Archive | September, 2009

Where Have All the Rock Stars Gone?

18 Sep

Often I sit and ask the world, “Where have all the rock stars gone?” And I don’t mean Rock Star in the traditional sense— the head banging musician covered head to toe in Goth-like clothing vis-à-vis Bon Jovi and Gun N’ Roses. That is hardly the definition for Rock Stars nowadays. By urban definition, a Rock Star is referred to as a personality who rocks in whatever it is they do and ultimately doesn’t care about the stardom—if they receive any, that comes along. Add to that recipe, hints of being different and sprinkles of not-caring-what-the-world-thinks, and what you have is the ultimate urban Rock Star. On second thought, perhaps this is my personal definition of the word.

Actor-Director-Producer-Singer Farhan Akhtar, perhaps one of the most prominent Desi Rock Stars literally and figuratively who spoke at a recent Youth Forum stated, “I think when we talk about whether the youth can make a difference, it’s important not to only think of young people, but also about those who have young ideas and young outlook on life.” Ultimately it brings us to our veteran Rock Stars. If Gandhi managed to gain India its independence from the British in the most rocking peaceful way, then Mother Teresa single-handedly redefined self-sacrifice and caring for others in the most Rock Star of ways. A trait that remains with all veteran Rock Stars? Humility. None of the above and even the ones not mentioned have ever gone on to advertise their doings for the world. If anything, they deem what they do as their duty and leave it right there.

Growing up I dreamt of being a Rock Star– the urban kind, of course. Upon more careful scrutiny, one does realize that it brings with it a different kind of responsibility that cannot be ignored or imitated but simply learnt. It means irrespective of age, you need to believe in aiding correct change in the world; accept contemporary view while staying close to your roots, traditions and morals; and lastly believe in all you stand for.

The answer to my question came in the form of my guests this month. Roshni Magazine brings you some of the most urban Rock Star personalities in the Desi world . At first glance, they seem like normal media savvy people: actors, television hosts, writers, and even an online matchmaker! But take another look, and you’ll realize that individually, they not only stand for something totally different but aren’t afraid to say how they feel.

We’re also taking a different route and instead of the usual monthly interviews, we’ll keep adding interviews to the site as more frequently, so keep checking back! Additionally, do drop a word or two in the comment box below and let us know how we’re doing. Once again, thank you all for the nonstop support; it’s always great to hear from you all!

And as usual, along with much love and light, we encourage you to Rock On!

Roshni M.

Gul Panag

17 Sep

“It’s better to sit on the benches and do stuff that really showcases you in every possible scenario” ~ Gul Panag

She isn’t one to minced words nor is she one to care about what anyone thinks about her. Gul Panag may have been a Miss India winner but she definitely doesn’t fit into the clichéd definition associated with pageant winners. Her fame rose after she played the “wife on a mission” in Dor making her one of the most reliable actors in the industry. Big on Twitter, you can follow her and be sure she will reply to your tweets, she has gained a reputation of being honest and true – no beating around the bush with this gal. While the rest of B-town chooses to keep their lovely locks long, Gul chose to cut it short and trendy. She then appeared on the cover of Maxim at her hottest causing temperatures to soar and adding the adjective sexy to her name. Gul speaks to Roshni Magazine about being an individual, an actress and different.

Let’s start at the beginning. How does a girl go from being crowned Miss India to a television actress and also a Bollywood star?
I’ve gone on record to say that most people because of the kind of work that former Miss India’s have started out with, and the operative word here is started out with. A lot of Miss India’s have gone on to achieve critical acclaim in their careers later. But because of what they normally start out with, which are basically air-headed, bimbette parts, where they don’t really have much of an opinion in the film, where they don’t have much of a contribution to the plot, they are just there to sing and dance, and look good. That is what makes serious filmmakers probably look at Miss India’s in a particular way. And till today, when a Miss India is cast, I don’t think a new Miss India is cast for her acting power. So yes, I didn’t encounter that degree difference which is why I chose to do television. I didn’t want to be a part of some preconceived situation that existed and that’s why TV happened.

