'The best is yet to come,' says Tahir Raj Bhasin and breaks into a smile. His latest release, Nitesh Tiwari's 'Chhichhore' has struck gold at the box office. The actor is elated with how his character Derek in the film has succeeded in hitting the right notes with the audience. We are sitting in the suburban Yash Raj Studios for an early morning chat.
As the conversation flows, the 'Chhichhore' actor gets candid about the film's success, his biggest takeaway, doing ensemble films, playing Sunil Gavaskar in '83 and much more.
Here's some excerpts from his exclusive tête-à-tête with Filmibeat.
'There's A Little Bit Of Derek In Everyone'
Q. Your latest release 'Chhichhore' has been receiving a lot of love from the audience. Did you always anticipate the film's success when director Nitesh Tiwari narrated the idea to you?
A. Absolutely. One of the first things that Nitesh Sir told me was, "There's no hero's friend in this film. It's friendship which is the hero'. Friendship is such a common theme across age groups that everyone has either lived a college life or are currently living into one. It's a nostalgic trip for them. 'Chhichhore' beautifully caters to both the audience. This is one of those films where we laughed out loud at the situations when we read the script as actors. On paper, if it brought so much laughs, we were sure that it would appeal to a lot of people on screen.
Q. Has the feeling sunk in yet for you?
A. Honestly, not yet. Every morning, I am waking up to hundreds of messages from people saying that they loved the film and really connected with my character Derek. It's great and overwhelming because I have spent one year of my life working on this film. One Friday and one weekend will decide whether people like it or not. When it's exploding the way it is, it's very heartening for an actor.
Q. Your character Derek in the film initially has his emotions all bottled up inside him. Until, he bumps into Sushant's character and the burning spirit in him to achieve something rekindles. Have you met people like him in real life? Have you been in that situation ever?
A. The reason why Derek has appealed to so many people is because there's a little bit of him in everyone. Everyone in their lives have been in situations where they have really wanted to achieve something but either the circumstances or the society or social media tagged them as losers. I love the overall theme of the film which tells you to never let other people define your happiness. A lot of my friends have gone through that, either in academics or in love, where they faced a challenge and gave up. But then, they managed to turn that around just because they continued to push. Derek has a very emotional aspect; there's almost a boyishness.
'A Successful Actor Is Someone Who Is Happy'
Q. Another relevant point which the film makes is that it's not always about the successes or the failures; rather it's about the chase. How do you define success? To be more specific, what's a successful actor to you?
A. I really believe in living in the moment. For me, a successful actor is someone who is happy. Someone who is being creative, productive and appreciated by people. But if you are always chasing a phantom future, you will never be successful because you haven't lived in the moment. Personally, for me, that transition happened before 'Mardaani' where I had given about a hundred auditions and got rejected. But, I never took those rejections in a negative way. Instead, it looked at them as feedback to improve myself and my work. I have been very lucky so far to bag different parts. 'Mardaani' was a crime drama, 'Force 2' was an action-thriller, 'Manto' was a historical where I got a chance to work with Nawazuddin Siddiqui, 'Chhichhore' was a college drama and '83' which is a sports film.
Q. A lot of actors say that they are very detached as actors. The minute the camera goes off, they are out of their character. Do you identify with them?
A. It takes me about two weeks to get out of a character. But at the same time, I am as detached as I am after that period. During the shoot, I am very attached to my characters. It happens to me every time. While playing a role, about fifty per cent is acting, the rest half is about giving your soul to it.
'It Will Be Wrong On My Part To Judge Every Film As 'Niche' Or 'Mainstream'
Q. Has your process as an actor changed over the years?
A. When you go to acting school and you are ready to do a film, you have a feeling of knowing the process. But as you bag different roles and work with different directors, you realize that you have to adapt based on the need of the story and character.
For Derek, I had to get into four months of athletics practice with national coaches. Through that, I discovered that this is probably the kind of work that Derek does. So, I was living that part. I am a non-smoker. But for my role, I started smoking herbal cigarettes even when I was with my friends.
