By Asjad Nazir.

POPULAR drama serial Ishqbaaaz continued its incredible run with a big trophy haul at the
recent Star Parivaar Awards in Mumbai and added to its many achievements that has included recently reaching 650 episodes.

Centre of that success has been its lead stars Surbhi Chandna and Nakuul Mehta, who have
consistently delivered great performances and gained an incredible fan-following. I caught up with Nakuul at a tea-shop in Mumbai to talk about Ishqbaaaz, acting and more…

Ishqbaaaz has just won more awards; how much do they mean to you?
To be honest, I don’t get as excited as I used to five years ago when I won my best debutante awards, but every time I receive one I think it is an acknowledgement for the good work the entire team has done. To me, I just feel like the courier boy who takes the awards for my parents.

I come from a background far away from the entertainment business and it is because of their belief that I have managed to carve a niche for myself. So every time I win one, I feel it’s my homage to them or repaying my debt of gratitude. It makes me happy that an award makes them happy.

Nakuul with co-star Surbhi

Why has Ishqbaaaz been so successful?
It’s an interesting question Asjad and kind of hard to put a finger on what people have connected with, but I know it’s a lot of factors.

Firstly I think the producer and creator of the show, Gul (Khan), really has a pulse with romance and has done this in the past with shows like Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon? So she knows how to make romantic characters popular and maps them out well. I think all the actors who have been cast in the show have been phenomenal.

Having great actors together must really help…
When it comes together as an ensemble, it is quite beautiful. If I was to look at TV today, I
couldn’t name another show I could see myself in besides playing my character, and I am not being biased. I think multiple things work for it. It’s aesthetically beautiful and the nicest looking show. It has a lot of heart in it. We have an audience that really backs us. When that happens, the show finds its own life.

Cast and crew of Ishqbaaaz

You are very natural on-screen, how do you approach playing the character?
It is not an easy approach at all. I am glad if it looks easy, but it’s not. People have a different way of working, but I feel mine is the hardest because it is a very method-orientated way of working.

Luckily the character I play does a multitude of things. He was a quintessential bad guy who didn’t believe in relationships, to being the best family man to wanting to kill for his family. So he has had multiple shades, including some dark zones and extremely emotional scenes.

How do you approach those scenes? 
I have distanced myself from a lot of things because I can’t work with distractions, and our industry is about distractions. But I am focused and know my main job is to do a great job with my character. Only then does the rest of it happen.

I don’t do too many interviews because I don’t find them exciting enough as they ask the same questions, and it takes away from the little free time I have to grow and evolve, and days to think about what I am doing for a scene. I keep myself away from everything so I have a weird way of working, but I really enjoy being in that space and alone sometimes.

How do you mentally, physically and emotionally cope with the really long hours Indian TV stars work?
I think you used the right word, you only cope and are always catching up. (Laughs) You meet me at any point of the day and will just see my eyes wanting to sleep. But that is the challenge of the job. The industry is such that you are delivering five episodes a week. I don’t see too many industries in the west doing that.

We have challenging timelines, but I keep reminding myself I am doing what I set out to
and very few people get to do this. So you have to really push yourself and try to do that. So I am always playing catch-up with sleep, friends, social life, but I think it is worth it because you eventually get to do what you love.

Can you talk about the amazing fan-following you have?
I still don’t believe it to be honest and sometimes feel maybe it’s not for me. I understand it is meant for the character I play and am not delusional at all. It still feels pretty surreal.

I have been to the UK a few times in the recent past, including once for a meet and greet, and secretly I was just hoping it doesn’t bomb and people just show up. It was after my first show, but I was just shocked in Leicester, Birmingham and Bradford where there were so many people. It has got crazier with Ishqbaaaz, where right from the airport we get mobbed and wherever we are in London.

That must feel great…
I think it is just wonderful that people get affected by what we do, and that is the speciality about being on Indian television. Not even in film, because with TV they follow you every day. And you are part of their lives. They want to protect you and be like your army. I just feel blessed and there is nothing especially I have done to earn that. I am just at the right place at the right time.

You are a talented actor, but do you have an acting hero yourself?
I don’t have an acting role model as such. I actually look up to sports people more than anything else. Sport really gets me going. When you are talking about Sachin (Tendulkar), Virat (Kohli) or (Mahendra Singh) Dhoni, I would wake up in the middle of the night to see them or have a conversation about them. There are people who have affected me with the work they have done, like Will Smith, I really love the person he is.

