Post films like Ajeeb Daastaans, The Girl On The Train, Kahaani 2 and Helicopter Eela actor Tota Roy Chowdhury is all set to explore more opportunities in Hindi cinema. In an exclusive interview with Cinema Journal, he reveals why producers are more open to judging an actor on performance over pin code, now more than ever before. Excerpts:
You are having quite the run on OTT...
Because of Netflix and its wide reach I have received responses from people I didn’t even know watched my films. People from countries like Europe, America, South East Asia and the Middle East talked about Ajeeb Daastaans and The Girl On The Train. This is amazing and most of my fans were quite happy that they could watch my films on a platform that they could access easily. As an actor at this stage of my career, I want maximum people to watch my work.
Has the OTT come as a blessing for content creators as well as actors?
Absolutely! I can speak for myself! Earlier we had a limited number of people watching our films, especially in Bangla and to a certain extent Hindi as well. As the world got busier, people didn’t have time to go to the theatre to watch a film or sit at a particular time in front of the television. Unless the actor or director were big names from the industry, people didn’t make time for a film. But now, they can watch a movie anytime — while commuting or on weekends or whenever it is convenient for them.
Also, as of now the freedom that the OTT offers is amazing. A lot of people can now tell stories, which otherwise would not have got the backing of the studios or producers simply because they didn’t know how to monetise them. So yes, we have now gone back to the purest form of storytelling without thinking about the consequences or without trying to second guess our audience. Earlier we did that a lot. Ye chalega, ye nahi chalega, isme do gaane daal do, ye scene yahan se nikaal do... stuff like this does not work anymore. Today, the storyteller can be absolutely pure in his narration and can put his foot down and say that a certain scene will remain just the way it is. And we know we will find our audience. That is a big relief and it also brings in a new kind of freedom.
Do character actors now have a better chance of making as much of an impact as the protagonists?
I wouldn’t call them character actors, I would rather call them working actors. Now a working actor has a chance to create that kind of traction in the trade where a producer or the studio or the platform will invest in his talent and not just his looks. Earlier, the hero and heroine needed to look a certain way. Today, we just need to act and fit the character. We can finally be ourselves; not every actor needs to hit the gym or the salon before pursuing a career in acting. Today, we can have a balding protagonist with a hint of a paunch and people love to watch him on screen.
Previously, the industry shunned a middle-aged actress. No good parts came her way except for mother, bhabhi or vamp roles. Now women of every age are making a mark. Ten years ago, the situation we are in today would have been a sort of utopia for us. Which is why we have brilliant actors like Pankaj Tripathi today. We were earlier relegated to the obscure corner of the room for example. Now we are the centre of attraction.
You don’t have to be stationed in Mumbai to land a good role now, isn’t it?
We don’t belong to one industry. We belong to the film fraternity as a whole in this country. Every actor from every corner of the country can aspire to make a mark and legitimately so, do it now! People are now open to working with all kinds of actors from anywhere in the country. That is the reason I am getting such good work today. My manager lives in Mumbai and he keeps telling me to shift base to there. But I keep telling him don’t look at my pin code, look at my performance. That is what should matter the most. Also, we bring in a different kind of energy on the sets. Every city has a different kind of stimulus because of the way they are. So, when actors from different backgrounds come together for a project, they create a unique synergy. That is what makes them so interesting. Of course, Mumbai is the melting pot in India and the mecca of films. But when ingredients in that pot are stirred together you can have such a wonderful stew. Diversity is our strength as a culture.
You are also largely into fitness. How important is fitness for any actor?
There is a saying in Bangla that goes deho pot, shone not, shokoli haray, which means if you lose your fitness you lose your skill. If you let go of your fitness and your body, an actor loses everything. You need to be fit to act. By fitness I mean the ability to withstand 12-14 hours of daily rigours and perform under stress and have flexibility. If there is no fitness you simply don’t have that reflex. Films are a visual medium and at times you do need to look a certain way. You don’t need to have a six pack. But even if you are playing a guy who is overweight, the actor needs to move well, he has to react fast. Or be in tandem with other actors. At the end of 12 hours if my body does not have the fitness to face the camera nobody will care anymore. At the end of the day no one bothers whether you are shooting a scene after 18 hours of shoot. They just want to see the performance. There is no ticker going down below the screen that will ask the audience to excuse an actor for bad acting in a particular scene because he has been constantly shooting for 18 hours. Nobody will bother! Even theatre actors need to have that kind of dexterity and fitness to move around. For me fitness is not about how I look. It is also about how I move, how I speak and my overall performance.