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Ankur Bhatia: Nobody imposed this journey on me

By Armin S. Monday, Aug 10, 2020 08:58: AM

For the uninformed, Ankur Bhatia is that guy who received rave reviews for his performance alongside Sushmita Sen in the hit series, Aarya. But more than that character, he is a journey. He defines truly a global journey of acting all while maintaining a family, sanity, and homes. Why do I say “homes”? Well, you will have to read on to find out.

New York or Mumbai – Which one is home?

“You know, it is a funny thing you ask. I have been asking that question myself for a couple of years now. I have become friendly with the term “global nomad”. I come from a place called Bhopal in India. I followed the regular path of becoming a computer engineer, coming to the U.S. for my Masters, pursued my Masters here. Then did mathematics, and then did Mergers and Acquisitions, and for eight years, I worked in Manhattan. Then I got married after knowing her for two years. It is after all that that I decided to become an actor, which was kind of like a shock to everyone in my family. I started doing shorts with NYU people. I quit my job and went to L.A. I thought I would try it out for a three, four month period and then come back. 

I was always looking for that cushion. Somehow, it should be a smooth transition between work so I still make money in movies. But it doesn’t work like that. You actually have to put in time to make it work. I didn’t realize that at the time that I quit my job.”

The Beginning…

“Then I thought I would go visit India and I had never been to Bombay before this. I had met a couple of people from Bombay – Apoorva Lakhia, Anurag Kashyap – who come here for film festivals. I thought I would just go there. They all say that when you are in India, come meet us. I went to India and nothing happened. I think I was there for four or five weeks and thought I should come back. I met a whole lot of people while out there, and the day I was leaving, I thought I would meet Apoorva Lakhia for the heck of it, say bye to him, because he was the nicest one. I went to meet him and some casting problem had happened and he offered me a small part in Zanjeer, that I would get experience and they were shooting so I said sure; it was eleven days of shooting. I cancelled my flight to New York and I went to Bangkok to shoot the film from the next day. Before that, I had never been on a typical feature film Bollywood set before. I had done short films so I thought I had the experience. Short film sets are crews of fifteen-twenty people. There, it is crew of two hundred people! Those eleven days became almost a year and a half because Sanjay Dutt was going through some legal issues at that time. That cycle of going back to India continued.”

The Mid-Point

“Zanjeer came out – it did not do well at the box office and it was a small part so I thought I would come back again as it had been two years, and I had made no money (chuckles). 

I got a job at an insurance company but that day, I got a call that my mother got diagnosed with cancer and it was almost fourth stage breast cancer. Then I moved to India, after quitting my job. Through the course of figuring all that out, I started working on Sarbjit. At that time, Apoorva Lakhia was working on Haseena Parkar. He also saw that this guy was at it. He has something. He liked Sarbjit. I auditioned for Haseena Parkar some twenty five times because the producer was not convinced because it was a big part. Since then, it has been like that. 

Last year, my mom passed away and I decided it was too much – going back and forth and back and forth. I came back and did a show with 50 Cents. I then did a Hollywood film called the Scraper. And at that point, I got a call for Aarya, and this time it was Ram Madhvani. I tested for it. I had seen Neerja. To work with him, it was like going to school. I tested for it and I went back to Bombay and here we are.” 

Today…

“So, I have always been commuting. So my home is here, in New York – my wife and my kid is here. My father is in Bhopal. I have something in Bombay. So when there is no work, I am here in New York  - I am here two-three months. I am always commuting almost every month.”