So you’ve done a Dor, a Dhoop and a Manorama Six Feet Under but then you’ve also done a more commercial film like Hello. Which film do you feel helped your career the most?
Yeah, see in Hello my character was not a timeless mindless prop in the film. It’s not about commercial or art. Frankly speaking according there are only two kinds of cinema; it’s either good or its bad. Even a so-called Art Film is made with the intention of selling tickets. It could be a niche film, or a mass film. But every film is an art film; cinema comes under the category of art. I don’t think any film has been made to be kept as a private home edition. They are all made to sell. And by generation, you sell something to generate commerce; and that’s commercial. What’s important is what I think of the script, and what I am doing in it.

Yeah, your career graph is very interesting; no two films are the same nor are any of characters the same. Conscious decision?
It’s extremely conscious because once I’ve done a Dor, it is very easy to pull off the woman on a mission. And I constantly get parts like that. But if I do three Dor’s then that’s all I’ll ever do! And I’m not saying a Dor comes again and again but if you see the character I’ve played in Dor in isolation from the film, it was that of a strong woman who was on a mission, who had her complexities but yet she was clearly on a mission. Now if I were to play that same character again, ridng on the fact that I do find a character like that, I think I would definitely find myself being typecast. And then you cant break out of the typecast that easily. I know so many actors, very talented, but they are stuck in typecast and nobody is willing to give them a chance after a while to break that typecast. Very rarely you’ll find a director with a vision who will say, you know what, I think even though X has always played light parts in a blondish way, this time I’ll give her a chance to be a real actor – it doesn’t happen. Nobody wants to take a risk at their expense. So I think rather than being doing repetitive work, it’s better to sit on the benches and do stuff that really showcases you in every possible scenario.

What do you look for when signing a film?
I look for my relevance as a character to the plot, I look for the directors vision, what kind of co-actors there are because I’ve seen drab scripts being uplifted by good actors. Good actors bring so much to the table. When you’re working with good actors, the film becomes a collaborative effort. The trend in the past in Bollywood was actor would come on the set, give their lines and go back into their trailer. But an increasing number of actors are extremely collaborative with the director of the film; the most recent case of course being Shahid Kapur in Kaminey. When actors give feedback and they have a sense of script, the script gets uplifted. For me, who my co-stars are is really important because it uplifts my performance, it uplifts the film, and it uplifts the script. And lastly of course is a gut instinct that is very important.

Rumor has it you will be the next host for the popular show Jhalak Dhiklaja. Have you seen the show and how much of a dancer are you?
Not at all! They’ve already started shooting and somebody else is doing it.

When will we see you in a full-out-dance-filled film? Is that something you want to do?
See it’s not about whether I dance or not, it’s about the character I play. If the character convinces me to be a part of it, then dancing is secondary. There are still actors who ask, “How many songs do I have in the film?” In fact yesterday I had a meeting with a very talented director making his first film which in all likelihood I will be a part of; at the end of the script he said “And you’ll be a part of two songs.” But that is so irrelevant to me. He says, “You’d be surprised because the first the actresses ask a director is how many songs do I have?” They view song and dance as a way of gaining popularity or a means of generating income because after all, they later dance at shows which makes lots of money; which is fair to them. If that is what they are here for, then I’m really happy for them. But obviously no two people are alike and I’m not like them. And they are not like me. Which is why for me it’s not about whether I am dancing in a film or not. I’m doing a film where I doing a bit of a leg-shake but that was because the character is what drew me to the film. I didn’t choose to do this Mukta Art film, “Hello Darling” because it had a dance in it.

You tend to be in the news for many various reasons, whether it’s your racy photo shoot with Maxim or your open comments on the Mumbai Terror Attacks. Are you by nature very progressive and honest?
Well firstly, I’m never in the news for anything that is not related to my work or not related to me as an individual who is different from everybody else. I’m never in the news for who I’m out with. And if I’m in the news, it’s only for my work, or its for doing something nobody else does. For instance driving an F1 Car, riding an Nseries motorbike, or being open and candid about things India’s politicians are scared to speak about. There is the actor in me and then there is an individual who celebrates that individuality. And those are the only two reasons why I would personally like to be in the news. I don’t really give a damn about what people write in terms what who she came to the party with, what was she wearing, how good she was looking. These are irrelevant things in the larger frame of things. Somebody said once, “Small minds discuss people, mediocre minds discuss events, and great minds discuss ideas.” I’m definitely not in the small minds. I am probably somewhere between mediocre and great. I don’t find it interesting to talk about anything other which is unique and refreshing, something which is new.

