As a child what were your early influences towards cinema? Art, literature, graphics, photography?
My early influences were all the Hindi films and mostly where Amitabh Bachhan was present. Sholay is one film that i have seen over 500 times and heard the cassette over 1000 times , may be more. Films by Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Raj Kapoor, Satyajeet Ray, Bimal Roy, Ritwick Ghatak were the ones which I got to see the most. Then in school and home and around I had a great no.of bengalis and so Rabindra Sangeet, dance drama and other cultural activities like skits, theatre, was a regular thing. And I participated in one and all. I was not a book worm but liked to read a mix bag of stories ranging from Thakur ma er jhuli to champak or chandamama. But most importantly my grand parents had a great influence on me. Every night I forced one of them to tell me some new jatak Katha and in school I used to narrate them to my school mates. So the influence happened from various sides. Parents, teachers, films, radio, theatre, story books, comics, ramleela, family traditions etc. all had their fare share on me.
How did you first become interested in the performing arts?
During durga Puja, as a kid I was mesmerized by the Kakus and Kakimas doing aarti of ma durga with dhunochi. That was the first performing art form I wanted to master. And later I became a regular attraction in my pada and every year my aarti was a celebrated item no. (hahahahaha). Followed by break dance, disco, bhangra and many more dances.
What steps did you take to train yourself as an actor?
I am born and brought up in Jhansi and there are no real acting schools or very good level of theatre that happens there. But during my matriculation I had decided to be an actor. So I started researching. One of my close friends told me that to be an actor one has to do plays, theatre. So the closest city where decent theatre happened was Gwalior. So i went to Gwalior to do my graduation and simultaneously did stage. But not good enough. Internet was little expensive and not available every where. Had to travel 20 Kms to surf net. So google helped me to get to know about Barry John, FTII, NSD, BNA, and many more acting schools.Post my graduation I joined Barry John’s acting school in 2002 and landed in Mumbai in 2003. Stayed in Mumbai for 5 years and in 2008 I went to FTII to study acting and film making.
How did your first film project come about? Tell us something about the experience.
My first film was Shaurya. I auditioned for a big part in it and was given a one shot role as I was not a well known face. This was before I went to FTII. The experience was quite satisfying as it was one take OK and after my take there was pin drop silence and suddenly a light boy started clapping and including the director, everyone joined. It was too much for a new kid.
What are your inspirations?
Honestly, I am tiered of the external inspirations. I tried a lot to find people who inspire. But somehow I was always let down. So mostly no person or role model I have. But yes simple and basic qualities inspire me. Talent is something that I value the least. Hard work and genuine sincerity inspire me.
Is film acting intuitive or is it something you learn?
As actors, our bodies are our tools/instruments. And film acting is most of the time technical. So one has to master the technique. One can learn film acting or rather train to a level that it becomes intuitive.
What part does risk-taking play in your work, if any?
Risk is the second name of life. Every decision we make will be flawed , if not perfect. So take it. Acting and film direction are the most demanding professions for me. Way more demanding then any other profession. Every profession has an occupational hazard. A man in army can take a bullet any day, a wrestler might face a fatal blow any day, similarly there are multiple hazards in the film industry. So we just need to jump into it. Now I cannot say only about acting or casting particularly as each one who is a part of the film industry faces the same risk. The day one decides to dream to be in the film industry is the biggest risk one has taken. So I do not think of the risks, I think and dream of the possibilities.
Your favorite actors? At least two of them?
There are so many man. Everyone is special in there own way. About two, I love Irrfan Khan and Ranveer Shorey.
Any hurdles you have encountered in your journey. Things that are blocks in achieving your vision while working on your film.
The journey is warming up. Long way to go. There are no such blocks, just need to alter the way to handle every situation in whatever way as every day life throws a different challenge. Corruption is one thing that is the biggest hurdle. may be its from my side e.g. laziness or complacence or any kind of exploitation from external factors.
Do you often get all that is in your wish list or is it a hard bargain every time?
Varies project to project. I am a member of the Casting Society of America (CSA), so learnt that in the west there are standard rules or payment structure for each designation. There are no such things here in India, so most of the times its a hard bargain.
What is in the kitty now?
I just finished casting for Gurinder Chadha’s British series called Beecham House. There is Anurag Basu’ next film I am casting for. There is a period web series for EROS and another international English feature film I am yet to sign.
Any advice to the aspiring actors?
Its not about your talent in this city. Its more about your perseverance. Just keep working on your craft, and be patient.
Any memorable blunders?
That happens every day.
Your dream project?
Nothing can be perfect, so I do not believe in dreams. I just keep this in mind while working on a project is to give my full sincerity to it. Every project is equally important for me. But since I have worked on national and international projects, its more satisfying to work on international ones. But yes, I would love to act with Amitabh Bachhan once.
Who would you like to take out for dinner?
What are you listening to right now? And most recent book? And Movie?
I have always been into Michael Jackson. That goes on on loop. Reading a set of graphic novels by Deepak Chopra – Myths of India. I keep watching everything that releases. I am watching Narcos.
Being an acting graduate from FTII in acting how did you get into casting ?
I have been in Bombay since 2003 and by then this designation of a casting director had not emerged. But as an actor myself I was intrigued by the selection process of an actor. And I with all my actor friends used to just distribute pictures to get acting jobs. But I always wanted to do something extra. I created a video reel and used to give a DVD with my reel and images with my pic pasted on the DVD. I tried to be as innovative as possible to get noticed but did not really get any substantial acting jobs. Then after returning from FTII I decided not to struggle the way I did earlier and thought casting was something that might fetch me roles. And my estimation was correct. I started casting in 2011 with few TV commercials and then my first film was Danis Tanovic’s Tigers. I bagged roles in quite a no. of projects as I was casting for it. But one thing I kept in mind is democracy. I have never pushed myself for any role. I have always been the last one to audition for any role in any film I am casting for. So casting just happened as a part of necessity but as it is a very responsible job, I always auditioned for the roles I thought I was right for.
You are primarily an actor, a trained one in fact. How happy you are being a casting director?
The casting process is very organic and no less than creating a universe in itself. I love to work with actors and all kinds of people I get to meet. In fact I am able to use all my acting talent while dealing with actors too. Casting is definitely not only about acting. A big chunk of the job is coordination. But casting has given me the power to get in touch with the right people who have that larger vision. Also, when I was looking for work in acting, I did not find many responsible people who could get me the roles I deserved. So I feel great to be in a position to guide fresh talent to reach out to their acting goals. I have cast absolute fresh talented actors who deserved the roles in films like Chaman Bahaar and Hotel Mumbai. And casting pays really well too.