The Back & Forth and Mental Health

“It has taken a lot of time. When people say this industry is a lot of struggle. The struggle is not just finding the job. The struggle is also getting used to the lifestyle. I have nothing else to compare to it but my own financial jobs, working for the biggest companies, like the “9 to 5” jobs. There is security in those jobs. There is stress, but even if your job goes away, you can get another job. Here, there isn’t that security. It doesn’t mean you are out of work. It’s just that you have done one project, that project is a part that you have lived. Haseena Parkar took six months of my time – preparing, filming, promotions. Now, if it doesn’t work, that is a new struggle. If it doesn’t work, it means a lot of people did not see the film, so people haven’t seen how hard you may have worked. So that work goes unnoticed. If you are noticed, then you can become choosy in what you want to do. So, there is always that wait time and in that wait time, many people can become anxious. 

My dad will be like, don’t you get bored? Regular people will have a set routine of work Monday to Friday. I just sometimes have to go to the gym, look good, eat right because when the filming starts, we don’t have time to do anything else. This is especially when I was shooting for Aarya, I was coming back from New York to Bombay, doing workshops, I was doing another web series directed by Apoorva Lakhia. There I am playing a main negative lead as a Pakistani army officer. To switch back and forth is also a struggle. Then, there was a jetlag. Then I had to shoot in New York. Then I did my costume trial in India. Then I went to Chandigarh and Shimla for the other web series. Then, it was Aarya in Rajasthan and various other cities, and then Bombay. And then, in March, I came back in New York again. 

So, you can become anxious like this, and you can go insane.”

Maintaining Positivity Amidst Trying Times

“You know, I’ve become a very positive person especially with my mother facing cancer. You have no choice but to be positive and look at the bright side. I got so used to dealing with that, that my aura internally has become very positive. I used to become very irritated and tired with all of this travel and it would probably reflect in my behaviour with the people all around me. 

But I realized that the journey I am on is my journey. Nobody imposed it on me. So when COVID-19 hit, I was actually supposed to go back to shooting on March 20th and do dubbing for Aarya and dubbing for the other series as well. 

This is an actual pause, and it is really bad what is happening, but the brighter side for me is that I have been spending time with my six year old. I’m trying to always make up for the days I have lost here with all of my travelling – be it bike rides or swimming or playing. That opportunity I had not been getting – I had to make my career, take care of my mother, be with my wife, then I have to network also. The industry works on networking. 

It was a forceful lockdown. When you are not with the family, and you are alone, you start to look at your journey – I started looking back at my journey and realized that there are certain things in my journey and I don’t even want them. Sometimes, we just do stuff without knowing why. So I started to simplify things. I started to write, I am painting. But I never got the chance even though drawing and painting is a very meditative process. I’m a very good cook and I started watching videos and trying that.”

Getting into and getting out of character

“Some actors are very trained and have certain methods – theatre is very different, television is very different. I have not done theatre, I have never done film school. I did everything with my experience. But Haseena Parkar, the movie was done, and I realized I could not come out of it. 

I had no idea that certain actors must be going through this as well. Every morning I get up and start crying because I died in that movie. At a certain point, I imagined myself dying and not seeing my son because as actors as start to do that. I told my coach that I was going through this. We went through a process – so I had to completely cut myself off from the people and everything else associated with the film. I have now changed my process. I try to figure out my own personality and bring those personal traits to that character.”

Aarya and Sushmita Sen

I play a hot-headed, flamboyant, strong Rajasthani guy. My character, as Aarya’s brother, revolves around Aarya. Which means I had to establish a bond with Sushmita Sen, who plays Aarya. 

So the first time I met Sushmita Sen, we just chatted for ten, fifteen minutes. But the director noticed that we were very polished in speaking to each other. So he told me, you know, start swearing after every line. It was then becoming very awkward. We then went out and we took a break and then we started doing our very serious lines in a comical way, and just doing everything opposite. So by the time the shoot started, we were very comfortable with each other. That’s how brothers and sisters are – they have grown up together, they know how their parents are. So we did that with all of the family members. 

This was also my first time shooting in 360 degrees. I have never shot something like this before. No cuts, no close-ups. You have to do the entire scene at once. Three cameras are going around. Blocking is done with every actor. It was very real, you feel every beat of the emotion. I hope everyone keeps giving it love.

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