You’re big on Twitter too…you’re pretty net savvy right? What was the reason behind joining and how much have you been able to create an association with your fans?
Really big has reached a new definition because a Fashion Week has asked me to tweet my reviews at each show that I attend and they have actually invited me to come to the fashion week—microblog about it. This is obviously completely unheard of before and this just shows the power of Twitter.

What do you like to do afterhours?
Well I’m like everybody else! I surf the net, I watch movies, I catch up with friends, I do my paperwork, I write out my bills and that’s about it!

Words of wisdom for any budding actors?
I think it really helps to know your mind; what you really want to do. I’ve seen a lot of actors come in with one particular mind and then not quite sure if that is really want to really do. For starters it’s important to know your mind, and what you want to do.

~Roshni M.
(September 2009)

Koel Purie

17 Sep

“Acting is my favorite thing to do in the whole world – much more than sitting ‘On the Couch’ or any other thing!” ~ Koel Purie

There are television hosts and then there is Koel Purie. She’s an actress, a television host and a journalist with an attitude that simply cannot be imitated. Her now one year old show, Koel, which incidentally is Hindi for a Calling Bird, calls on some of the most amazing personalities: Pervez Musharaff, Imran Khan, Shashi Taroor, Shah Rukh Khan, Sushmita Sen are just a few people who have graced On the Couch with Koel. Unafraid to shed all her inhabitations when she interviews all these elite people on her furry fuzzy red “travelling” couch, you would never believe she actually researches every guest equipping herself with immense information and a volley of questions to throw at them. She was last seen on the big screen in 2008’s most acclaimed film Rock On! and even though her role was extremely small, Koel managed to leave a lasting impression. Roshni Magazine catches up with Koel as she packs up her home in Mumbai and is about to shift base to Delhi. Needless to say, she had heaps to say and all beyond interesting!

Koel, On the Couch with Koel is my favorite show. I never miss an episode. First and foremost, what is your obsession with the color red? I read somewhere you never travel without a red suitcase, and your overcoat, couch and many other things are red. What’s up with all the red?
Well it’s a bit of an exaggeration. There used to be a time that I did and I was obsessed with red. But I have to say that I’ve been packing up my room and I’m looking around, my bed is red, my cupboard is red, the bag that I’m packing in is red (laughs). And half my closet is red! So actually I can’t say that I’m not obsessed with it. I love red because it’s a very very fiery and passionate color. There is no iffyness about red; if you see red, it’s hot. And I don’t mean hot as necessarily sexy but it’s a very definite color. It knows its mind, highly-passionate and highly-fiery. And if I’m not necessarily all those things, at least I aspire to be all those things.

I agree! Let’s start with the show then. How did On the Couch come about?
Years and years ago, I was offered something to do with a cosmopolitan show who wanted me to do this kind of interview based show. I was like what if we do a cosmopolitan show about sex! And how about we do it on a bed and we have a travelling bed. Of course the Indian television thought it was a bit too risqué so it died at the pilot stage itself. And then many years later I had an opportunity to do a show and then I thought okay, maybe not a bed because that is very specific, but something that makes people very comfortable. So I thought couch because it’s also synonymous with the getting into someone’s mind psychiatrist way of thinking; definitely not the version that most people go “casting couch” in Bollywood. Most of my guests are movie stars so they turn around and go, “Woo! We’re sitting on the casting couch!” (Laughs) And I say, “Not quite…but if you want to think that, that’s fine.” I wanted it to be like a dissection of what’s going on behind the celebrity, behind the drama. And the way to do that is to get to know the person in a very comfortable situation and I thought what better than having the couch which is comfortable as well as the whole significance behind it.

