Everyone seems to have a reference point when essaying a character, but what are your real life reference points when essaying the role of a terrorist, an extremist. With that thought in mind, I got on the phone with Prateik Babbar, who made us sit up and take notice in Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na. From there to Mulk, Prateik has come a long way. And he tells me more about how he perceives his Mulk journey to be:
Mulk was a very exciting film, one that should make people uncomfortable. I’m looking at stuff that is happening in India – while it is important to have a film like this, it is meant to make people cringe a little bit as well. What made you say ‘yes’ to the film, because your character had a certain path and then made a U-turn that then involved in the entire family?
There were various reasons to say yes to the character. One, because I’m playing a terrorist or an extremist. Most actors I know have that on their wish list. For me, this was definitely on my check list too. There was a challenge to it. In terms of stirring up questions, I think, an issue-based film like this should stir up questions, and that is okay.
There is no real message as such – it is only to be aware, it is to make us aware as a country that these problems exist and that we should do something.
Also, there are such fabulous actors and names associated with the film. It was literally a reflex for me to say yes to Anubhav Sinha when he offered me the role. So, yes, various reasons, Armin, for saying yes.
Additionally, the role resonated with me, with sort of being a misguided man at a young age and if I can, through this character, have the feelings resonate with the audience and myself…that was another reason for me to say yes.
When we look at films, there is always a reference point – lawyer, doctor, engineer. There is a real life person that you can base your mannerisms on. The thing about terrorists, we read about them. But we don’t sit and chat with them face-to-face. So what are your reference points? I mean, if your reference is the internet or articles, how do you make sure you don’t fall into the trap of showcasing a terrorist in a sensationalized manner, one in which you are portraying him in a stereotypical way?
Very interesting question, Armin. I don’t think you can portray a typical terrorist. I did my homework on the character, yes. But the research I did, I read up on some material but Anubhav Sinha told me to watch some documentaries. He gave me some reference points. How young Muslims get brought in through the process of saying it is “jihad”. The other thing is, it is inspired by true events, what happened in Lucknow. So I was reading up on that as well.
And then, also being misguided in my own life – so mashing up all of those reference points, gave us Shahid Mohammed.
But it’s a very dark space, a very confused space for your character. When the camera turns off, you take a break, what do you take with you? What is your head space like after a character like this?
It is definitely very draining to play a character like this. For me, it was kind of so draining, that I just wanted to go back and sleep because we were working such long hours. But what helped me was that I felt reassured that I did the right thing – I took that back with me, with Anubhav telling me it was the right thing.
You do kind of, when ‘cut’ is called, you feel a bit drained and not really like yourself. It is just such a complex character that I went to Anubhav to see if I did the right thing – it helps you shoot, and helps you get up in the morning for shoot. It is so much easier when the director tells you you’re doing a good job. It was my director’s word that really helped me.
You talked about it being such a phenomenal cast for Mulk - I especially love Ashutosh sir, who can send shivers down my spine.
It’s his eyes. His eyes. His eyes can express an entire story.
So when you’re surrounded by these people, even though you have grown up watching phenomenal talent, are you taking in little bits and pieces of learning lessons, and if so, what did you take away?
Absolutely. And from everyone. When you are on set with such people, it is only a learning experience. I was very, very nervous initially. I did not want to be under-prepared. I had to be prepared. There was no way I could mess this up, that’s what I thought. I had to give in my two hundred percent every moment I was on set. There is only learning.
I was very nervous a few times when I was with Mr. Rishi Kapoor. Here we have Rishi Kapoor sitting next to me, seasoned super star, and here I am – I have to be this broody, cool kind of character. And I thought, can I do this? He actually said to me, that I had to forget everything around me – the camera, the director, everybody. He said to me, “this is about you and me and this dialogue.” He asked me to say my dialogue and I still didn’t get it.
So we kind of jammed for five-ten minutes and then I finally got it, and we ended up with a great shot.
The basics, of course, you learn as well: respect everyone else’s times, do your homework, learn your lines.
Another thing I realized – the previous films I have worked on, you get shot after shot for different angles. Mr. Sinha will get whatever he does according to his shot schedule, he will just knock it off, if we get it. If he is happy with it – he doesn’t go through angle after angle after angle. I thought that was amazing, that he doesn’t overwork his actors.
For me, I’m a young actor so it is always learning for me. It’s been a wonderful journey with the entire cast and crew with Mulk.