Growing up in Jamshedpur, Adarsh Gourav – like many others who were born in the small town of Jharkhand – would tell people that he belongs to a place where Priyanka Chopra was born. Little did he know, that one day, he would be acting alongside the former beauty queen and global icon. And not just that, but winning international acclaim too!
For his role of Balram Halwai in The White Tiger – also starring PC and Rajkummar Rao – Adarsh has recently won the Rising Star award at The Asian World Film Festival. He has also been nominated in the lead actor category at the upcoming BAFTA 2021 alongside veteran actor Anthony Hopkins, Taram Rahimare, Mads Mikkelsen, Riz Ahmed and the late Chadwick Boseman. The Ramin Bahrani-directorial, an adaptation of Arvind Adiga’s Booker Prize-winning novel of the same name, has also been nominated for the Best Adapted Screenplay category at the upcoming Academy Awards.
With so much critical appreciation and acclaim coming his way for his first lead role in a movie, it is natural that it is yet to completely sink in. “It is very overwhelming,” he admits, but Adarsh isn’t exactly taking time off to bask in the glory. “As much as I appreciate these accolades, it works better for me if I move on and focus on other things, but of course, it’s a really good feeling,” says the 26-year-old.
Not a filmy childhood
In his own words, Adarsh had a childhood that was close to ideal. An active child right from the beginning, his day would consist of playing for long hours with his friends, attending tuition classes and taking part in sports activities. Considering where he has ended up, it would have been safe to assume that he was always enamoured by the big screen or played hooky with his friends to watch the latest film in theatres. But Adarsh had no such ‘filmy’ aspirations.
“I would watch cartoons on the television and on weekends, when there would be no cricket match happening, I would see whatever my brother was watching, but there was no fondness for cinema or anything like that. Once in three or four months, my family would go to watch a film in the theatres,” he recalls.
Apart from sports, Adarsh’s interest was, and still is, in music. He has trained in Hindustani classical music and was the lead vocalist in his college band in later years. He still does riyaaz every day. He even taught himself how to play the guitar during the lockdown, but admits to not being able to practice it as much as he would like to.
“Doing riyaaz every day helps me stay centred and also helps my acting,” he believes. Ask him if he wants to do something musically in the future and his answer is a resounding yes. “Hundred per cent. I want to sing, compose, play the guitar and hopefully, also do live shows eventually. The feeling of being up on stage and singing in front of people gives me an adrenaline rush. It is something that also really scares me. Even when I used to perform with my band, I would not interact with the audience but shut my eyes and lose myself in the music,” he says.
Learning the craft
Even though acting was the last thing on his mind, a chance meeting turned into an opportunity to appear on television and Adarsh was a part of a few small projects before landing himself a small role in Anurag Kashyap’s short film, Clean Shaven, also starring Radhika Apte. “For the longest time, I was just working without even wanting to be an actor. I received the validation after working with Anurag sir and I thought if someone like him is trusting me, it means I should take myself and the craft more seriously,” he says.
In 2016, Adarsh enrolled himself into The Drama School in Mumbai and trained himself in the craft of acting. Movies such as Rukh and Mom, and the Netflix series, Leila, followed soon after.
Even though rejections and failures are part of any actor trying to get a foot in the industry, Adarsh believes it is belittling to term it as a struggle. “It is a beautiful journey and just like any journey, it has its ups and downs. Unlike a lot of other professions, we have chosen to be a part of this. Unless you come from a film family or you are extremely gifted as a child and have shown those traits, no family tells you to become a part of this profession. It is an unconventional choice you have made because it is something that you are passionate about. So, I never think of that part as a struggle,” he adds.
For the longest time, I was just working without even wanting to be an actor. I received the validation after working with Anurag sir and I thought if someone like him is trusting me, it means I should take myself and the craft more seriously.
An experience to cherish
Quite a lot has been written already about how Adarsh gave five rounds of auditions before bagging the role of Balram Halwai in The White Tiger or how he prepped for the role by working at a food stall as a cleaner and doing menial tasks for Rs 100 a day. The actor credits his director, Ramin for giving him time to sink his teeth into the character. “Once you become really sure of the person you are playing and when you have a director who trusts you so much, then it makes your job that much easier,” says the actor.
The one thing he was a bit sceptical about, he admits, was the voiceover, which constitutes almost 60-70 per cent of the movie. “I had never been a narrator before this and I was afraid that my narration shouldn’t put people off to sleep!” he laughs. What he tried then, is to look for a synergy between the narration and the visuals on screen. Easier said than done. “To get to that seamlessness was very difficult. I did make some mistakes,” he candidly admits.
The accolades and awards aside, it is the experience of prepping and shooting for The White Tiger that Adarsh will always cherish. “It has made me more aware of my middle-class privileges and made me more understanding towards the world. I empathise more with people and really listen to them when they speak,” he says, especially referring to the 15 days he spent as a cleaner at the food stall.
“I have never lacked for basic things like electricity, water, meals three times a day, clothes or shoes, but the people I was interacting with had a much harder life. I think I have come out more empathetic after that experience,” he recalls.
It is but natural that with all the appreciation, Adarsh will also have the choicest of offers coming his way in the near future. However, he is clear about what he wants to do. And, also, what he doesn’t want to do. “I want to work with strong voices, people who like to experiment and are not afraid of what they want to say. I am always looking for directors who are unique and have their own personalities. For me, what’s most important are the director and the story, everything else just follows,” he states.
What he doesn’t want to do, is to go with the flow. “If life had to take me where it had to take me, it would have turned out very different. I made conscious choices in life and whatever has happened is an outcome of that. Of course, it would be foolish to not acknowledge the millions of people because of whom I am here. I hope I can continue evolving and keep adding new skills to my repertoire,” says the actor.
He doesn’t want to divulge much about his future projects, one of them being something exciting that he starts in November and is training for it at present. For someone who did not want to become an actor in the first place, Adarsh sure has come a long way.