I love your, “I’m not afraid to ask you anything” attitude and you’re never scared to debate them too. Is that a part of your personality or is this for TRP’s?
You know what after a long time, because most of the time I’m on camera acting; I’ve been able just to be myself on camera. And initially it was a bit daunting, because you need to find who you are in front of the camera, easier said than done that I’m just myself; because what is that self that you want to portray? So, I’d like to believe that now, I’m definitely myself. And that if being “myself” initially was overstepping the mark and being a bit cheeky because I didn’t know how to behave, it’s now become something that I’m very comfortable being. I’ve lucked out with that; I force myself to be me, and now that now become the kind of USP of the show in a sense. But I loathe journalists who push the personal angle beyond the point. It’s okay to ask it and if you genuinely sense that someone is feeling uncomfortable with it, drop it. So that’s why I don’t feel scared of asking anything if the vibe is right. And pretty much 99 percent of the time, I do gauge it right because people either open up or they turn around and they say, “Look, can we just drop this?” And I do. But sometimes, without going into who when how, but sometimes I also have misgauged it, where I pushed it and people have found me a bit like, you’re going into territory where you shouldn’t be. That’s a learning curve because I certainly don’t want to be the voyeur, I want to be the person who gets people to open up about things that even they don’t know they want to open up about but not be the person who asks, “Who are you sleeping with?”

You initially had no interest in journalism but on the couch is entertainment/social journalism wouldn’t you say?
Well that’s not entirely true. I started off my career as a journalist; I wanted to go to a Broadcasting Journalism School at NYU and as a part of that I did an intern with the only kind of television company that existed in the nineties known as Medi Tech. And they were providing programming for Door Darshan still, because DD was still the only kind of channel and STAR Plus which had just come in. So I started working for them as an intern and ended up, because they were desperate for people, having my own travel show called Great Escapes. So I was a kind of TV journalist in the sense and it so happened that I loved the job so much that I never bothered going to journalism school which eventually ends up happening; you learn more at the job. And I even read the news in fact for my Dad’s channel—I used to do all kinds of things. But at that point I was 21 years old. And then I kind of gravitated towards acting and it just took over as it does. It’s a profession that haunts you. If there’s even a slight inkling you might act, you will act; it will come and find you.

We’ve seen you in a number of fabulous films including On the road to Ladakh, Its Breaking News, Mixed Doubles, White Noise, and more recently Rock On!. How has the journey been so far in acting?
I’ve loved it and I hope that my journey with acting is not over (laughs). I want to be acting with the rest of my life! But yeah, my priorities for this moment in time, and I’m sure they’ll shift again, lie in television and shifting base from Bombay to Delhi. And inevitably, that means that acting takes a backseat. In this profession unless you have to be constantly at it – and I mean at it, on every level and in fact the higher you get, the more difficult it gets, because then you can’t do any rubbish; you have to do a certain caliber of production house and so on, so you’re constantly selling yourself. And eventually you get tired of that aspect of it; not of the acting ever. But you get tired of the business aspect of it and I got a bit fatigued with it and I’m sure I will bounce back; there is still that whole burning desire to act and it’s still my favorite thing to do in the whole world – much more than sitting on the couch or any other thing!

Who have been some of your most favorite guests you’ve interviewed? I loved your interview with Sushmita Sen! I think I saw it five or six times.
(Laughs) My favorite interview was Musharraff [General Pervez]. For me it felt like I passed a 10th grade board exam because I really put in a lot of effort into that interview. This was not in my realm and I didn’t want to come across as appearing like a moron or a ditz. So I worked the hardest on that one and I realized eventually that anything he would say, I was so well informed about that I could pick up on everything. So it paid off! Hard work always pays off! I got higher TRP’s for that episode than some of the big Bollywood stars! It was amazing because there was such buzz about it. It was the first time that people had seen a world-leader blushing, answering personal questions about silly stuff as opposed to what is on the agenda for Pakistan. Of course we talked about that also but it was not what I was interested in. I was interested in the man as opposed to the leader. For me, that was my most satisfying episode.

