HT Brunch Cover Story: Selfie slick with Ishaan Khatter

Painters used to be the only people capable of self-portraiture, but now we are all at it. Actor Ishaan Khatter shoots innovative, self-timed selfies during lockdown, and asks: Do selfies signal the death of vanity?
Ishaan explains there’s more to selfie than vanity when the selfie-taker is an actor. (Wardrobe: Jordan)(Ishaan Khatter)
Ishaan explains there’s more to selfie than vanity when the selfie-taker is an actor. (Wardrobe: Jordan)(Ishaan Khatter)
Updated on Sep 20, 2020 07:32 AM IST
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Hindustan Times | By

Every photograph of Ishaan Khatter in this edition of HT Brunch, including the cover image, has been shot by Ishaan himself. These are selfies and they are so next-level that it appears to us that the just three-screen-story-old (so far) 24-year-old actor may want to switch careers at some point.

But, please, we think. Not just now. As much as his selfies range from cute to meditative to moody to experimental, we would rather see the talented actor Ishaan on screen in a movie (he’s been in two so far, Beyond the Clouds (2017), directed by Majid Majidi, and Dhadak (2018), directed by Karan Johar) or on a streaming channel in a series (A Suitable Boy, directed by Mira Nair), than the talented selfie-taker Ishaan on social media.

“Selfies are the new mirrors. They can be a very effective tool for actors.” —Ishaan khatter

Not that the two are mutually exclusive. In fact, these days, you can’t have one without the other as Ishaan explains in the next two paragraphs. Plus, he belongs to Gen Z or the selfie generation.

“Selfies are fun and a good way to capture moments, but for actors, they have also become a mode of branding,” says Ishaan, pleased with the effect his selfies have had on the HT Brunch staff. “With the selfie camera you can be the photographer and the subject, and during this lockdown, when you can’t do proper photoshoots, this has become far more than an extension of narcissism.”

Ishaan calls this a ‘jugaadu’ shot which he took, through a foam roller using a self-timer (Ishaan Khatter)
Ishaan calls this a ‘jugaadu’ shot which he took, through a foam roller using a self-timer (Ishaan Khatter)

In fact, there’s much more to a selfie than vanity when the selfie-taker is an actor, Ishaan explains. It’s actually a great acting tool, just like a mirror. “You think of yourself in a certain way, but when you look at yourself through someone else’s eyes or lens, the picture in your head often looks different. A similar thing happens when you emote in front of a mirror. Hence you will see a lot of actors talking to mirrors, often for hours. Selfies are now the new mirrors. They can be a very effective and engaging tool for actors.”

Out comes the actor

Ishaan has the rare distinction of working with two international filmmakers: the Iranian auteur Majid Majidi and ace Indian-American director Mira Nair.

Ishaan explains that for this picture, he put a mirror next to him and took a high angle shot by holding his arm up. (Wardrobe: Pull & Bear) (Ishaan Khatter)
Ishaan explains that for this picture, he put a mirror next to him and took a high angle shot by holding his arm up. (Wardrobe: Pull & Bear) (Ishaan Khatter)

While he made an unconventional debut playing a slum boy in Majidi’s Beyond the Clouds and earned the critics’ approval, when the trailer of Mira Nair’s miniseries, A Suitable Boy, which sees him romancing Tabu, showed, he got rave reviews for his crackling chemistry with the veteran actor.

“I am not a planner but I have a very clear idea of what kind of projects I want to do,” says Ishaan. “But it also depends on what you are offered and I have been extremely lucky in that department. I had got an audition call for A Suitable Boy before Beyond the Clouds was even released. So, they didn’t have any prior reference of my work. At the second audition, Mira di offered me the role. This was in March 2018. Beyond was released in April 2018. It was a very long casting process and pre-production.”

For this shot, Ishaan invented his own kind of kaleidoscopic selfie using his Nickelodeon Kids Choice Award trophy (Ishaan Khatter)
For this shot, Ishaan invented his own kind of kaleidoscopic selfie using his Nickelodeon Kids Choice Award trophy (Ishaan Khatter)
“I have seen the devotion and determination bhai [Shahid Kapoor] has put in. We act because we love the craft.” —Ishaan khatter

Coincidentally, while prepping for his role in Beyond, Ishaan had watched Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay! (1988) as a reference!