What about Indian actors?
There are lots from the young contemporaries I admire. I like what Ranveer (Singh) and Ranbir (Kapoor) have done and think they are phenomenal. I saw Andhadhun with Ayushmann (Khuranna), and to see his career trajectory grow so beautifully has been great.

Vicky Kaushal I think is a beautiful talent. All of that is inspiring. I love it when I see fellow actors or people my age doing wonderful work because that inspires me. It pushes me to work harder in my job.

What is the future masterplan?
The masterplan going forward is to be happy, and while I am getting there I would also like to do some meaningful work. I would hopefully also be remembered for the work that I have done and created.

I also do not want to work as just an actor because I feel that is limiting. I want to explore different facets of being a creative person in this industry, which is also writing, directing and producing. I don’t see myself limited to wanting to be an actor or star.

 

TANUSHREE TAKES A STAND

ALTHOUGH a number of high-profile personalities have been named and shamed, actress Tanushree Dutta opening the Me Too movement door in Bollywood has had a much bigger affect than has been reported by media. I had a number of off-the-record conversations with many top people in Bollywood and they told me countless film people are living in fear they will be named next as an abuser. Even those who are innocent are terrified that someone may name them out of spite or revenge. But I think this fear is good and may lead to a change in Bollywood. If that happens the future generations of women can thank Tanushree.

CHEAT INDIA FOR THE WIN?

IT WAS supposed to be an epic battle between high profile films Super 30 and Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi on January 25, 2019, but the most surefire hit releasing on that
same day is Cheat India. The two so-called blockbusters have hit the self destruct button, while interesting drama Cheat India has been made on a lower, controlled budget and according to all the industry experts I have spoken to it will likely be the only profit-making hit releasing on that day. The Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi budget has spiralled out of control and it had an awful first look trailer. Meanwhile Super 30 has been tainted by director Vikas Bahl, who has been named in the Me Too scandal hitting Bollywood and disowned by the lead star Hrithik Roshan.

MORE MAGIC IN MUMBAI

WHEN I started going to Mumbai back in 2000 there were no British Asians in the city, but today there are many doing wonderful things there. The wife of acting legend Kabir Bedi, Parveen Dusanj-Bedi moved to Mumbai for love, but has now also made a career as a producer and calls the city home. When I asked her what advice she would give British people relocating to Mumbai, she said: “Don’t be fool-hardy and think you are a know-it-all. There’s too many Brits that come here and make that mistake. This city is full of rewards and yet it’s incredibly challenging too. If you want to work hard and play hard, give it a try. Be prepared to find joy in the chaos because if you can do that you will thrive.”

CREATING A CULT CLASSIC

ONE comedy that has enduring appeal is 1994 classic Andaz Apna Apna, and there have been strong rumours it would be getting remade. When I met the film’s producer Vinay Kumar Sinha in Mumbai, he told me why he thinks the film starring Aamir Khan and  Salman Khan is still so beloved. He said: “Andaz Apna Apna is a timeless film. My film, a family entertainer has achieved iconic comedy status over two decades later and continues to be showered with love owing to the youthful and fun subject. Also credit for its unmatched popularity goes to the performances of every actor of this ensemble cast, who have made this a cult comedy.”

HELLY CLOSE TO A RETURN

TALENTED actress Helly Shah has a huge fan following and they are all eagerly waiting for
her to make a small screen return. The in-demand small screen star won a young achievers award while I was in Mumbai and has patiently been waiting for the right project. There are strong rumours she has found something quite magnificent. Even though Helly is my raakhi sister, she wouldn’t reveal anything, so like the fans I too am waiting for some sort of
announcement.

PIONEERING PRODUCERS

FOR me, Hyderabad-based Shreedevi Chowdary and Swati Sanghi are heroes who should be showered with praise for their debut movie Friends In Law. With the comedy drama,
the producers took the courageous step of making a film about understanding and acceptance of the gay community before the recent verdict that officially decriminalised homosexuality in India. Their story of a mother having her whole outlook changed after unexpectedly spending time with her gay son’s partner has been selected by a number of film festivals and features a great lead performance from Shreedevi. The duo is planning to make more challenging films in the future.