With Rock On! being one film that loiters in between, you’ve generally chosen more “arty” films as they are known as, as opposed to perhaps more mainstream films? Do you prefer being different than the usual to everyone else?
You know, it’s a chicken and egg situation. I gravitate towards films that make sense to me. Invariability, the films that make sense to me happened to be less mainstream films. But those are the films that I enjoy watching, the script is there and there is not this sort of ad hoc way of working. And then slowly but surely that is what is seeping into the mainstream as you pointed out yourself that Rock On! is one of those films that completely made sense to me even though it’s a much smaller part that I’ve ever played. But I was sure I wanted to be a part of it because it’s a fantastic project and it had all the right ingredients along with a brilliant script. And I didn’t care about what level I was a part of it, I just needed to be a part of it. So things like that, I fight for them and go after them, but the rest the films that don’t make sense to me, I don’t run after those films? And you know what, I’ve done a couple of them like Mere Dil Leke Dekho and Nazar, and I have to say that they were the most unsatisfying and frustrating experiences of my life because you’re working with actors who don’t know what the hell they’re doing, you don’t have your lines in advance, you’re not doing rehearsals—it’s not acting. And to me I’m not in this for any necessity, I’m in this for the love of it.

You’re also know for speaking your mind. After the 26/11 attacks, you did a whole episode at Leopold Café speaking to the common man about their afterthoughts regarding the 26/11 attacks and respectfully shed the red couch for a black one. How was that experience? Watching it on television is completely different from actually chatting with people closely associated with the heinous crime. Why did you choose to focus on them rather than take a celebrity outlook?
I actually was away when 26/11 happened. And pretty much like you, I was glued to my television and it was 24 hours on every news channel. And even the French, who are internally obsessed, for three days, it was just nonstop carnage being shown. When you’re far away, it affects you ten-times more than when you’re actually here and you see people getting on with their lives. And I was very disturbed by it. I cut my trip short and I came back, and I decided I wanted to be part of this effort. By this time, everyone who was anyone had spoken about this and rightly so because they were angry and felt the need to have a kind of outlet. Then I thought the people who haven’t had the voice was the common man and here I have a platform at my disposal on National TV that I can use correctly just for that. And it was a very obvious decision, that this is what I need to do and we did it. It was one of the most fulfilling experiences. Actually, initially when we started On the Couch started, we tried to sell it to the channel as much more of an Oprah show which would be that yes, we are a travelling couch but we go to people – anyone of interest. It could be an inventor sitting in Baroda or a huge celebrity or a poor person who has done amazing things just like Oprah. But of course, channels are all obsessed with TRP’s and asked whose going to watch this? No one. So you better get the biggest stars and get your show on the map, and then people will watch it for the show. So that was my way of saying eventually I’m going here—this is where my heart belongs; to give people a platform and chat!

What would you say Koel Purie stands for?
I don’t think I stand for XYZ. I stand for individuality and freedom which I don’t mean in a necessarily narrow vision, “political freedom.” I mean it at the core. I stand for freedom of everything; for women choosing who she wants to be, what she wants to be, discarding social norms, what she wants to wear, of career, and of course freedom of voice and speech. I stand for that. And anytime I see that being infringed, that really gets me going. In an obvious sense, that is what the terrorists are taking away from us. Every day we have to be a lot more careful with where we are going and what we are doing—they are taking that away from us. And it really is unacceptable at every single level. So I don’t know what I stand for but if I had to say, then I stand for individuality and freedom in every sense of the world.

And when you do have some spare time, what do you like to do?
Travel, travel, travel! I have a lot of time at the moment because my show doesn’t take up that much time of mine—not anymore. They are very organized. I have an excellent team. So it used to take up my entire week but now it takes up one day of my time. I travel loads and loads. And fortunately I have married an adventurer so most of our time is spent on adventures. My biggest stress buster is dancing! I absolutely love dancing. So I just put some music on with a bunch of friends and dance at home or go out dancing or take up a dance class even. And I love reading but that I don’t only do just in my free time, I do that all the time; I have to read a book before I go to bed or sitting on the toilet! (Laughs)

What is coming up on the acting front?
There are a couple of films that I have just finished. One lovely Canadian film called Amal. I think it has already done the American circuit but it will come out in India and the U.K. soon. And the other I’ve just finished dubbing for, which for the moment is called Mocktail and it’s by the same people who made BhejaFry. It’s an Indian adaptation of A Midsummer’s Night Dream. It’s excellent! It’s such a brilliant film.

