Sailesh Ghelani chats with Kavi Shastri, the Gujju boy from the UK whose performance in Amit Sahni Ki List makes him an actor to watch out for.
It’s such a common story now here in India. All of our talented young people who went abroad or have grown up on foreign shores are now coming home to dance, act and sing to the merry tunes of Bollywood and TV land here in Mumbai.
One such young lad is Kavi Shastri. The Gujarati boy is very Brit but decided that he’d had enough with Western stereotyping in the TV serials he acted in there. So he returned to India and over the last eight years he’s acted in a series called Rishta.com (watch a video of it here) as well as hosted a show called Love By Chance (video). He’s also had a few roles in films like Love Aaj Kal, Aurangzeb and of course Amit Sahni Ki List. He’s been lucky but it hasn’t been easy.
When I ask him about his tweet that’s not been sleeping he says, “I battle insomnia anyway. I’ve just moved house. That’s a huge issue. I’m still getting used to it.”
Kavi is actually getting used to quite a few things even after his eight years here. His perceptions of the country were holes in the floors for toilets and snake charmers dotting the landscape. But even though he was pleasantly surprised to see running water and light bulbs in houses he missed the conveniences of modern life in the UK. “In the UK you can pay every bill at one go. Over here you have to go to six different places. I’m used to the traffic now but the trains are a bit scary with people jumping on and off all the time,” he says.
It was in India that Kavi met his Australian wife Sherryl. For him, it was love at first sight but he says he had to convince her to marry him at ‘gunpoint’! The move for her from Australia to India wasn’t easy either. “We’ve gone through thick and thin over the last two years of our life. We’ve dealt with a lot,” says Kavi of their time in India. They’ve had to shift house and work hasn’t always been regular.
Not quite the Bollywood dream that an Australian TV channel had portrayed in a news item about his ‘Bollywood bride’ before their nuptials (see the video here). “Work comes and goes. A lot of people from the outside world don’t understand that you could shoot for 7-8 days and then all of a sudden the production shuts down,” he explains about the nature of the industry.
And despite the fact that his wife isn’t from the same industry Kavi says, “There are times in every actor’s life when they just want to give up. But my wife tells me to keep going and when it is time to move on and do something else she’ll be honest and tell me.” Although he’s not too sure where he’d go after.
About his marriage Kavi adds, “We’ve found a great understanding with each other. For me I make sure that I take five minutes in bed with her before we go to sleep. We talk about what we’re feeling. It helps us wake up refreshed.”
Kavi has said in his write up for Actor Prepares (he’s an alumnus there) that ‘perfect practise makes perfect’. So can you practise for a relationship? His reply: “You can’t practise for a relationship for sure. Everything I’ve ever done wrong in my life I’ve learnt from and not made the mistakes again. I believe you should learn from everything. Find the positive in everything. I’m quite a practical person; if something is not working it’s not. I’ve been cheated on but you have to tell yourself that it’s not the right thing for you and just move on.”
Clearly the Bollywood dream isn’t an easy one to achieve as much as the world may think everyone working in Bollywood is a big star living a dream life. Kavi actually moved to India before the recession hit the world. He was tired of the stereotyping in the West. Being ‘pigeonholed’ into certain roles was stifling his creativity. “So I wanted to do what the white man does over there; play a villain or a leading man. I could only do that in Indian productions. So it was the best platform,” he tells me.
Of course, he says, it’s not as if stereotyping doesn’t happen in our industry too. He explains, “Honestly, I think Indian actors in the West are stereotyped; there is a certain persona that Indians have that is presented abroad. But within India itself there is a lot of stereotyping. A Gujarati will behave a certain way, a Punjabi will behave in a certain way.”
I want to know more about his friend Virr Das, who all his co-stars on Amit Sahni Ki List call the love guru. Actor Vega Tamotia revealed to us in an interview with her that Virr hooked up a writer and actor on their film. “Virr and I share a very romantic setting in life,” reveals Kavi. “We gravitate towards each other since a lot of our thinking is the same. It was very odd for me to see him play a romantic on screen. We both are each other’s love gurus in that aspect,” he adds.
Kavi met India’s favourite funny man on the sets of Love Aaj Kal eight years ago and they had come up with an idea for India’s first comedy company (Weirdass Comedy). “I didn’t even know Virr was a stand up comedian. I thought it was just something people did here for fun,” admits Kavi.
Now of course he knows it’s become a viable career option for young lads who want to shoot their mouths off and get paid a few quid for it. “I think that’s amazing. The only thing I’d say is that the guys have to keep working on new material. Just because one formula works doesn’t mean you keep using it. A lot of people come into stand up comedy with their Hindi gaalis (abuses) but they need to do something out of the box,” advises the actor.
Kavi is also excited about the fact that TV actors do movies and vice versa nowadays. But then he thinks actors should be doing everything that comes along, which is what he’s been doing. “I’ve taken every opportunity that comes my way.”
He’s shooting for his show Love By Chance right now and isn’t too happy that the theatre world in India isn’t economically viable but wouldn’t mind dabbling in it if something good comes along. Such is the mantra for the determined actor who realises that you never know where one opportunity may lead you to another, bigger one.