Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Sushant Singh Rajput

“I’m still the same inquisitive guy, filled with excitement”

By Ankita R. Kanabar

(This interview has been published in the March 28, 2015 issue of Super Cinema)

Just as he walks through the corridors of Yash Raj Films, you sense something different. Maybe it’s the walk. This man isn’t really walking like himself. That’s more like ‘Detective Byomkesh Bakshy’s’ walk – brisk and confident. Dressed stylishly in a cream t-shirt with dhoti-pants, Sushant Singh Rajput further justifies that he is still in the ‘Byomkesh’ mode while he promotes the film. Though, the slightly long hair tied into a little pony is clearly for the Dhoni biopic that he’s prepping for. Now you know this guy definitely is doing something right, despite being relatively new. One minute he is easygoing, and another, he is serious enough about his craft to get all animated to explain you things. That’s probably what makes for a very interesting conversation with him. Excerpts:  

Photo credit : R. Burman
So, you are one of those actors who go the method way to the extent of even learning to eat like your character does…
Whenever you do any film, your goal is always to convince people that you’re the character. For a film like ‘Detective Byomkesh Bakshy’, we were talking about a Bengali boy in the 1940s, so it needed to look that way. You have to get the basics correct. The only thing I was told was to not learn the language, rest everything from the art to the culture of Kolkata has been incorporated in the script. We took the liberty for the language because it’s a Hindi film and we didn’t want to dilute it by bringing in the Bengali accent. Apart from that, I working on everything else. From playing a detective to a cricketer or someone else, I have to prepare because I have to first convince myself that I can be that character. Only if I convince myself, will I be able to convince the audience.

This being a period film, was it more difficult to relate to the character, than say a ‘Kai Po Che’ or ‘Shuddh Desi Romance’?
Of course it was very challenging, but I don’t think that playing a guy of the last ten or fifteen years is easier than playing a hero from 1940s. Even if you essay a character that is of today, you have to change so many things, because he’s a different person all together. For playing Byomkesh though, I had to do a lot. For instance, there was only radio or telegram at that time, no mobile phones, no internet, so one had to keep all these things in mind while acting. What happens is when you act, you prepare a lot to get to a point where you let go. You have to be very sure that when you let go, you think like the character. If we have to talk to someone, the first thing is to grab a phone. Now changing that feeling, requires time. You have to stay in that zone for so many days just so you’re convinced. I wasn’t using my phone for about four to five months. I wasn’t reading newspapers, watching TV or using the internet.

Is that why you made a conscious decision to go into your shell and completely stay away from the media as well before you began shooting for ‘Detective Byomkesh…’? If the script is different, if the world is different, if the character in your head is different than who you are, you have to do it. There’s no other way. You have to live the character for a certain period of time before you start shooting for it. Like I mentioned earlier, the first step is to convince yourself that you are that character, and the only way to do that is to stay in that zone for a while before you actually start shooting. But, while it’s challenging fit into the mould and later come out of it, that’s the most exciting part. We’re so used to living like our own self, that it’s very tempting and exciting to change for a character, and then again come back to the neutral state when the film is over. That transformation is exciting.

Before ‘Kai Po Che’ released, you’d told me you were so inquisitive, you’d 
remain on the set even when your shot was done, to just learn the technical aspects. From then to now, how much has changed?
(smiles) It’s not something I’m supposed to do, but it interests me, because you learn so much. Film-making involves a lot of things – the lighting, the lenses, cinematography and I’m very curious. During ‘Detective Byomkesh..’ Dibakar used to give me a track which isn’t there in the film, but he’d ask me to listen to it so I get the flavor of the film or a particular scene right. Now I learnt to do that, so, that’s just one change from ‘Kai Po Che’. Another thing is, I’ve learnt a lot about the lighting. For instance, if there’s a scene, and I’m talking to a co-actor, I would stand at a spot where the light would fall on my eye because sometimes just a visual says so much. So, just getting these little things right helps so much.

Photo credit: R. Burman
Is there also a difference between how you felt then, and now?
I think, I’m happier now, because of the sheer experience of working on different characters. Otherwise, I’m still the same inquisitive guy, filled with excitement. It’s just that, because I’m surviving, and getting to work with different film-makers on different scripts, is why I’m happier now than when I started out.

And while films do make you very happy, what is it that gratifies your soul?
Here’s the thing. When I’m giving a take, say it’s a fourth or fifth take and I feel something, I can sense something. Sometimes, after the take I can sense that I did something which I’d never planned but it was good. There’s a gap of two-three seconds and then the director says ‘okay’. That moment is what excites me – to feel you’ve done something right and then get a validation for that. I always crave for validation from my director, because I know that he’s intelligent enough and is one of reasons why you’ve said yes to the film.

Have you now been able to let go off the methods of the TV? In the sense that there it’s more spontaneous, because you have to meet deadlines every day. Films you get time to prepare.
Yes, but I feel that a good actor on TV is a good actor. It’s not like actors on TV aren’t good, because you’re given so many pages in a day, you have to learn the dialogues, act it out. More importantly, do it well, so you have those TRPs every week. Even the technicians are so skilled. It’s difficult so, television teaches you a lot in that sense. On the other hand, for a film, you’re only working on a character for six months and then move to another so that’s very fascinating, and everything is more well-planned. So even though the process may be different, the acting part is similar. Very frequently we confuse being confident in front of the camera to spontaneity. We get confused. But the point is, because you’re playing another character, your spontaneity is different from theirs; we are all different. Normally people think, he prepares a lot, so he isn’t spontaneous. But, we prepare for so long to get to a point where the character can be spontaneous.

Since the last few years, there’s been no dearth of newcomers in our films. Somehow, you’ve always come across as very secure in your space…
It’s not like I’m secure. I’ve not met anyone in my life who’s not insecure. Everyone is. But the only reason why I’m in a state of peace is because my excitement is ten times my insecurity.

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