing this film, I didn’t really even have to prepare. I think we’re very lucky that we got the right people associated with the film. At some point we had realised that nobody will make this. So much so, that I was considering leasing some of the stuff that I own to raise money to make this film, because it was a film I believed in and it was a genre that I was thrilled to do, despite the fact that it wasn’t a solo hero film. Luckily, Illuminati Films and Saif got involved, they liked the script and decided to back it.

You’ve done comedy films, but ‘Go Goa Gone’ must be a different style of comedy for you?
I really enjoy doing different kinds of cinema, and comedy is one genre which is slightly tougher to do. It’s not about trying to make someone cry or laugh. It’s also that you can emote sadness slightly easily, but if you’re asked to laugh in front of the camera for a minute, that to do well is tough, and in the same line, to get it right is difficult. Comedy has a very thin line, if you get it right people will laugh, if you don’t get it right, they won’t. This film has a totally different kind of humour, but with Raj and DK, they have a different take on humour; this is more casual humour, it’s not even slapstick, or situational. It’s just about two characters who aren’t trying to be funny, but it turns out to be funny which is what I like, personally, I like this kind of humour a lot more, where there is no set up made for it to be funny, it just ends up being funny.

When you started out, what were the kind of films that you wished you’d do?
For every actor today who’s ever watched Hindi films and wanted to be an actor, it must have started out 90 per cent of times with a Bachchan film. You wanted to be like Amitabh Bachchan, and just beat the bad guys with people whistling for you. For me, I also remember when I saw films like ‘Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar’ or Ram Gopal Verma’s film ‘Shiva’, I wanted to do films like that, but as and when you grow up, things keep changing and you realise there are so many different kinds of films being made, and how everything has changed. Even my film ‘Zakhm’, to when I visited a film set five years later, I saw things which were not there when I was working as a child actor, everything was different. There were no multiplexes when I was a child actor, and then the whole art film world became a commercial world. It changed in a lot of ways. But I’m happy that we belong to this time and phase now where there is so much more that you can do. Earlier there were only four genres, and I don’t think lead actors ever did comedy. We had people like Mehmood, Johnny Lever and all who specialise in comedy. Otherwise there was action, there was drama, love stories and horror. But now there’s realistic cinema, we’re making zombie films, we’re making biopics, and over the years, we’ve kept breaking the norms of a typical Bollywood film.

You started working since the time you were a child, and got exposed to the outside world at an early age. Not to forget all the popularity you got as a child actor. Did that ever deprive you of a normal childhood?
You know when you’re a kid, it’s on the parents to bring you up right. I think parenting is what plays the most important part, not just when you’re an actor, but even when you do something else as a kid, whether you’re an athlete or any other talent that you’ve got, it’s the parenting which comes into play because you’re moulding yourself at that point of time. I owe it to my parents for bringing me up right and I know this because as a kid, cinema was always a hobby for me. My profession was studying. So we made sure we only did films in the time and space that I had, which would be the vacations or Saturday-Sundays, or post-school. All the decisions were mine whether I wanted to do a film or not. My father had told me that, ‘you can do whatever you want, but that doesn’t mean it excuses you from getting bad grades or failing.’ I never failed any class in my life. That’s why I did limited work even as a kid. So on sets it was a different world, but I knew it was another world, and my actual world was back home and in school with my friends and family. So it didn’t change me in any way. I think I had a very normal childhood. The only thing I remember is, only once in my whole school life did I have to miss a picnic because I had committed dates for a film. That also, Bhatt Saab bribed me with a video game, so I missed my picnic. My father was like, ‘this is the first ever business deal you’ve made in your life, so you better value it.’ I don’t think I’ve missed out on any childhood fun or childhood life because of my work.

