Actor/musician Suhaas Ahuja has waited a long time for his break into the film industry. He acted in a film called Knock Knock, I’m Looking To Marry in 2003 and then nothing. Until of course his nightmarish wait ended with somewhat of a sweet dream. He was chosen to play a part in Reema Kagti’s Aamir Khan starrer Talaash that released this November 2012. Sailesh Ghelani has a chat with the talkative young actor who discusses Aamir Khan and how theatre actors are slowly making it big in Bollywood nowadays.
Hey Suhaas, tell us a little bit about your background
I’m a Punjabi from Chennai. My parents are from Delhi post partition. I studied filmmaking in the States. I got back in 2002 and started VJ-ing on a channel called Southern Spice music, which was doing pretty well.
Before Talaash you’ve only done one film in 2003
In 2003, they thought digital cinema would be the next big thing. People talked about how Indian-English movies would be more acceptable. In that time there were many digital video films launched and I did three films one year but only one got released. Knock, Knock, I’m Looking To Marry was about India shining as a software destination and arranged marriage v/s love marriage. The NRI community took to it.
How did you go about pursuing a career in films?
In 2005 I properly settled down in Mumbai and started doing auditions. Months went by and it was daunting that I wouldn’t get any roles. By education I’m a filmmaker. So I started working as an AD for a year and a half and also restarted theatre here in Bombay. And then I went on to have a career in music soliciting commercial music jobs. We started off with a film score for a movie called Tripping On a Bicycle. I worked on the score of That Girl In Yellow Boots, the opening credits song. I also did a piece of music for Aamir Bashir’s film Haroud. And lots of music jobs that go unheard of but gave me a lot of money.
Wow, so at least you had something to tide you over. How did Talaash (read the review here) happen?
2011 was great because I was cast in a play called The Real Inspector Hound and it was the day of my first reading that I got two really cool phone calls. At the time activist Binayak Sen had been imprisoned for wrongful reasons and I had written a song about it. The call was from Binayak’s brother who wanted me to come to Delhi to perform it at a really. The second call was from the casting director of Talaash. I finally thought maybe I do have a chance despite the fact that I had nearly given up all hope.
It’s a difficult life, being a struggling actor isn’t it. Tell us more about that…
I would go for auditions that I didn’t even care about and I would get rejected and that was doubly depressing. So I stopped going for ad auditions. Casting director Nandini Shrikent kept calling me for auditions. She got me the role in Talaash. Akarsh and Aadhar Khurana would call me every now and then for theatre auditions. I would go for those. Auditioning if it is done well is a very satisfying and creative process.
Filmmakers will go for what they want for their film so you should never take their casting decisions too personally; good movies need to be made so we wish them well. We trust their judgments. When you’re convinced of that it doesn’t matter that you got the part or you didn’t. The irony of Talaash was that nobody had seen me before. I guess all the sadness, and rejections lead up to this and so it’s poetic justice.
Your first commercial film and you’re acting with Aamir Khan. Doesn’t get better. So tell us about your impressions of him.
It was cool working with Aamir Khan. My first day of the shoot I had a couple of scenes and the second half of the day was with Aamir Khan. It’s not intimidating to work with good actors because it makes you work better and push yourself. A few of his ethics struck me: he came earlier than his call time, he went directly into the scene with complete focus. After rehearsing for an hour he asked me a couple of things about me. The great thing was that there was no entourage around him trying to let him know that his ass was being kissed. The focus was on the scene. There was no ego about it. And I was like ‘yes’. All my intimidation or awe just dissolved because I saw him only caring about the scene. That really sorted me out.
So Aamir Khan isn’t the kind of guy who takes over a film…
The stories about him being a tyrant and hard to deal with are exaggerated. He just discusses how a scene should be approached. He cares about the scene and not about imposing his will.
Give as an example of what you noticed about Aamir
Well we shot a scene that day, which didn’t make the final cut; Talaash went through a lot of edits. Aamir and I had a conversation scene that was shot over the shoulder with close ups. Every time you take a scene you try something differently and what I saw was Aamir was changing his takes according to how I was changing mine; he was still sitting across from me while I was doing my close ups, which he didn’t need to do but that just goes to show his professionalism.
Then we did a schedule in Pondicherry and I’d see him in the gym working really hard. He’s a proper guy.
What did you think of Talaash after watching it?
I really liked the film. It’s a story of loss and how to reconcile with that loss. The fact that it was a suspense movie was secondary to that crux. It moved me a lot. I found Aamir’s and Rani Mukerji’s performances wonderful. A friend was telling me that he watched the film in a smaller theatre and whenever Kareena Kapoor came on screen with Aamir a group of people in the audience whispered ‘now it’s (sex scene) going to happen’. Of course, the film’s sensibilities are quite different.
Farhan Akhtar wrote the dialogue but Anurag Kashyap wrote some too. Do you know what parts Anurag wrote?
My understanding of that was that after Farhan wrote the dialogue, Anurag went over the dialogue and made a few changes. They felt they needed him to come in. I assume his expertise with the darker milieu of the film was needed.
Talaash had quite a few actors from theatre, including yourself. They seem to be doing quite well in Bollywood nowadays…
They started calling for us about 3 years ago. They probably realised they needed people who are more dedicated to the craft of acting or whatever. Both for ads and movies they’re looking for theatre people now. It’s quite funny actually.
Casting good actors makes all the difference, doesn’t it?
Even the smallest roles in Talaash were cast very well. Armaan Kapoor’s (theatre actor Vivaan Bathena) spot boy (character) did a fabulous job in the film. There were just four shots of him. When casting is approached that seriously it makes a difference. We need to realise that there are no small roles. I just hope we have a better scene where there’s more mutual respect and admiration in the industry.
You sound like you would like to put some of that filmmaking knowledge to use
I do want to be a director/producer/writer someday. Everything I’m doing seems connected.
And what about your theatre career?
I’ve got a super play called Song of India (an Alliance Française production), based on two novellas by Marguerite Duras. We start rehearsing in January and go on tour in February. I know it’s going to be an interesting experience. Nandita Das and her husband are in the cast too.
Are you single or married?
Yes I’m married. My wife is a fabulous actor herself Ratnabali Bhattacharjee. We met about four years ago. She has a lot of respect in the theatre fraternity. She gives me a lot of love and support in what I do. In that sense she’s amazing. I was waiting for her reaction to my performance in Talaash. I know she can be blunt but when she said I was good, I was satisfied.
Read more interviews here.