You’ve completed eight years in Bollywood. How has the journey been so far?
It’s been a crazy ride. But honestly, I feel like I’m just about getting started and 2022 in fact has really been the best year career-wise because of the number of releases that have happened. But I’m also very grateful for the kind of variety that I’ve had in this very short span of eight years, right from an anti-hero like ‘Mardaani‘ to a festival film, going to Cannes with ‘Manto’ to a national Award with ‘Chhichhore‘. So it’s been a great mix of different kind of parts. And 2022 is a new milestone as I said, because I’m getting to do these amazing lead romantic parts and it’s really a new chapter.
Do you feel that the bar is raised very high for you and there’s a lot of expectations from you?
It definitely has. The bar has been raised, the expectations have been raised and honestly, it’s the biggest compliment that you can give to an artiste because an actor, film star or an OTT star works for an audience. There’s nothing more exciting than having an audience that is DM’ing you, that looks forward to or is curious about what you’re going to do next, and that is the best compliment that you can give to someone. I also feel like it is the moment of being a hybrid star where you can have a project that’s in the theatre, you could be doing a feature film like ‘Looop Lapeta‘ that’s on an OTT platform and also ‘Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein‘. So it’s a great time because you can tell stories and entertain audience regardless of what the platform is.
After 8 years you’ve decided to come with your own chat show. Tell us something about it.
I really got inspiration from the fact that I work with such amazing co-stars and very often there’s a limit to how much they manage to talk about what goes into the process of the craft, how they get into character, sometimes what are the things that distract them on set, what are the moments when they’re sitting alone in a vanity van, maybe an hour or sometimes 5 hours before the shot. There’s just this different point of view that I bring as an actor, because I go through those moments myself. And so there’s this certain empathy, there’s a certain relatability about the craft and we often have these conversations when we are sitting on the set and we’re just having coffee at three in the morning and it’s a night shift. And I thought it would be exciting for those conversations to be brought online. It’s not really a show host talking to a guest, it’s like two friends having a conversation about how good or bad their day was and the response has been phenomenal so far and there’s no frequency to it, it’s not like I’ll be doing it every week or every month but as and when I’m working with a co-actress or co-star, I’d love to have a chat with them on my platform.
Tell us something about your experiences of working with Rani Mukerji, Taapsee Pannu, Shweta Tripathi…
‘Mardaani’ had its own set of pressure points because it was the first lead part that I was doing, that it was a massive production house, you’re working with a superstar of a co-actress… so there were all those things at the back of my mind. But I also knew that it was like the last ball of the over and I had to hit a sixer, there was no chance. So that was the attitude with which I came. But what was so comforting to know was how much of a mentor and an emotional support Rani Mukerji was in terms of just being cooperative on set, in terms of cues or whether being understanding to the kind of stress one was feeling and saying, ‘Relax! It’s just going to happen and you’re going to be able to do this.’ That was extremely motivating because that’s what you need at that stage when you’re so early, and your co-star treats you as someone who will be able to do it. And when you’ve got Yash Raj Films and Rani Mukerji and Pradeep Sarkar putting their trust in you, you have no option but to give it your 110%.
What I loved about working with Taapsee was to see her work ethic, to see how committed she is. She’s someone who has gone from being a good actor to a star and that’s a journey that I really admire.
Shweta Tripathi is just a bundle of joy. She’s got this infectious smile and there’s a lot of ease when she’s acting and she’s very natural. When you’ve got a co-actor like that, it just makes the chemistry that much easier to do. In fact in ‘Yeh Kaali Kaali Aankhein’ there’s a scene when I’m hanging on a window of her father’s house and proposing to her at the same time. And that was the first time both of us shot together on day one, and it was just so heartwarming to know that you’re getting so much from a co-actor. There was so much chemistry that was coming in her effortless performance that it made our job much easier.