You’re my icon in so many ways. What are your words of wisdom for people like myself who think you rock?
Me and wisdom? (Laughs) I think you’re completely on the right track because you’re lending a bit of yourself to it. And that I think is the key to anything; to be true to who you are. Even if who you are is a tailored personality for what you’re doing. It doesn’t have to be that what you are at home is what you’re showing the public, but be true to what you’ve decided that you’re going to show. And I think you’re already doing that! So stay true to who you are and never anyone curb your freedom.

~ Roshni M.
(September 2009)

Arjun Mathur

17 Sep

“I’m strongly against lover boy roles” ~ Arjun Mathur

I looked up Arjun Mathur almost immediately after I saw Luck By Chance where he played the struggling actor who settled for theater acting in the film. However, in real life Mathur is not one to settle for anything. The young actor who claims he has no fans, but is really being modest, first debuted in Farhan Akhtar’s short film Positive where he played the lead role and son to Shabana Azmi and Boman Iran. In more recent times, Arjun was last seen in the critically acclaimed Barah Aana and will also been seen in Karan Johar’s next extravaganza My Name is Khan. But he is not just an actor. Arjun is also an avid traveler and waiting for a director to make him dance. But until then , the straightforward actor speaks to Roshni Magazine about looking for his big break, the industry and being ultra talented.

I thought you were FABULOUS in Luck By Chance. What was the experience of working with Farhan and Zoya Akhtar? How did you land the role?
Well the experience was great firstly; I love Excel Productions. It’s a fun unit who are good to everyone and thoroughly professional. I’ve worked with Farhan before; he’s directed me in his short film. Zoya has been a close friend for a while before Luck By Chance. How I landed the film was pretty much after the short film I did with Farhan, Zoya felt that I could pull off the character and sensitivity. So she asked me to do it and I couldn’t refuse it.

The reviews for your role came as “the young and talented Arjun Mathur.” How does it feel to get such accolades?
It feels good! I know I have a fair amount of talent so it feels good primarily because I don’t come from a film background. For an outsider, for his work to be appreciated, it’s a good feeling.

You’ve claimed that Luck By Chance is the story of your life. How so?
Well I don’t think my character is the story of my life. I think Farhan’s character is closer to what my life has been as a struggling actor. I’m yet to finally hit that big break but yeah, the struggle that was captured for a struggling actor trying to bag a lead role is very close to home. And it’s not black and white. It’s a very grey area, this profession. It’s a very insecure dicey competitive kind of professional. In order to go about doing what you want to do, you are bound to ruffle a few feathers. So in that sense, Luck By Chance is close to home.

Was acting something you definitely wanted to get into?
Yes, ever since I was nine years old. Of course, at that my motives were different; it was all about being big and famous. But over time it became a lot more about creativity in the profession and now it’s very much about that.

Your career of course dates back to early 2004 when you were an assistant director. How did the shift to acting occur?
My career actually dates back to 2002. My first feature film as an assistant director was this feature film called Kyun! Ho Gaya Na? After which there was Mangal Pandey, Bunty Aur Babli and lastly, Rang De Basanti. So I made the decision very consciously. I stepped into the industry when I was 21 and I knew that I had time until I was about 25 or 26 to start creating a foothold as an actor. So I knew I could give it at least five years training myself.

Your roles in every film has been different from the next: from a gay lover to a struggling theater actor and then a Bihari waiter. Has this been a conscious decision and when will we see you in a proper lover boy role?
Well I have been very aware that in order to create a massive fan base for yourself, you have to do the lover boy roles. However, I started feeling so strongly against those roles—it’s just a bunch of Hogwarts! It’s the same thing over and over. Everyone who enters the industry is trying to do the same. Everyone is trying to be clones of each other! And that is what I don’t want to be. I think somewhere directors have started to see me as not that and someone of a bit of alternative taste. So I think it’s working out for me because we are not entering a time where alternative taste is becoming main stream slowly. In part it’s been a conscious choice, and now it happens to be what comes my way. Someone has clearly told me that the day I start dolling up as an actor, it was will be the end of my career (laughs). It’s not that I couldn’t do a lover boy role, I could very much pull it off but I find it embarrassing. I don’t want to do something that I will look at and cringe.

