Fuelled by determination, and a measure of naivety, Naveen Kasturia has turned into one of the most popular actors on the web series scene.
The Versova home of Naveen Kasturia (known for his role in the web series, TVF Pitchers, and the film, Sulemani Keeda; 2014) is sparsely furnished. Except for a framed family photograph, the latest edition of Filmfare, and Naseerudin Shah’s autobiography (a gift from a friend), there’s nothing personal about his living room. It’s the first time Kasturia (32) is living alone, and he’s finding it rather challenging. “I’m lazy. To me, running a house is the most difficult thing. I’m still struggling with basic things like eating regularly, waking up on time… I’m always running late,” he says.
Kasturia isn’t your conventional tall, muscled actor. He’s of average height, lean, and often gets told he resembles Mr Bean (Rowan Atkinson). Our interview lasts more than an hour: Kasturia is extremely chatty. He meanders, goes into specifics. The conversation is interspersed with Kasturia saying, “I don’t know if this is important”; “Can you please not mention this?” often. His opinions on senior actors and directors, and blockbuster films, haven’t always gone down well with colleagues. “I don’t have a filter,” he says.
Recently, Kasturia has appeared in two short films — Pure-Veg (with actor-musician Saba Azad) and Interior Café — Night. Since punctuality isn’t his strong suit, he showed up late on the sets of Interior Café — Night. Released on YouTube last month, the short stars Naseeruddin Shah, Shernaz Patel, Kasturia and Shweta Basu Prasad. “Can you imagine, I kept Naseer sir waiting. Somebody had told him I look like him. After wrapping up the shoot, he hugged me, asked me to keep in touch, and called me ‘beta’. I would like to believe he’s fond of me,” Kasturia says.
He might sound naive when he says this, but he’s the kind to find joy in little things. When he moved from Delhi to Mumbai, he made cold calls to production offices. Many a times, he wouldn’t get to meet anybody. “I was just happy to see the offices where the magic happens, where films get made,” Kasturia says.
A Bollywood geek since childhood (his cousins often teased him, calling him a “filmi encyclopedia”), Kasturia acted in school plays and continued writing, directing and acting in plays through engineering college. He made the safe decision and got a cushy job with an analytics firm. But his heart was keen on entertainment. “I would whine about wanting to go to Mumbai. On my 24th birthday, I was in Goa with friends. I got drunk and was crying, ‘I want to go to Mumbai’.”
The big move
Eventually, in 2008, Kasturia took up a job with JPMorgan Chase in Mumbai, one step closer to Bollywood. He didn’t have a plan. Hordes of aspiring actors and models move to the city every day. Some make it; most don’t.
Kasturia got his first break in the film industry as an assistant director (AD) with Vishesh Films, on the movie Jashnn (2009). Doing the rounds of production houses, he visited the office of Vishesh Films to hand over his resumé without an appointment. The receptionist directed him to Jashnn’s co-director, Hasnain Hyderabadwala. Kasturia recounts, “He discouraged me, saying I had a good job, why did I want to leave it. But I told him I wasn’t concerned about money at the moment, and have always been passionate about storytelling.” And just like that, Hyderabadwala offered him a job.
Luck has worked strongly in favour of Kasturia. However, this is not to discount his acting ability — he proved his chops with his monologue on entrepreneurship in an episode of Pitchers. His first break as an actor was with Sulemani Keeda. He met its director, Amit Masurkar, on the sets of Love Sex aur Dhokha (2010), where Kasturia was an AD and Masurkar was filming the making of the movie. “Amit was toying with the idea of directing a film about two writers, and he wanted to cast actual writers, not actors,” Kasturia recounts. And since Kasturia himself was trying to pitch his film scripts to productions, Masurkar cast him.
By his own admission, Sulemani Keeda made him an actor, but TVF Pitchers made him a star. The series went viral and catapulted its actors to fame. “I didn’t realise how popular it had become. I wasn’t on Twitter, I don’t go out all that much,” Kasturia says. It hit him that he’s a known face only when he and Jitendra Kumar (TVF Pitchers co-actor) were invited to BITS, Goa, for an event in August, 2015 (the final episode of Pitchers had recently gone live). “Somebody was doing a talk, and Rajat Kapoor and Taapsee Pannu were on stage. I was star-struck seeing them but as we entered, the crowd went into a frenzy.”
Taking it as it comes
Kasturia still likes to keep things low-key. Although he’s a reluctant Twitter user now, he’s adamant about not joining Instagram — even though he’s been advised of its usefulness as a self-marketing tool. “I believe your work should speak for yourself,” he says, a hint of the naivety surfacing again.
Kasturia has a new web series coming up soon. In showbiz, ‘I’m waiting for meaningful roles’ often translates to ‘I’m out of work’. But when Kasturia says, “I would rather not do anything than take up projects that don’t match my aesthetics,” we know he’s speaking the truth. He’s too much of an idealist to do it any other way.