As an actor, Neil Bhoopalam enjoys doing multiple things: hosting a TV show, acting in plays, shooting for a TV series. You could say the same is true when he is not in character.
We meet the 33-year-old at the newly opened Juhu pub, True Tramm Trunk. Bhoopalam parks himself for a bit behind the bar, then explores the DJ console; he even attempts a power nap on the couch. All this while talking about his new science-meets-life hacks show on Nat Geo, How to Win at Everything with Neil Bhoopalam.
The actor doesn’t hail from an performance arts background, and claims that the only media-related activity he indulged in as a child was watching TV. “After completing BMM (Bachelor of Mass Media) from RD National College [Bandra], I asked my father to give me a year to figure things out. That’s when I had landed one of my earliest acting gigs — a TVC for Orient PSPO fans. They cropped my hair, made me act like a country bumpkin, wear a ganji and a dhoti, but didn’t pay,” says the actor. Eventually, in 2007, he landed a host’s job for Channel [V]’s show, Basement. Today, the actor is not just another VJ. He is simultaneously straddling projects across theatre and TV, and has acclaimed films like Shaitan (2011) and NH10 (2015) to his credit.
About taking up another hosting gig, Bhoopalam reasons that this is the closest the audience will get to knowing him. “When you are hosting, although there’s a script, people still look for a little bit of you. Besides, I love researching. This show involves exhaustive research,” he says. While the programme features several world-record holders, athletes and trainers decoding the science behind various phenomena, Bhoopalam, too, has performed a fair bit. He is seen juggling, playing with yo-yos, sweating it out with a punching bag, and so on. “I made an origami bird too. There’s also a segment on how to open a can without an opener, but a rock,” he says.
So, we get the actor to demonstrate one of the segments from the show that decodes Hang Time for Vertical Leap. “According to the concept, when an individual jumps and reaches his final vertical limit, he freezes for less than a second before landing on ground again,” Bhoopalam explains before he jumps onto the couch to help us spot the few microseconds that he was suspended in the air.
When an actor’s planner features multiple projects, including travelling to other cities (his play, One On One 2 will travel to Cochin later this month), it is only natural to assume that he must have a chock-a-block schedule. But Bhoopalam says he has a lot of free time. “We wouldn’t be doing this interview here on a Monday afternoon if I wasn’t free. But I shoot 24 (the Anil Kapoor-starrer TV show) for 10 days every month, and that gets really hectic,” he says.
Bhoopalam’s real territory, however, is theatre and has been so for over a decade now. He has been a regular collaborator with Rage Productions, and has a penchant for performing Shakespearean adaptations: Hamlet - The Clown Prince and The Merchant of Venice, to name a few. In fact, Bhoopalam also entertained us with a rap version of Prince of Morocco’s monologue from The Merchant of Venice.
And though he has aced the balancing act, he feels that the lines between mediums are blurring. “The good thing about the current times is that actors like me, who represent an independent space, are getting mainstream opportunities. Jim (Sarbh; actor who was recently seen in Neerja) is a prime example of that,” he says.
However, we don’t see him taking up too many film projects. He jokes that he has been offered way too many roles similar to that of his NH10 character. “I received several scripts wherein the girl was going through trauma, and I had to lend a shoulder. Character development is one of the most important things that theatre taught me. That is what I look for,” he says.
In an earlier interview to Hindustan Times, Bhoopalam had said that he didn’t have the skills to direct yet. However, this time around, he seems more confident. “I would like to start a new play once the work on 24 ends. I am still learning, but now when I am on the sets, I learn how to direct. The technicalities may differ from medium to medium, but direction, more than anything else, is people management.”
Taking cue from his friend and fellow theatre actor Sumeet Vyas — who stars in web series Permanent Roommates by The Viral Fever — Bhoopalam agrees that digital space is the next big thing. “Some years back, my goal was to work in films, radio, theatre and TV. Now, I would add web to that list, but I won’t jump into it.”
Catch How to Win at Everything with Neil Bhoopalam on the HotStar app and at 11am on Saturdays and Sundays on Nat Geo.