There is something about him that appeals to the everyday human being. Aparshakti is one of those individuals who gets at you right at the core. With his memorable performances in Luka Chuppi, Stree, and Dangal, to name a few, Aparshakti has struck a chord with the audiences. But it is also his genuine passion for family and life that tug at you as an audience member. When I spoke to Aparshakti, I realized that I became a bigger fan of his by the end of our conversation.
I want to start off by basically congratulating you. You have done so much in the past few years. You have really made a name for yourself. You are all of 31 years old and you have done a lot! For somebody who has been in cricket, playing professionally, you’ve done law, and now you are in acting. For somebody that is 31 years old, you have literally had five different job titles which requires various levels of commitment.
I would like to say that I have been all over the place in a good way - touch wood, and you know life is genuinely an experience and you really need to live the way you want to and God has been more than kind to give me so many different lines before starting to act and once you start acting, you are in any case living a new life. You know you are playing a new character in a different city, different set of people and a different set of family on and off the camera. On camera you have somebody playing your friend, somebody playing your father, somebody playing your mother and off the camera, your director and your sound team, your camera team becomes your family because you are staying with them for a month and a half or two! Life is an experience where you can really kind of have fun to experience all these things.
So you are right, at 31, I have jumped five professions and I am equally happy with all of them. And having said that, I’ve just explored another. From anchoring and acting, I’ve just explored another creative side of mine.
But I heard your brother Ayushmann, your brother, was not necessarily supportive the first time around when you said you wanted to be an actor. I think he questioned your choice at the time. Tell me a little about that and how it made you feel initially.
Well, when I told him that this is what I want to try in life he said I'm already doing this, so I know what it takes to be here. So he clearly told me, rather than being the older brother and saying don't worry, I will help you out and don't worry we are together in it and all that jazz, he didn't give me all those, you know, elder brother vibes. He was rather very strict about it and he said listen now, you need to work hard on this, you need to be prepared, you need to do your homework first and then come to the sitting.
Because you know, it's a very competitive world out here and if your homework is not complete, you won't be able to stick it through. And success can only happen when preparation meets opportunity. So you will get opportunities but you aren’t the best for it right now. So go back to Delhi, prepare yourself, take a few years and do theatre, do radio, do some sports and music and this and that and you will not even know when you are ready. Exactly that happened to me after five, six years. And I think, God has been this kind to give me a brother who is not that guy who just said what I wanted to hear.
Did that initially bother you though?
I mean I’m very happy in the day and age of nepotism that everyone keeps debating about, you know, this subject, there is a star actor in our country who comes up and says, I have a brother who is an actor but I want him to prepare himself and then he will come to the city and I'm not going to give him all the access in the city. He’ll come and he will work his way up. And I think when somebody does that, it requires a lot of wisdom, it requires a lot of spirituality, for him to tell me that and for me to accept that. Younger ones are the impatient, naughty ones, you know, who don't understand things. Younger ones are, more often than not, impatient, up-tempo, just want to do it. These are the basic traits of a younger sibling. I think I was not wise to understand what he was saying, where he was coming from, at that initial point.
Today when we sit back and talk about it, we feel really happy and my father and mother always say to me that you’ll love your craft and work only when you have done it yourself. Only when you have done the homework right.
You know, speaking of Ayushmann being the older brother, you’re the younger sibling, I watched an interview with the two of you, where the two of you seemed poles apart in terms of your personalities, but at the same time, at the core of both of you are very strong family values I find. When I watched that interview I thought to myself, these guys can be my cousins. That's how I felt. It was interesting. So when you think about your own family values, do you think back and try to figure out what is that one core family value or that principal that was passed down from your parents that you kept intact and perhaps what makes that bond so strong even in today’s day and age.
Yeah, I think number one is that we come from a small town, or at least when we were growing up, it was a small town, and normally family values are still intact in small towns. Big town boys and girls have a lot of exposure towards life and situations. So I think these values are kind of connected to small-town boys and girls. Secondly, I would like to give the credit to my mumma. I think my mom has been that religious figure in our house who has always been very humble and honest about things. I think my mumma is the one who kept the value system intact. As a matter of fact, my parents very early decided on that I should touch my Bhaiya’s feet every day in the morning when I get up.