You’ve done three romantic films back to back that somewhere gave the vibe of Shah Rukh Khan. Could be the new age Shah Rukh Khan…
That’s a very big comparison that you just made and I’m very humbled by it. Shah Rukh Khan is someone I’ve grown up watching, loving, emulating and he’s not just a mega star, he’s an institution. But at the same time I feel like everyone exists through to the time that they are existing in. And so OTT is a completely new space, it’s a completely new audience, and it’s a very different way of storytelling. The only thing that I do take inspiration from is that Shah Rukh Khan did start off his career doing grey shades, anti-heroes, negative parts and that is something that I admired that he managed to make that shift. And the icing on the cake really was that the title of the show was named after we started shooting. So one month after we started shooting the show, I found that it was going to be called ‘Yeh Kaali Kaali Aankhein’ and for me that’s amazing because it is in a lot of ways a tribute to 90s’ Bollywood.
You have become an OTT star! How does that make you feel? ‘Yeh Kaali Kaali Aankhein’ was trending so much, we’re already waiting for the second season…
That’s amazing. It was a very anxious moment before the series released because I have done very strong alpha male characters before this. Vikrant is vulnerable, he’s a small town boy, he’s someone who’s reacting to the circumstances and not necessarily taking charge of them at least in the beginning. But I was so amazed that the reaction to both ‘Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein’ and ‘Looop Lapeta’ has been bigger than what it was for ‘Mardaani’. So the acceptance of being that romantic lead hero when you get it, it’s a big payoff. What I feel about this new chapter is that it opens up so many stories that you can now tell. I started off the year saying that I’ve got three back to back romantic releases coming up, but now I have three hits and each one of them in a different way has had such a phenomenal reaction and I woke up to the headline that said ‘the new star of OTT’ and I was like, ‘Wow! Really?’. It’s great because it has given you acceptance from critics and the audience but it’s also a responsibility like you started off saying that the benchmark for that, the bar has been set off of what is expected is now that much higher. But it’s very motivating to know now that we have to go into doing the next film, or the next project, knowing that there are going to be expectations, that’s going to be a great motivator for me to put in 110% forward.
Does that also make you nervous?
No, not at all. Nervous excitement is what I would call it. It’s like when you’re going to the first day of school after a long summer holiday and you’re sort of nervous about how it’s going to go but you’re also excited to meet so many new experiences and scripts and people. So it’s a mix of that, excitement as well as nervousness. And like I was saying earlier, the biggest and the hardest thing for an actor on any platform is to have the audience expect something from them and that is something that’s very precious and I would never want to wish it away.
When ‘Mardaani’ released you were hated for the role you played actually and now when they’re seeing your project there is a lot of love for you. What do you have to say about the love-hate equation that you’re sharing right now among the audience?
I completely give the credit of that to how evolved the audience is today. Because even after ‘Mardaani’ they hated the part in the film, but they loved the actor behind the part. So it would be very mixed reactions of ‘I love you but I hate you’ or ‘I hate you but I love you’ and that had a lot to do with the way Walt in ‘Mardaani’ was portrayed. He looked and felt like the boy-next-door, but it was what he was doing that made him dark. So a lot of critics labelled him as an anti-hero which I thought was a great term because you don’t know how to feel about an anti-hero. It’s just like I said, I was nervous about what the audience’s reception and acceptance would be to playing a romantic lead as vulnerable, and someone who was goofy like Sakya in ‘Looop Lapeta’. But they’ve been very accepting and that just goes to show today that the audience appreciates story. If you are telling them an interesting story and they’re engaged and you do it with honesty and authenticity, they will back it and that is what I have experienced over these past few weeks.
You’ve made a lot of noise on OTT. You even received an award and you seem to be right there with Manoj Bajpayee in ‘The Family Man’. You’ve kind of reached that level. What do you have to say about that?
Incredibly humbling, because I love Indian OTT content and the era that we’ve been going through where there is fresh writing, there is experimentation that’s going on, the audience is watching everything. It’s actually the time of amazing story telling and in those performances like KK Menon in ‘Special Ops’, Manoj Bajpayee in ‘The Family Man’, Nawazuddin Siddiqui in ‘Sacred Games’, these are some of my favourite OTT performances. And to be listed in the top performers in the country is the biggest award that I can get at the moment, that people are even taking the name and the performance in the same sentence. But what’s also great so early in the career to be on that is that it will enable me to be a part of a lot of different stories, and one of the criticisms we often hear about in our industry is why we often hear the same kind of stories. And I think that is something that’s changing very rapidly and the audience has a big role to play in that.
How do you choose between your OTT projects and movies?
