He might come across as elusive, and his media-shy reputation might have raised eyebrows, but as we caught up with the birthday boy Sushant Singh Rajput (who turns 29 today), at a tea stall in Andheri that he used to frequent as a theatre actor — and his other haunts before he became famous — the actor dismisses these as perceptions, calling the industry a "strange place".
You’ve completed three years in Bollywood. How do you look at the years gone by?
Getting a hang of being an actor — on stage, on TV and now in films — has given a certain meaning to my existence. And there have been some revelations too. No matter what you assume, this industry is going be different from anything you have ever imagined.
You don’t follow the set pattern of how a Hindi film actor and his life usually functions.
The only way you can be at peace with yourself is by being who you are and understanding why you are that way. You do away with the constant urge of seeking validation and being accepted.
Also, many feel you are a bit of a loner…
I might not be over-enthusiastic about socialising and making friends, but I am not a loner. I love hanging out with my friends, and I do it often when I am not working. Maybe, since I am not often invited to the ‘happening’ parties of our industry, where the media is around, I have earned the reputation of being a loner.
You, besides names like Ranbir Kapoor and Nawazuddin Siddiqui, are among the few who maintain a safe distance from both the media as well as the rest of the film fraternity. Why?
I have my reasons. Everybody is in a hurry to decode you in a certain way, and then they expect you to adhere to their definition. How can they possibly do that when you yourself are finding it hard to discover yourself? How many interviews and questions does it take to tell everyone what you think? There are many things you can say once you cultivate your opinion, and that comes with experience, which — at this point — I don’t have much of.
You don’t have a godfather in Bollywood. Do you ever feel like an ‘outsider’?
Well, this industry is a strange place. You look in one direction, and you find mediocrity and nepotism thriving, and you can’t come up with a logical reason to explain it. In the other direction, you see immense respect for passion, talent and professionalism, irrespective of being an insider or an outsider. The best thing is to accept the circumstances, not take them personally, deal with them, stop complaining, and give everything your best.
Despite doing several big projects, why — unlike your contemporaries — do you never shout from the rooftops about them?
I find it unnecessary. Our job, as actors, is not to tell the audience how interesting we are, but to entertain them with our films. The primary reason to do a film is very personal. I get very excited when I read a good script, and I honestly do the film for that feeling. But after the film is shot, I only pray that the audience likes it.
You don’t seem to be in a hurry to sign films. Is that true?
Giving six months of your life to a film can get very taxing, and you need time to unwind. I want to learn and have fun during the [film-making] process. You can experience that excitement regardless of the number of films you do.
Are you consciously choosing only ‘unconventional’ films?
Yes. I have chosen to be an actor over other things that I am passionate about. So, I better be excited about all the films I do. If I keep doing the same thing that the audience expects of me, then I am not helping them evolve.
Do you keep track of what your contemporaries are up to?
The day I stop getting the kinds of films I want to do, I will start looking at what other new actors are doing. For the time being, the challenge to perform in the films I am doing is overwhelming, and I am investing my time in that. But if I do hear about an interesting film or performance, I make it a point to watch it.
How has your equation with your girlfriend, Ankita Lokhande, evolved over the years? Is marriage on the cards?
Ankita is an anchor in my life. She’s a great friend and an endearing partner. We have matured over the years and the spice in our relationship is still intact. As soon as the films that I have already signed get shot, we will get married.
After Shah Rukh Khan, you are possibly the only actor who has made a successful transition from TV to films. Many of your contemporaries from TV have failed to do so. What have you done differently?
I am sure that their unsuccessful transitions have nothing to do with them working in TV. Television is a very strong medium and a breeding ground for skilled actors. There are other parameters that we need to take into account while making the transition. Your choice of films, your passion for the art, preserving your motivation and confidence are some of these things.
Did you always want to do TV, or was it a channel to enter films?
I have no issues with either medium. They have their own dynamics. Your popularity on TV doesn’t often translate to the same measure in films. All you can retain is a bit of confidence, professionalism and a sense of skill.
You have worked extensively with Ekta Kapoor in TV. Her TV shows are quite different from the films she produces…
Ekta is a brave producer. She is not afraid of trying new things. She has a lot of conviction in what she does, and that is why she made a powerful comeback after almost everyone was in a hurry to write her off. Hopefully, we will find an interesting film script to work together on.