Free Press Journal

“I am just an instrument of my art”, says Viraf Phiroz Patel


He can turn a simple conversation into an erudite discussion with a refined and elegant comportment. Actor Viraf Phiroz Patel of Star Plus’ popular Naamkarann speaks with Dhrithi Sudhakar Gulvadi about Naamkarann’s relationship with its viewers, its challenging content and more…

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The subject / concept of the show stands at a variance with the sensibilities of the masses, how is the audience reciprocating towards the progressive change with such a challenging content?

Well, I observe it little differently. I would beg to differ that the audience has not accepted the show because our TRP ratings have been on the incline, which would mean that something about the show is resonating with the audience. Since 2 ½ months the ratings, which have been increasing, is actually an indicator that the audience is warming up for the show now.

However, my perspective of the audience of a daily soap narrative is that they don’t have the bandwidth for grey. They rather prefer to see black and white. So, they want bad to be bad and good to be good and tell us what is happening between good and bad. They don’t want to see a fight between David and David but they want to see a fight between David and Goliath. That’s my personal observation of the daily soap narrative audience that they like to see black and white. They do not really have the bandwidth and the patience to go with the grey or soak in the grey because may be their lives don’t allow them the bandwidth to do that or the sensibilities to do that.

Do you think other daily soaps and a daily soap like Naamkarann should be the archetypes of edification or should it purely be the craft of entertainment?

Daily soap comes under the paradigm of entertainment. Entertainment is where commerce meets art. For art house cinema there is space. There are people who make art house cinema, there are festivals for that and there are other platforms for that. But there is a commercial responsibility as well; a maker has with the broadcaster in the business of entertainment. They (content producers in Film & TV & Digital) are not here to be the torchbearers of education that needs to go to the society. We marry subjects that we think will strike a chord with people and entertain them.

Whatever Naamkarann chooses to be or any daily soap chooses to be, I think the yardstick for it is whether it entertains the people or not, that’s where it should begin and where it should end. It should not be taken more than that or less than that. If other daily soaps with the seemingly regressive subject have become the number 1 show in the country, then it’s an entertaining show. It has an entertainment value that the audience is getting. Whatever the show may be, its success is also a truth. That is what should be admired, appreciated and celebrated.

 What intrigued you to do this show? Is it for the concept or for the greatest filmmaker in the filmdom Mahesh Bhatt?

I think it’s for Mahesh Bhatt. I am a small town boy. I come from Pune and I don’t have family in the industry so, my growth only lies in working with good people and learning something from them and moving on from there. I was in the merchant navy, and then I happened to win Grasim Mr India, then I used to do some modeling, I did a couple of mini-series with Yashraj where I got to work with Aditya Chopra too.

I did BBC’s first daily soap on Life Ok and now I am getting to do Naamkarann which is an opportunity to work with Bhatt sahab and to play a character which is modeled around his own father. One of the most celebrated minds of our industry; he is at play. It’s the biggest challenge and Guroudev Bhalla has had successes. He has produced Udaan and now he is producing this 9 pm show for Star Plus.

The character is very different from all that I have done it so far. It’s very easy to play heroic when everything is supporting you. Here is an opportunity for me to play helpless, torn, and weak and it’s an exploration of another kind for me, and that is again something that I am getting to do under the purview of master or guru called Bhatt sahab. I do what I can do with the part.

 Has there been a moment wherein the residue of your past character (of a show / film) interfered or merged with your present character’s deportment?

Consciously, no! Certain mannerism of the character that I play I feel that it still lingers in my behavior in my personal life. For eg: I did the show Kismat for YashRaj which was based on the story of 2 men who were born on the same night in 1947. One is born in the rich house and the other is born in the poor house.

I was born in a rich house. I modeled that character by imagining Ratan Tata and JRD Tata. I took a little bit of British culture. Amongst the many other things that I did for the character, I always decided to sit with one leg on top of other while sitting. So, Aditya Raj Merchant (character name) sat for every scene like that and shot that show for almost a year. Every time he sat down, he sat with his legs crossed. It’s been 5 years since I have shot that show.

But I am sitting like Aditya Raj Merchant even right now. That habit of Aditya Raj Merchant has lingered in my personal demeanour. It (the character) doesn’t exist. The scary part is that this is just one of the habits which I am becoming only conscious and aware of. This is the interesting part of our work, sometimes we feel that art is our instrument and sometimes I feel that I am just an instrument of my art.

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Do you think the ideologies of the masses stand in resistance with the creative sensibilities when producing unparalleled content?

I read a very interesting quote that, ‘if the audience doesn’t listen to you then it’s not the audience’s problem, it is your problem.’ Who are we making the content for? We are making the content for the audience and if they are not ready to listen to it, then there is a problem with us. So, the responsibility lies with the maker as well, so as to say what he is saying responsibly & entertainingly. There has to be a balance. One cannot be a sell out and at the same time one has to be sensitive to certain rights and wrongs.

What else is happening in your life?

To be honest, when one signs a contract with the mainstream GEC as the lead actor of a daily soap, one basically sells one’s own life to the broadcaster because one has to shoot almost every day. However, me being me, I too have my endevours where one will probably find me on stage anchoring something and making a documentary as well and there are couple of entertainment industry initiative events that I am working on which are non profit events, but they are like ‘for the industry growth’.

I look after the platform called “Frame Your Idea” where writers meet producers. It’s something which I’ve been doing for the past 2 years with the Federation of Indian Chambers and Commerce and Industry. So yes with all this plus acting, anchoring and a documentary in the making, it does get crazy at times but it’s also what keeps me sane.