I have the parameters, and the checks that I have for picking a part remain the same, whether they are on OTT or whether it’s a series and it’s just a three step process of what is the story, and how is my character moving the story forward. So even if I had to talk about a box office success like ‘Chhichhore’, where the character I played was Derek, when Derek comes on screen you know how he is going to drive the story towards winning the sports championship in the college and it’s the same with Vikrant. You experience the story through Vikrant’s eyes and through his mindset. So how the part I’m playing is driving the story in a particular way. Who is directing it of course has a big role to play as well.
How did you manage to survive for so long in the industry without having a godfather?
A great saying that I believe in is ‘to be spoken about and to be remembered are two different things’ and I knew that I want to be an actor who’s remembered. Good things take time, so I was never in a theme to say that now I want to do four projects in six months. I’d rather do that one project that needs to be something that’s good, so that is a mindset I came with. But I also had great friends, a very close circle of friends who were my fiercest critics but also my biggest fans. So they gave me a reality check all the time and that’s very important for someone who’s trying something new. You’re right, I had no godfathers and I’m very proud that the decisions I’ve been making and the journey that has been on my own accord and these are the decisions that I have taken. My only competition has always been myself from the past. So if I’m doing something in 2022, I want to be better in 2023 compared to myself, so I’m not comparing myself to x, y or z, it’s a combination of all these.
Recently you revealed the director’s comment on your kissing scenes with Taapsee Pannu. Can you tell us something about it and also about the chemistry you shared with her off screen?
Like I said, Taapsee is someone whom I really admire purely for how she has made it on her own and gone from being an actor to a good actor to a star and that’s very admirable. The director Akash Bhatia is a man with tremendous creative vision, also a great eye for hope. But through the shoot, because actors are mic’d, he would have his headphones on and he would always listen to conversations between Taapsee and me. So it was never just a conversation between Satya and Savi, it was always Satya, Savi and the director. And even if we were doing intimate scenes, there would always be directions like, ‘Hold her like this, now touch her hair, now go closer to her.’ You need these directions, but when you’re getting them constantly and they’re being said on the mic, it was like we had to maintain a romantic chemistry but in our heads it was sounding like a comedy scene at the same time.
You lost 5 kg weight…
Yes I had to, because I was coming out of playing Sunil Gavaskar in ’83. And Sunil Gavaskar was 33 when the 1983 world cup took place. Satya on the other hand is about 24 years old, so to look younger and as the film is set in Goa, to have the body of someone who spends a lot of time on the beach, I had to lose that weight and it had to be done in a very short time. So there was a specific dietary routine and a training routine as well. And I think the actor’s job is to convince the audience that they are that part in reality in those two hours of a film or eight episodes of a series. And so, if before shooting I need to two or three months, I’ll always be honest with the project I’m getting on to, say like if I need to get a nose piercing or to need to lose weight, so this is what we need to do. This is how much time that we need because it’s important, it’s as important as what the set design and as a costume is, whether you’re looking like a part.
What kind of characters attract your attention?
I look for relatability in all the characters that I play, even if it’s a dark anti-hero part like ‘Mardaani’, what is it that makes him human that the audience sees him and says, ‘This is actually so real’. And so I love parts that are written like that, who have certain amount of flaws and even when I look back at my ideals, whether it is Amitabh Bachchan in ‘Agneepath’ where he had a dark side to him, but there was also something endearing about him; or Shah Rukh Khan sir in ‘Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa’, he loves the girl but he doesn’t get her. There are flaws in him but you still feel for him. Or Aamir Khan in ‘Rangeela’, Munna was so endearing but he was the hero at the same time, so those are the kind of parts that I really like where there is a certain humanness, relatability and empathy towards them.
You often experiment with new characters. Sometimes when we experiment a lot, people don’t like it. Do you ever fear that?
No, because the quote that comes to mind is “If you think that adventure is boring then try routine.” The only thing worse than not experimenting can be no experimentation at all and I’d rather be doing that than that.
What are your upcoming projects?
When people ask me what have I been shooting for, I’ve been shooting for promotion because for the past month and a half that’s all I’ve been doing. There are some very exciting projects that are in the pipeline which because of the January shut down have been stalled a little bit, but we’ll be making an announcement very soon. Unfortunately, I can’t talk about it but I am incredibly excited, there’s a script on my table right now!