Arjun Mathur, last seen in Tisca Chopra’s poignant short Rubaru, is all set to start the new year on a new high. The actor has started shooting for ZEE5’s Silence. The suspense thriller will see him share screen space with Manoj Bajpayee. The actor won an International Emmy nomination in the Best Actor category this year for his turn as Karan Mehra, the Delhi-based wedding planner in Amazon Prime’s Made in Heaven, has started prepping for the second season of the show. And apart from readings and look tests, the actor is also putting much effort in getting back in shape and is going through extensive physical training. “After a whole year of ‘anything goes’, I am glad to be on a very strict and disciplined diet from now until I finish filming Made in Heaven 2,” laughs Arjun. The shooting for the second season of the show that stars Sobhita Dhulipala, Jim Sarbh, Kalki Koechlin, Shashank Arora and Shivani Raghuvanshi along with Arjun, was supposed to start in April but got postponed due to the pandemic.
Return of the native
Isn’t it tad scary to now approach the role that has got him a best actor Emmy nomination, we wonder. The expectations would be huge! Also, in recent times almost all the second seasons of popular shows have failed to match up to their hype. “I am very aware of the ‘curse of the second season’, but I am definitely not scared. I hope the second season matches up to, and surpasses, the expectations and the hype though! The nomination was a great thing to have happened, why should I turn it into a negative by associating any kind of pressure with it?” says Arjun insisting that the nomination had zero impact on him as an actor.
But would it be difficult to return as Karan Mehra after such a long gap? “It’s like riding a bicycle. The day I step on to a set as Karan Mehra, in Karan Mehra’s clothes, looking like Karan Mehra and plant myself in the Made In Heaven universe, I don’t think it would take me any time to become Karan Mehra.” Having evolved as an actor, isn’t there any temptation to do anything differently now? “These thoughts don’t exist in my head at all and they shouldn’t. Evolution is an ongoing process, not a decision that is taken. I will only play the character as authentically as I did in the first season. These are all mind games and if I let myself get swayed by such thoughts, I will not only insult the character but will also dilute the character, I won’t be able to do justice to it.”
What makes Karan Mehra so special is probably that he is one of those rare characters in the world of Hindi television/movies/web series who identifies as a gay man and yet is not made into a caricature. Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti keep things real. Also, it was particularly brave of them to even attempt such a story since the series written when homosexuality was still illegal in the country. But it was Arjun’s subtle and realistic performance that brought the nuanced character of Karan Mehra to life and got Arjun the Emmy nomination.
But this is not the first time of Mathur playing a homosexual man on screen. In fact, he started his acting career with two back-to-back gay roles. In Mira Nair’s 2007 film Migration, he played Irrfan Khan’s younger lover. He followed it up by playing a gay hustler in Onir’s 2010 anthology, I Am. But for the actor, gay or straight, it is just playing a character, “And that is the very job of any actor!” he quips.
The year that was
2020 has been an interesting year for Arjun and he also had a fruitful lockdown – the unique setup and situations have opened his mind to newer possibilities, it was a time replete with moments of epiphany and self-realisation. “I was actually lucky that way that I shot two projects during the lockdown, Home Story for Netflix and The Gone Game for Voot. At that point in time, we all were going through so much uncertainty, we were lost, demotivated, paranoid… there were too many emotions that needed to be channelised. On my own, I might not have thought of doing anything, but these two opportunities came my way. First, it was a short film, which was much easier as it was more contained. It was one character, shot in one location. I must say I was also very fortunate that my live-in partner is a production manager and my neighbour/best friend is one of the best DOPs in the country!” says Arjun revealing his unique position of privilege where he had a self-contained crew of three people making sure that the show does go on!
“Home stories were four short films. Usually such a shoot would have multiple departments of people working, but here we were, doing everything among the three of us — from getting all equipment to moving the furniture, setting up the lights, cleaning up, everything. By the end of the day, when we would sit and watch what we have shot, we would be so amazed and so proud of what we were managing to achieve, the kind of footage we were able to shoot under so many constraints. It was so hard but so rewarding. Gone Game was a different beast altogether. It was a series, it was a thriller set in the lockdown, with six/seven actors all shooting from the confines of their homes and put together in post-production by the editor and the director. It was pretty amazing. The final product has no rough edges and looks like a regular quality movie. I am not sure if we will ever be in that unique situation, I hope not, but I am glad that I have these two pieces of work that not only reflect that time so well, but was actually shot during the period with those constraints,” he says.
Indeed, it was a very important period that needed documenting and is bound to show up in writings, in movies, in works of art. But it also taught people to get out of their comfort zones and innovate.
“Bilkul. Necessity is the mother of invention. Life is very special. Humanity will always adapt and I think the creative fire in you is one of the key things that will help you adjust to situations and help you express yourself under any circumstance.”
So, now that he has already pushed the boundaries and got a taste of the production side of the shoot, is he planning to look beyond being just the amazing actor he is? “I would very much like to get into direction and start with a short film. But right now, I don’t have anything concrete in my mind. I need the material to inspire me and the right kind of people to collaborate with.”