Sushant Singh Rajput could have been an engineer. After all, he was placed seventh in the all-India entrance exams. He even completed six semesters in engineering college before admitting to himself that he was wasting time, that he needed to be in Mumbai, acting, dancing and making films. And if it all went badly, he even had backup plans: opening a canteen in Film City or going back to college. But a chance meeting with a casting director at a chai stall in Lokhandwala resulted in the TV star’s first movie audition and his debut film, Kai Po Che, releases on February 22.
Directors I want to work with: Abhishek Kapoor, Anurag Kashyap, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Vishal Bhardwaj, Mira Nair.
Kai Po Che, directed by Abhishek Kapoor, is based on Chetan Bhagat’s coming of age novel The 3 Mistakes of My Life. And 27-year-old Rajput (best known for his role as Manav in Pavitra Rishta and performances in Jhalak Dhikhla Jaa) plays Ishaan, your average overachieving, popular, but naïve alpha-male.
But when he showed up for chicken sandwiches and chit chat at Woodside All Day Eatery And Bar in Oshiwara, Andheri, not far from where he was discovered, he came casually dressed, nervous and eager to please.
You were studying engineering in Delhi. So how did you end up in a Balaji serial?
There weren’t any girls in engineering college, so I joined Shiamak Davar’s dance school. There were good girls there so I was happy. One day Shiamak said, “You are not one of my finest dancers but you have something in you. Maybe you should do theatre”. So in the third semester, I joined Barry John’s acting school. He’s not very liberal with praise so when he said that I was good, I took it very seriously. When I am on stage or in front of the camera, the feeling is incomparable. I knew I had to pursue it. So I decided to move to Mumbai. I was very confident, but I thought if nothing positive happened I would open a canteen in Film City, make short films and be happy. I joined Nadira Babbar’s theatre group and continued dancing too. I didn’t go to auditions for two years; I was just learning. Then one day I was doing a play and the Balaji people were there. Later Ekta Kapoor called to ask if I would do TV. I said, “I have not thought about it.” She said, “I will make you a star.” So I said okay!
Why switch from TV to movies? Are the two mediums very different?
I did TV for more than two years. The money and fame were good but I began feeling suffocated. There was no challenge, no improvisation. I was not learning anything. As long as I am learning, I am fine. Money and fame don’t excite me. So I left TV. I was supposed to study filmmaking at UCLA, when casting director Mukesh Chhabra saw me having chai at a tea place and asked if I would audition for him. He didn’t know my TV work. Surprisingly none of the filmmakers I am working with – Abhishek Kapoor, Maneesh Sharma or Rajkumar Hirani – had ever seen me on TV. I got the parts after they scrutinised my auditions. TV is very easy. Actors know what they have to do and that they will get paid for it. Fame comes quickly. Film is very different because every six months you play a different character; you create something from nothing.
Film debut: Kai Po Che starring Raj Kumar Yadav, Rajput and Amit Sadh
My screen idol: Shah Rukh Khan. He is larger than life and has so much energy. He was always so convincing and whenever I saw him perform or heard him talk or dance, I’d be dazed. I remember his expressions in Kabhi Khushi Kahbie Gham and Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. I remember watching the song Suraj Hua Madham – Shah Rukh was on TV and I was imitating him in the mirror. He is from Delhi University; so am I. He went to Barry John; so did I. He started in TV; so did I. So let’s see!.
Why did you decide to debut with Kai Po Che?
Actors have their priorities – money, passion, big names, working with friends. I work for the script. I was offered seven single-hero films before this, but I still planned on UCLA. Then I got this script with three main guys. Whenever I read it, I got goose bumps and I knew I had to play Ishaan. I auditioned for Rajkumar Hirani’s Peekay and Maneesh Sharma’s film for Yashraj after that.
You seem to have packaged yourself right. Dance classes, martial arts, theatre, acting lessons and a six-pack – all the ingredients for a hero.
But there’s lots of room for improvement. As an actor I am a bachcha right now. For Kai Po Che, I was training with Ranji players, I had a gym instructor and took dance lessons. The six-pack was a result of training six hours every day. It was not premeditated. Honestly, I never thought “hero banna hai”. I want to create different, memorable characters. I am learning ballet now and why stop at a six-pack – why not 12?
How important is this neighbourhood for a struggler?
The film industry is here. This area never sleeps. Everybody is so busy and most people are from our industry. Most of my TV friends live around here. And as long as you have chai in the right places, you never know!
From HT Brunch, February 10
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