The actor seems to have cracked auditions since day one. “I got the audition call for Beyond from Honey Trehan. Honey sir had done the casting for Udta Punjab (2016) – a film I was assisting on, and was also the film’s second unit director. He told me that when he read the script of Beyond, he knew he had met the character before. He says – and it is actually funny! – that he remembered me climbing a wall, and the determination and fire I had that day was what he associated with the Beyond character,” says Ishaan.

“But it was not a closed-door-white-background typical audition,” Ishaan adds. “I was given the brief for the character and asked to treat it like a project. I shot some scenes in Dharavi, Borivali and other parts of Mumbai and sent them the assembled footage. And then Majidi sir offered me the role! Everything happened within 48 hours. I was just 20 when we started the shoot. ”

Ishaan is happy with himself after cracking some trippy pictures using a Nickelodeon trophy! (Ishaan Khatter)
Ishaan is happy with himself after cracking some trippy pictures using a Nickelodeon trophy! (Ishaan Khatter)

What made him pick an unusual debut film, considering while most actors would beg to be in a Majidi film, not many newcomers would choose such a role in their first film?

“It was not actually supposed to be my first film! I was supposed to be launched in a Karan Johar movie,” says Ishaan. “The talks for Dhadak were already on when I got the audition call for Beyond. The shooting of Beyond wrapped up in May 2017 and Dhadak went on floors in December 2017. I am extremely thankful that Karan sir didn’t insist on Dhadak being my launch film.”

But even Dhadak was not a typical Karan Johar film. It was a remake of a critically acclaimed Marathi blockbuster. “I had seen Sairat and I absolutely wanted to be part of the remake,” says the actor.

Generations apart

If it seems Ishaan has made some sort of decision to avoid commercial Bollywood roles, you couldn’t be farther from the truth. “My next film, Khaali Peeli, is as Bollywood as it gets!” he says proudly. “As an actor, you want to do all kinds of roles and that includes the quintessential Bollywood hero ones. The idea is to be versatile. I will only rate myself as a decent actor if I can pull off a character-driven role and that of a ‘Bollywood hero’ with equal conviction.”

Ishaan with his brother and actor Shahid Kapoor
Ishaan with his brother and actor Shahid Kapoor

Today’s generation of actors is far more fortunate in the kind of opportunities they get than the earlier generations. Ishaan accepts this truly, because he is Shahid Kapoor’s half brother and has seen the scene change first-hand. While as a rank newcomer, he could audition for a Majidi movie, when his brother started off way back in 2003, this was unthinkable. Shahid’s debut, Ishq Vishk, was a candyfloss college romance. It took him almost a decade of impressive acting in movies like Jab We Met (2007) and Kaminey (2009) to establish himself as a formidable actor.

“Indian cinema is now coming of age. And it’s about time,” says Ishaan. “It is over 100 years old! I thank my stars that I am getting to work in such interesting times.”

“Indian cinema is coming of age. About time… it’s over 100 years old!” —Ishaan khatter

That Ishaan was inspired to act because he saw his brother on screen can go without saying. But because of his brother, he also saw the hard work that every actor puts in behind the scenes, and so was able to make an informed choice of career.

Ishaan believes that this generation of actors is far more fortunate with opportunities (Ishaan Khatter)
Ishaan believes that this generation of actors is far more fortunate with opportunities (Ishaan Khatter)

“I have seen the devotion, determination, hard work, he has put in, the sacrifices he has made, to become what he is today,” says Ishaan. “We act because we love the craft. Most people don’t have a clear idea of that part of an actor’s life. But I came into the profession knowing very well how demanding it is.”

The brothers are 14 years apart, but Ishaan is already matching steps with Shahid. Hang on, is Shahid as good as Ishaan with a phone camera? We’ll have to ask.

Read Selfie Love: When did the meaning of selfies change?

From HT Brunch, September 21, 2020

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Ananya Ghosh is an assistant editor with Hindustan Times Brunch. She has 10 years of experience as a journalist having worked as a copy editor/feature writer in various publications.

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