We know you can’t talk too much about My Name is Khan but what was the experience of working with Karan Johar, Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol?
Well Shah Rukh I’ve worked with before. We’ve shot together one scene for Luck By Chance and we did a commercial together. He’s great! He’s supremely polite and he remembered me. Karan is really talented director with great sensibility and a great sense of humor. I think I had some misconceptions about Karan simply because of the kind of films that he’s been making endlessly. But spending time with him it all changed. I really came to respect him a lot. And Kajol, wow! She is magic to watch. She goes there, is 100 percent natural, does her thing and is great to watch. Kajol is the female Aamir Khan to me right now after spending this time with her. It’s completely easy with her. She listens to what she has to do and does it so naturally. And it’s great! All and all My Name is Khan is a very big film so more than the experience of working with these people; it’s the experience of being in this large scale film.

What is the most valuable piece of advice you have learnt from Farhan?
Farhan has not given me too much advice actually. We don’t have that kind of relationship. He’s not the ‘give you advice’ kind of person really. Unless I have a question and I actually go and ask him, in which case he has always told me the right thing. He’s always been helpful but I mean there is no particular piece of good advice. In this line everyone has something to say and everyone wants to give their advice (laughs). I’ve received a lot of advice but it’s really up to you what you assimilate and what you leave behind.

What was the experience of studying at Lee Strasberg?
Strasberg was good except I wish had done it for longer than I was. All in all it’s a intricate method; it’s highly respectable and requires hard work. At times during the training you reach places inside you that you didn’t know! And that’s what it’s about as an actor, to be able to reach into your own past experience and pull out emotions that you have felt; so that they are real. At Strasberg they really train you do that by using a particular method which really does help. Although it requires a lot of patience and dedication to sit down before every performance and do it, but it’s really valuable to know. Whether you practice it or not, it helps you out.

What do you do in your spare time?
I travel a lot! I try to do as many adventurous things as I can. I spend time with my girlfriend, friends, watch movies – normal stuff! I’m a very normal guy! (Laughs)

What is your advice to any aspiring actors?
My advice is first of all, please be sure that you have what it takes because otherwise it can really be a waste of time. And what it takes at the most basic level is a certain amount of sensitivity, imagination, losing your inhibitions. You can train yourself as much as you want to but unless you need to have that basic understanding of human emotions. Anyone can come, strut their stuff and be stylish on screen. My advice to actors who want to do that is go ahead! (Laughs) But to someone who wants to really act and make it, know it’s tough and all the best is all I can say really.

Which has been your favorite role thus far?
My favorite role that I’ve played it would have be the role I played in Farhan’s short film. Actually we’re only talking about four roles. So I think would Boman [Irani] and Shabana’s [Azmi] son in Positive because it took me to an emotional place that was deeply satisfying.

When will we see Arjun Mathur shake a leg?
I’m dying to dance! But I just don’t want to do like a romp-com with lip sync numbers. I would do a Moulin Rouge or a Chicago, that kind of stuff that is happening in India, and if it comes to me I would jump at it. Musicals have a whole different world. Let’s see when someone wants to make Arjun Mathur dance! (Laughs)

Any message for your fans?
My message is simply to spread the word about me! I need my publicity to go through to my fans. And there is a lot of good stuff to come!

~ Roshni M.
(September 2009)

Tisca Chopra

16 Sep

“One can’t be a person with half a brain and not see the many things that need changing in India” – Tisca Chopra

Tisca Chopra may not be seen in every other movie but when she does decide to partake in a film, you know it’s one to watch. In more recent times, she has been a part of two such films that have made headlines in India and in foreign waters: Taare Zameen Par and Firaaq. Both films went on to become India’s entry to the Oscars and winner of five international awards respectively despite her entrance into the world of films opposite Ajay Devgan in Platform. Unable to make much of an impression, she quickly moved towards theater. However, there is more to Tisca than meets the eye. The actress is an avid social worker and a devout Buddhist, however cannot talk about her association with Bharat Soka Ghakkai, an NGO which promotes peace, culture and education. The actress-social advocate speaks to Roshni Magazine about life in films and out, her passion for good work and future plans.

You’ve always been a fine actress, but you only really received the recognition you deserved after Taare Zameen Par. Too much too late?
Why late? And why too much? I believe that we get successful when we are ready for it. I had my own learning to go through as a human, not necessarily as an actor. As for too much- how odd, I expect this is only the beginning. I hope to represent India on the world level.