For Sham Chadha from 'Manto' or Walt from 'Mardaani', it would be more about mental preparation. It's a different process for every role and that's the biggest learning that has come to me over the years.
Q. You mentioned that 'Chhichhore' was one of the most challenging roles in your career. What was your biggest takeaway from the film?
A. My biggest takeaway is the theme of the film; that it is your desire and ability to chase your dreams that define you and not how the society perceives you.
Q. Recently in an interview, your co-star Navin Polishetty said that he is very sure about the kind of films that he wants to do. He said, "I don't want to be an actor whose films get good reviews and no box office, that I'm sure about. I want to be an actor who's movies don't compromise on storytelling but also have the potential to work at the box office." What kind of opinion do you share on this? Would you be okay doing a film which you know won't rake in numbers but the idea is very close to your heart?
A. Firstly, I think every actor has his own point of view. So, I can't comment on what Navin said. But as far as my thought process is concerned, I want to reach the ability where someone who has got a great niche concept can use my name or take me in their film and that works for the audience as well. To answer your question, an actor needs to have a balance. It will be wrong on my part to judge every film as 'niche' or 'mainstream'.
I would do a film like 'Manto' which was screened at the Cannes Film Festival because I am getting a chance to work with Nandita Das and tell a great story. At the same time, I would love to do a 'Chhichhore' or a '83' which I know on paper, will be amazing. I am willing to tell both kind of stories. The goal is to reach a point where you become commercially successful and your name is enough to help a niche story to move forward.
'One Of The Most Beautiful Things Of Being An Actor Is You Can Get People To Smile'
Q. What's the best part of being an actor apart from the fact that you get to live a lot of different lives on the big screen?
A. One of the most beautiful things of being an actor is people smiling at you when you meet them in public. When they see you, they remember a scene from your film. For a moment, without even making an effort in real time, you can get people to smile.
Another thing is that when they are in the theatre watching your films, you make them forget about their worries and change their thinking about something.
Q. You have played varied characters in your film career. Have has your journey been so far?
A. I am just starting out. This is the beginning for me. I am very lucky to have done a variety of roles. It's great because I have a goal where I want to get to. An actor should be able to convince the audience that he is believable in the story which is being told. I am fortunate that after seeing my work, they believe in me and the directors will have a tough time to typecast me in any one particular part.
'If The Team Works, The Film Works'
Q. 'Chhichhore' and '83' are ensemble films. When you do a film with many characters, each actor gives his best shot to make sure his character remains etched in the audience's mind. At the same time, you also need to collectively lift the film as a whole. Do you feel doing an ensemble film is tougher than taking up a solo project?
A. No. When you do a film like 'Chhichhore', you not only give your best but also want everyone to do the same. Because this is a kind of film where if any person under-performs or over-performs, people won't believe in that friendship.
In 'Chhichhore' and '83', everyone is so different in what they are doing. It makes me feel really happy when I read reviews that appreciate my co-star's performances. That just adds to the aura of the film.
It's great when you meet people who have watched your films twice and they have started identifying with the characters. That's a goal of a friendship film like 'Chhichhore' and a team film like '83'. It doesn't make it tougher.
I know a Derek is a Derek in his own right. When I am reading it on paper, I am very secure about how his character transition happens. The same applies to '83'. When you are playing Sunil Gavaskar, you are automatically secured about his positioning and what his place is going to be in the film. For all these films, if the team works, the film works.
'It's The Best Time To Be An Actor In Bollywood'
Q. Lastly, with the kind of interesting projects you have in your platter right now, do you think this is your best phase as an actor?
A. (laughs) No, I wouldn't want to put a full stop on anything. I believe this is a great phase. I always believe that the best is yet to come. But, I do think it's the best time to be an actor in Bollywood. Today, stories are the new stars and the box-office and the audience is proving that. You also have amazing digital opportunities with Netflix and Amazon.