This was one interview I was looking forward to, not just because I'd rated Rock On five stars in my Observer series newspapers in London, eight months ago, but because I was too desperate to meet the 'Killer Drummer' Purab Kohli for I too tried to sing 'I will survive' in front of my friends. The trouble was I didn't survive a second. For me, he rocked and yet there was no mention of him in my review. Perhaps I over looked it. But not any more. Come to think of it, his ability to give grandiose and surreal characters soul is proof of his heapin' helpin' of pure uncut manly talent and frankly he's one slice of grade A man steak I wouldn't mind tenderizing.
Anyway, Purab shows up as he opens the door to our Bollywood encounter with his curly hair, dressed in standard, more like any struggling actor-retro-grunge, flashing his 'Popeye muscles' trying to break free from his unbuttoned green and yellow chequered summer shirt adoring his brown vest. Extending his hand in salutation, he glides into a bar chair opposite me offering me something to drink on a sweaty Thursday. He urges me to have a ginger drink stacked up with ice. I accept. Then he immediately jumps off his chair and stands next to the door to enact a real life scene when Gattu aka Abhishek Kapoor danced and jumped in joy after reading the first ever review of Rock On which I'd written.
That was a classic performance by a Bandra boy in full flamboyance. Where majority of the actors would've stayed away from a performance like that in front of a journalist, Purab didn't give a damn about glimmering the prudent history - He was hired to deliver, and he does deliver...KD style. He is just cool and always has been ever since he started his career as a Channel 'V' VJ... Dipping into the depths of his exquisite mind to discover his version of Purab Kohli, buried beneath the 'Killer Drummer', the actor goes back and forth into his past, present and the future as we finds out whether or not Purab will survive in Bollywood after the super success of Rock On, his journey from 'Chicken' to 'KD', his ability to open up to his fans, his turn ons, Rangeen and A Rectangular Love Story - his unreleased films and his unexplored areas in acting.
Is the Killer Drummer's charm here to stay for good?
I hope so. I think it's a part of me that a lot of people have liked. A lot of 'KD' in the film was me. I think we all as actors hope that we can retain ourselves in the business for a longer period of time to get more work, do more work and get popular.
From a mere 'Chicken' in Supari to 'KD' in Rock On, would you term your rise to fame as meteoric?
I still think it's a journey more than a rise. I was not someone who had an idea that it was acting I wanted to pursue as my career or to do a film like Rock On. If you look back at my career, the first thing I did in my life was act in a television series called 'Hip Hip Hurray'. Then I moved on to be a VJ on Channel V. I mean, today if someone was to come up to me with a film like Supari, I would've been weary to do it, thinking back that you want that good launch, you want that big producer, the right cast, etc. These are the elements which help you to climb up to be a star and it's not rocket science now. I've always tried and tested things in my life and it has worked. My rise has been a journey which ain't meteoric but after Rock On, you can definitely say so.
Your ability to get people in your audience to open up to you is pretty astounding. What do you attribute that to?
I'm quite an open person. If people ask me questions about myself, I have nothing to hide because I choose to live an honest life. In terms of opening up to your audience and your audience accepting you for who you are is what they eventually see on the big screen. To a certain extent, 'Killer Drummer' was actually me in the real and reel life. That's the way I am and I have grown up playing the parts that I've played. I started acting when I was just eighteen and I'll be thirty in a few months. So for twelve years, I've contributed a lot to the roles I've played and vice versa. As an actor, you have to have an audience or fans opening up to you. You are catering to them because they want to see more of you. In good humour, I attribute Koel Puri for spanking my butt in Rock On. That's what got the beautiful girls all over the world to open up in front of me (laughs).
You weren't nominated for the Filmfare Awards. Many feel you deserved one. We feel something bigger than Filmfare is waiting for you?
Let's hope so. But I do crib about not being nominated. First the Screen Awards nominations came out and I was surprised not to see my name. As an actor, the least you want is to get nominated. I mean all those who've seen the film feel that I've done a good job and at least deserved a nomination. Plus, you want some kind of recognition for a performance which the audiences thought was fantastic. So one day Jitesh Pillai calls me up and invites me to support the Rock On team at the Filmfare. I go there and the next thing I see is my name being called out by Shabana Azmi to honour me for my performance in Rock On. It was a special certificate which was given to me by Filmfare and I was too excited for finally getting some kind of recognition. More so for the fact that it was Javed saab, Shabana ji and Ritesh Sidhwani who gave me the first reactions after watching the film. I remember, after watching the film, Ritesh comes up to me and pats my back, "Surprise package, surprise package."