So I was in class 3 or 4 when I started touching his feet. Actually, it’s a part of our upbringing that every younger person is supposed to touch the elder person’s feet, like how people in Punjab do “Peri Pauna”, we call it “Jai Jai”, some say “Jai Shree Krishna”, others say “Ram Ram”. So I used to do this to Bhaiya every day, even to this day. Even when I address him on the phone I say “Jai Jai Bhaiya”. Your first line in the conversation is supposed to be “Jai Jai Bhaiya”. So I think it’s just that very early in life we had such values imbibed in us and then of course, it’s only parents as well as schooling that matters a lot. And I think I was just blessed to have very nice teachers around to keep us well-behaved and intact with our family values.
You know when you talk about family values, you talk about certain customs and traditions that you followed from a very young age, and you’ve kept them intact to this day and age. When you're looking at that, when you’re moving from a small town to a place like Mumbai, having the life experiences you’ve had, you know you have also done theatre, how does that play into your mind when you’ve given characters such as the one in Stree, which was absolutely memorable or Dangal? How does that play into how you understand a character that’s provided to you?
See, I’ve been a cricketer so my modus operandi is different from other actors around because I always wanted to be a sports person. So my mind still works like that. When I go on a film set, I take it as a cricket field. And for me, the moment I enter I think “okay, teamwork starts right now”. I will never ever try to improvise my character in a way that would hamper anyone else’s lines or character. I will always keep things within the scope of improvisation. So it’s always teamwork. And the way I take it up is that I don’t always have to bother anyone else with extra work and let the teamwork get things going. I’d say number one, I look at it as teamwork.
Secondly, in regards to Dangal and Stree where I played small characters because I have played cricket, I have travelled almost half of the country. So in all these small towns, hence, I knew the colloquial languages because I had travelled to these places. In Chanderi, where we were shooting Stree, my first cricket Nationals actually happened 200 kilometres away from where we shot. So I knew that city, I knew that soil already. Dangal had the backdrop of Haryana – a city there. That is where my state camp was. So I had travelled to all these places, places in UP, MP, Haryana, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, I had travelled to all these places to kind of understand the soil and colloquial language which really helped me to take up the characters. I also tried to find a common poise between me and the character. Like in Dangal, my character by default was a failed sportsperson. And if you talk about me as a real person, Aparshakti in real life is genuinely a sports person who is no longer one. So I try to find those common points between my real life and my character in the film because it’s easier for me to relate to that character and then play it well.
Interesting. So what has been the biggest challenge in your mind in the last few years? What has that one thing been? Or maybe there has been more than one?
I wouldn’t really call it a challenge, but I have had a bizarre situation, which is that when I was in theatre, I was doing very dark, intense roles. And since the time I started doing films, I’ve usually done comic roles. So it’s kind of bizarre that on the stage, people connected with me with all those dark, intense, negative shades, whereas on screen people have connected with me on the comic front. That gives me confidence as well that I have been able to do both worlds well, but having said that, it's quite bizarre that normally, you do one thing and you kind of continue with that one flavour. But yeah, I’ve done both the sides. The challenge, I don't want to call it a challenge, because I might be doing a film in quite a dark negative space soon. So yeah, just about to do that.
So you talked about comedy and we’ve seen a twist of sorts in Hindi cinema in terms of how comedy is treated. For a long period of time, it was very slap-stick comedy, it was a lot of physical comedy. What we’re seeing now is a lot more nuanced comedy, smarter comedy. Having said this, smarter comedy still requires comic timing that is absolutely impeccable. So what do you do to work on your comic timing? How does it come so naturally to you?
The parallel shift you are talking about has come in the entire filmmaking as a craft, whether it be direction, writing, or acting. I think things have changed, they’ve become real and internationally in their approach and people sitting in Canada, the U.S. or the U.K. can relate to them. So we’re not just dancing around the trees anymore, you know. There was a stage when people wanted to watch that but now the audience is mature enough to understand the content, hence the filmmakers have also changed their modus operandi.
Apar, in terms of where you see yourself or your journey so far, what do you want to see? I mean obviously, you have talked about this new creative aspect, namely music. But where do you see yourself in five years from now?
Honestly, when I used to plan things, they never worked out. So I stopped planning things in the past three, four years. Thankfully God has been kind to me all along. So I’ve stopped planning, I don’t think about tomorrow or even five days down the line. I just work with people with good intentions. If I have to say something about where I see myself in five years from now, I’d say hopefully we’re still talking about good cinema, good work with good journalists like yourself.