And the now, we last saw you in Firaaq. Why have you chosen to stay away from more mainstream films and picked to work in films which deal with more delicate matters? One makes the best of the opportunities that come one’s way or creates new opportunities. I have yet to be offered a splendid role in the mainstream format and I hope to rock it. Meanwhile I’ve started work on producing a film, so as to create my own opportunity. If something like TZP or Firaaq come my way, I’ll certainly do such wonderful and meaningful films.

Both films received extreme accolades in film festivals and of course TZP was India’s nomination to the Oscars. Where do you see Hindi cinema headed now?
All the way up. We are a culture of story telling and music and drama. And now everything is so exciting. There’s so much work happening in Mumbai, both for the domestic market and internationally. The world is watching India and Indian talent now.

After your debut film, Platform, you decided to move into theatre. Your performances in plays like Mahatma vs. Gandhi, All The Best and Salesman Ramlal were critically acclaimed and loved by all. Do you think that was a wise choice and which do you prefer?
That was a really sorry time in Hindi films; crappy plots and single dimensional roles for women. I was so square-peg-in-round-hole in that scenario. Theatre breathed life into me. And it sustained me while cinema in India came of age with the opening of multiplexes. The roles for women are getting more layered and complex and it is truly an exciting time.

You’ve even dabbled in television. Why did you feel the need to work in all areas of entertainment?
Like I said, one takes what opportunities come, I try to max them. While great film offers were not coming my way, I decided to polish my craft by doing television. It is difficult to hone one’s skill in the drawing room. I got some excellent roles on TV and they really helped me become what I am today. Also I gathered a huge fan following that still watch my films, because they liked my acting on TV.

You are closely associated with many NGO’s. The most prominent being your work with the National Knowledge Commission. What is your title with them and what kind of work do they do? Why did you choose to be associated with them?
One can’t be a person with half a brain and not see the many things that need changing in India. The education system is still a legacy of the colonial times, an ancient, obsolete, rote learning monolith. The situation of women, especially in semi-urban and rural India is beyond what we can digest. And we continue to exist as if Global Warming has nothing to do with us. The use of plastic, the toxic drainage into rivers and vehicular pollution is going unchecked. So I work with the National Knowledge Commission on educational reforms, it reports directly to the Prime Minister’s office.

Which other NGO’s do you work with and what is your work with them?
I’ve recently started working with The Guild of Service and Mrs. Mohini Giri for the widows of Vrindavan. And I support Green Peace in its Environmental work.

Tell us about why you converted to Buddhism and also about Bharat Soka Ghakkai.
It is a solid philosophy of life that answers all my questions about how to lead one’s life as a human being, while being of service to others.

What is coming up for you on the acting front?
First up is Rangeen, a comedy. I was dying to do one after two back to back serious films. It is a total riot and had huge fun making it. Then is a guest appearance in a film called Mirch with a director I admire, Vinay Shukla. Also this year I’m finally doing a play and we’ll start rehearsing in a few weeks. And finally I’m working with the director on the script of the film I’m producing.

What do you like to do when you have any spare time?
I spare a few hours every week to nurture my creative self. I go to stationery shops because I love new stationery and paint and stick on things or I go to button and bead shops and spend a few hours looking and touching and planning a new wall hanging or place mats. I love going large plant nurseries and spend a few hours looking at the shapes and textures of various plants, their smells and characters. There is a magical, mysterious nursery near my house in Mumbai, I love going there whenever I get sick of city living.

And lastly, what is your message to young aspiring actors?
Learn to act. Doctors or engineers or architects take five to seven years to learn their craft. Somehow actors in India have an idea that learning on the job is the right way. It is not. Film making is very expensive; the cost of raw stock, the time of other artists and technicians etc, all are extremely expensive. Unless you are a huge star, it is best to be very good and not depend too much on luck. Be very well prepared as an artist. Theater, acting school and workshops are all great places to learn. Besides your confidence as an actor shines through in your first few roles, that is a wonderful way to start rather than stumble about unknowingly.

~Roshni M.
(September 2009)