Ishaan Khatter: A Suitable Boy for big acting success

ACTING UP: Ishaan Khatter



FEW newcomers have had a more interesting start to their acting career than Ishaan Khatter.

The talented 24-year-old has followed up a starring role in acclaimed Iranian writer-director Majid Majidi’s film Beyond The Clouds with Bollywood romance Dhadak and newly released BBC drama serial A Suitable Boy, which is a big screen adaptation of a classic novel. He also has commercial Bollywood entertainers Khaali Peeli and Phone Bhoot on the way.

With A Suitable Boy already getting global attention, the rising star looks set to shine brighter and cross even more frontiers. All the attention hasn’t gone to his head and the young actor is keeping his feet firmly on the ground.

That was apparent when Eastern Eye caught up with him to speak about his remarkable rise, A Suitable Boy and hopes.

Have you had a chance to look at your whirlwind acting journey?
Yes, of course. I don’t have to look too far back as I’ve only just begun. But having said that, there are days where some of my most important memories feel like they were centuries ago. I guess I owe that to the variety of experiences I’ve been lucky enough to have in the first couple of years of my career.

How much has being given challenging roles immediately helped you as an actor?
It’s directly related. Your choices are dependent on the opportunities you are presented with and if one is to believe the notion that you’re defined by your choices, then that’s the differentiator.

How did you feel landing a role in A Suitable Boy?
Great! Humbled and even honoured; it’s an extremely exciting and challenging character.

Had you read the book before and what did you do to prepare for the project?
No, and I’ve still only read those parts of the book that inform my own character. I had a vivid and large script for the rest. We did multiple readings and discussions leading up to the shoot, but it was also a largely spontaneous process with respect to my characterisation.

Where does your character fit into the mega-story?
(My character) Maan and his journey, especially in his relationship with his father, is a very central part of the story. His actions act as a catalyst to events that affect nearly all the central characters in the story.

Ishaan Khatter with Shubham Saraf in
A Suitable Boy

What was the experience of working on the project like?
Equal parts challenging and enriching. I learned a great deal. This is the first time I worked on a mini-series format. It was particularly difficult to define the character arc of Maan with the rigorous schedule we were on. We really had a lot of work to get done with a massive cast and two units working simultaneously throughout, so it was quite extraordinary.

What is Mira Nair like as a director?
She is extremely involved with her subject matter. Fiery and passionate! She is on top of her game and commands great authority as well. She’s also completely unfiltered and will rest only when she gets what she wants.

What is the biggest thing you learned doing this project?
To maintain your focus no matter what and assume responsibility over your character. In an ensemble piece and period drama such as this it was crucial to graph the changes that come in the character’s arc. And with the way we were shooting for this show, with two working units almost throughout, one had to assume responsibility of their own characters’ emotional and physical continuity.

Do you think a contemporary audience will connect with the series?
I think so! I don’t think that the content or the treatment of it is out-dated. There’s a lot of themes that the story encompasses.

If you could play another literary character, which would it be?
I would have to think about that. I think maybe Sherlock Holmes or Joker.

You have worked with strong acting talents in a short space of time, but who has been the most memorable?
A Suitable Boy alone gave me the opportunity to work with many wonderful actors. It’s definitely been an enriching experience working with Tabu, Vijay Varma, Vijay Raaz, Geeta Agarwal, Ram Kapoor and many others. I recently had the pleasure of working with Jaideep Ahlawat and Satish Kaushik on my next film Khaali Peeli as well, and opposite Ananya Panday, who is delightful to work with. Working with Tabu was special because it’s an unusual screen relationship, and she’s an extraordinary actress.

Ishaan Khatter and Tabu in A Suitable Boy

What is the acting plan going forward?
I’d rather not plan. I seek out extraordinary characters, exceptional stories and exciting collaborations. I want to continue to do work that excites me and gives me the opportunity to grow as an actor.

What other confirmed projects do you have on the way?
My next film, a thrilling caper titled Khaali Peeli, is almost ready and the release is on hold on account of the pandemic. Other than that, I have a couple of exciting announcements in the pipeline. I have my first horror-comedy called Phone Bhoot with Excel productions coming up after that; the script is a laugh riot.

Is it fair to say that you have a bigger eye on the international space than just Bollywood?
Not really. I seek opportunities to expand my horizons as an actor for sure, but I am very much in love with my roots and I think there are plenty of exciting opportunities in the Hindi film industry.

What would be your dream role?
I don’t think I have a dream role.

Is there any film or TV show that you have watched and wished you had played that role?
There are too many. I watched The Godfather 1 and 2 again recently, and I’d love to play a part like Michael Corleone.

What inspires you as an actor?
Life, stories, movies, music and nature! I’m very inspired by artists who are able to push the envelope and create an authentic expression of themselves.

What are your other big passions away from work?
I’m a very passionate audience for movies. I love music. I love travelling and photography. Dance is also a big passion for me.

What did you do to cope with the lockdown period?
There have been multiple phases within the various lockdown periods itself. I took to different things – meditation, binge watching and training. I recently began some master classes, and of course, staying connected to loved ones helps a lot.

Why do you think we should all watch A Suitable Boy?
Because there’s something for everybody in it and also the book is nearly 1,500 pages. So, it’s either that or this! Or both, if you fancy.

A Suitable Boy airs on BBC 1 every Sunday at 9pm and is also available on BBC iPlayer