What's the turn on for you when you act?
I've sat down and thought about this for quite some time now as to what do I love doing most - hosting shows or acting? The answer is acting because it's the instant appreciation you get from the person who is directing you. When you get something and you feel it in your heart that this is the emotional scene you need to perform, right away, the director approaches you saying that he loved it and it came across so well. That's what I like about acting and that feeling is just so beautiful. That's what turns me on. There are times when I feel that I could've given more to the scene and that in itself is the growth of an actor. When you're playing a host, it stagnates because everyday you're being yourself. When you're playing a character, you're doing it as somebody else each time and with somebody else, whether it's your co-actor or a director.
There has not been a better feeling for me when I tried singing 'I will survive'. The only problem was that no girls pat on my bum. You like bending your own rules, don't you?
(Laughs) I think I'm able to try very easily. I don't restrict myself too much. The societal ways of bending the rules would be in films like My Brother Nikhil, Awarapan and Rock On. Whatever Gattu had written in the script, is what you see in the film. 'I will survive' is one of the very rare occurrences that weren't in the script. Having said that, Prachi's song 'Ajeeb dastaan hain yeh' was in the draft. Now the question which was troubling Gattu was, how does Prachi get the mike. The whole party sequence was shot in Film City in three days. The first day while I was driving, Gattu calls me and says, "Tu 'I will survive' gaana gayega kya?" I said, "Yeah man, let's do it. It sounds amazing yaar". I came on the sets wanting to sing the song which every girl enjoys. The good thing is that all the junior artists who were enjoying the song in the film knew the song. So they added more fun and all started having a great time. Koel spanking me wasn't planned. It just happened because it was instinctive. For me, these are moments I'll always cherish.
Do producers and directors still offer you roles with an image of a VJ in their mind?
Yes they do, and that's what I come with, isn't it? That's great but it also restricts me to a certain extent where there are some roles that they don't look at me at all, and that's what I am trying to break out of. I am focusing in the same path right now. Me and my agent are doing exactly that but my being a VJ has its pros and cons.
You're doing Rajat Kapoor's A Rectangular Love Story. You cornered?
(Laughs) The film is Rajat's take on a love story which has four corners. There is Gul Panag, Ranvir Shorey, me and Neil Bhopalam. We are the four corners. The film is really on a thread and even if you know a little here and there, there won't be any surprises left. But it's not a regular love story and not a slapstick humour. It is situational and crazy.
Do you think this film will add more punch to your career after the recent success of Rock On at all major award functions
I don't know. Films like A Rectangular Love Story, Rangeen, etc are films I had said Yes to before Rock On released. Not that I would've not said Yes to them. They are fantastic films. I still stand by them. After Rock On, people expect a certain performance coming out of you, something better. All my fans on Facebook keep asking me the same question after Rock On - What next? Such is the market. At one level, it feels great that people are wanting more out of me but at the other level, I think, I better watch out what I'm doing now because I really don't want to disappoint my fans. That is there at the back of my mind.
How has Rangeen shaped up for you?
Again, Rangeen is an ensemble cast film. It has Tisca Chopra, Rajat Kapoor, Tara Shamra, me opposite Koel Puri and Manurishi who won the best writer for Oye Lucky Lucky Oye at the Filmfare this year, he is acting. It's a Sharat Kataria film who is to debut as a director with Rangeen. He is the same guy who has written Bheja Fry, though it was an adaptation. He has a potential of being a big director in Bollywood as he has really got everything in place. From the first time I read the script to my last scene I performed, I was completely convinced. In fact, Gattu has got the similar kind of emotions in Rock On as he did in his first film Aryan. The same sentiments are there in Sharat.
Which areas are still left unexplored by you?
I am hoping to do an action film but nobody is giving it to me (laughs). I am good at intense emotion but I'll be equally good in action. I am confident. I think there can be a stronger intense emotion coming out of an action flick if someone dares to make it. I liked the raw action in Ghajini. I love watching all Ram Gopal Varma films because his action films are a work of a genius. Sanjay Gupta too has some good caliber for action and then Sanjay Gadhvi does some good stuntly action films. Now this can be bizarre but that minuscule action in Aditya Chopra's DDLJ in the end was great. It was a nice action sequence. Hear me out guys and bring it on!