Saurabh Shukla is one of the most reliable character actors currently working in the Hindi film industry. He has also written screenplays and dialogues for films like Satya, Raghu Romeo, Mithya and Salaam-e-Ishq, among others. With his latest film Family of Thakurganj released on July 19, Shukla talks about his evolution as an actor, his struggling days and his web debut.
What can we expect from Family of Thakurganj? Also, tell us about your association with the film.
The film is set in a place called Thakurganj, which is situated in the Hindi heartland of Uttar Pradesh. Directed by Manoj K Jha, the film follows a family that has members with different attitudes towards the law. While some abide by it, others like to operate in a completely lawless manner.
When the film was narrated to me, I realised that there is something in it which I have never done before. In other words, this film is dialogue-heavy in keeping with our old tradition. You see, we still remember the dialogues from classics such as the ones spoken by Raaj Kumar.
The script of Family of Thakurganj is written in the same tradition. Now, I personally haven’t done many such films but I got drawn to the plot. Then I learnt that the film will be starring actors like Jimmy Shergill, Mahie Gill, Yashpal Sharma, Pavan Malhotra and Manoj Pahwa. All these actors are mostly known for working in realistic films. So the rare combination of a dialogue-heavy script and a cast comprising these amazing actors naturally made the actor in me very greedy. Audiences can expect great dialogues, a tight screenplay, some very good performances and a well-shot film.
Over the years, you seem to have grown more intense as an actor. How do you see this evolution?
Well, I believe that the way people look at me has grown intense. I am still the same person. Yes, of course, you change in your craft. So in that way, I may have evolved. But right from my early days I never did buffoonery.
If you look at my first film Bandit Queen, you will notice that my character Kailash is humorous but he lives in an intense world. In my second film Is Raat ki Subah Nahin, I play a contract killer. That’s actually a very intense character without any element of humour. My character Kallu Mama in Satya has his funny moments but he too is an intense character.
So, it is not that I didn’t play intense characters earlier, but often I would bring an element of humour to them because I believe nobody can be completely intense or completely humorous all the time. Now, you can generate humour through the situation. In Raid, for example, I play ruthless politician whose house is subjected to an income tax raid. It’s obviously a very difficult situation for him but when he makes his diabetic mother eat a jalebi, it creates a very funny moment.
How do you choose your roles from the different offers that come your way?
Well, I like to keep things simple. Every individual has his/her choice. For example, I like a particular kind of jokes and watch a certain kind of cinema. So when scripts come my way, the first criterion is whether I myself like it or not — whether it is able to make me laugh or touch me at some level. If I feel connected to the story then I move towards it. God forbid, I am also ready for a time when I might be forced to do something just for money. Thankfully so far, I haven’t faced such a situation.
Despite a very promising start with Satya, you haven’t been as prolific as a writer as many of us would have liked. Is it due to lack of time or lack of drive?
You must be aware that my first work which actually came into limelight as a writer was Satya. Initially, I went to meet Ram Gopal Varma to refuse him and tell him that I wasn’t interested in writing. But my problem was that he also offered me the role of Kallu Mama and it was more like a package deal. Take it or leave it.
I have never really seen myself as a professional writer. I have only written for people with whom I am extremely comfortable. So, I have written for Kamal Haasan, Sudhir Mishra, Rajat Kapoor, Nikhil Advani and of course, myself. That’s all.
However, all my friends, whether it’s Anurag Basu or Subhash Kapoor, as well as the younger directors that I am working with, they all know that I also write. So, they discuss their scripts with me and while I do not participate professionally but I do interact with them. Also, I share my story ideas with them as I still write, hoping that a day will come when I will convert them into films.
During the early 90s you starred as Detective Gopi in the detective TV series Tehkikaat, alongside legendary Vijay Anand. How did it materialise? Also, how do you look at television’s journey in India over the last two decades?
I was at the National School of Drama and I happened to do Bandit Queen with Shekhar Kapur. Then he called me to Mumbai to do Tehkikaat, as he was directing its first two episodes. I think it was the golden era of Indian television with a lot of path-breaking work happening on Doordarshan at that time. One is reminded of great shows like Nukkad, Naqab, Bharat Ek Khoj, Tamas, Kachchi Dhoop, among many.
So, I went in very good time and it greatly reduced the monetary problems during my initial struggling period. I got to meet Vijay Anand who was a legend for me. I spent a lot of time with him and also got to meet a lot of great people through television.
Then came a time when television started becoming more lucrative, but the quality started falling because it was a rush against time. Also, for a long time, it was dictated by the market—which was very sad. So, I could not relate to it anymore and dissociated myself from it. But now a new phase has arrived which is actually a derivative of television and cinema, which is the web. And I think it is something that’s very exciting!
How do you reflect upon your early struggle? What advice would you like to give to young actors?
About my struggling days, I would just say one thing: it’s the way you see it. If it’s a rainy day you can choose to dance like a peacock or you can sit at home and feel depressed. It is nothing but your perception. They were the most wonderful days. Yes, there was no work but there was a lot of time to spend with friends. There was great amount of discussion and a lot of parties. It is just a phase that should be enjoyed and there is absolutely no need to be terrified of it.
What are your upcoming projects after Family of Thakurganj?
There are a number of projects in the pipeline. To start with, there is a web series which I have done for ALT Balaji. It marks my web debut. It’s called The Verdict and revolves around the Nanavati case. I play Russi Karanjia, who was the owner of Blitz.
Then you will see me in a film called Aadhaar, produced by Drishyam Films. Also, there is Hansal Mehta’s Turram Khan. You will also see me in a very beautiful film called Bala alongside Ayushmann Khurrana. I am also shooting for Anees Bazmee’s Pagalpanti. Finally, there is Shamshera alongside Ranbir Kapoor.
This was first published in The Patriot.