But when you do a film, like say, ‘Zakhm’ at a tender age, doesn’t it somewhere affect you emotionally?
It didn’t and that surprises me as well. But you perform the best when you don’t over-think it. Honestly, most of the times, I did not know what I was doing. I was just taking instructions from Bhatt Saab. He would come and talk to me, and I would just try to understand what he meant, and do it. I would be lying if I said that I connected to it, and there was a big thought process behind it. Which is why, ‘Zakhm’ became an important part of my life because that’s when I decided I wanted to be an actor when I grow up. That’s the time I thought that there is something that I like doing, and it does turn out to be well. So, maybe I should take it up seriously. But at that time, I was just taking instructions from my director.

Today, obviously you must be more involved as an actor…
It’s different now. It’s a different ball game when you’re a child actor. When you’re a lead actor, the whole film is around you, and you know everything else also that is happening in the film. So, of course, I’m way more involved as an actor now because now it’s not my hobby, it’s my profession. Even with the character, I like to know my character in and out so that it’s easier not to spend that time on set when you’re actually filming, and do that earlier. That’s why I like to spend time with the directors before we start shooting in order to understand how they imagine the character to be and how I think of the character so that we are in sink.

Your transition from being a child artist to a lead actor in Hindi films has been a smooth journey?
I actually didn’t give it so much thought. I consider myself lucky that it wasn’t so difficult for me to get my first film as I thought it would have been. It’s so tough for a lot of other people, but because I knew somebody like Bhatt Saab who wanted to work with me it was easy, and when he knew I wanted to take a sabbatical from acting, for the reason that I wanted to try and become a lead actor, he had promised me that ‘whenever you want to be an actor, I hope I’m around making films then, I would like to meet you and see what we can do.’ So when I finished my graduation, I met him, he kept his word, and within six months of me finishing my graduation, he offered me ‘Kalyug’. I don’t come from a film family per say, so I don’t know the business, I didn’t know the business so I took everything first hand, and I didn’t know what to expect.

And post ‘Kalyug’, there have been ups and downs…
I think it got tougher after my first film. You get your first film and you don’t know what happens after that. After that is when you have to understand and live the business. And with Bhatt Saab also, that’s like home for me so I was protected, I knew that they’ll take care of me, he’ll advice me and we’ll do this and that. But post that, I didn’t know. And as long as your films are doing well, it’s all great but when your first film doesn’t do well is when you learn to deal with that. It’s like life. It’s when you flunk a subject is when you know that you’ve done something wrong. But as oppose to education where you can study hard and get better, unfortunately, our box office only goes by the box office. And it’s not necessary that only good films make money and only bad films flop. You have to learn to deal with the fact that sometimes you’re flooded with offers, films, interviews, and everything and then there might be a phase when all of this wouldn’t be there. So you need to keep yourself together and not lose it. We have examples in front of us of people who were nobody, and then they became stars. And then we have examples of people who started out big and then disappeared. You just live your own life, take your decisions and live by them.

So you must have always felt like a star, isn’t it?
I don’t take myself too seriously, like I said. I don’t get attached to success. I enjoy while it’s happening, but I don’t get attached to it because nothing is permanent in life, and I know that. I’m aware of the fact that it’s good to be recognised, it’s good to be slightly popular. I think it’s going to be the scariest day when you walk and nobody recognises you, and nobody wants a picture with you because that’s a part and parcel of the job that you’re in. So having said that, I don’t really know if there is any particular point of time when I felt stardom has sunk in. But I know that there was a phase between ‘Zakhm’ getting over and me just being an ordinary kid for six years, then again when it started off again with ‘Kalyug’. I can say, that was the first time I was made aware that I’m a good looking guy, because I never thought of me being one. I remember I was going out promoting ‘Kalyug’, I saw girls shouting out my name and wanting to click a picture with me, so I was like, ‘This is nice!’ to get female attention.

Tell us about your upcoming projects.
There’s ‘Bhaag Johnny’ that T-series and Vikram Bhatt are producing and Shivam Nair is directing. That’s an action thriller and it should be ready for release by the end of this year. There are also two other films but that we’ll have to wait for the official announcement. 

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